The Monthly interviews New Zealand poet, Demi Schänzel

When were you first drawn to writing?

I feel like I’ve always been writing, I kept a journal from a really young age that always included small stories and thoughts and ideas. I think I starting writing poetry around the age of sixteen or so, and although I’ve never necessarily seen myself as a writer, I’ve always been drawn to written things. I used to write down song lyrics and sentences and sometimes lines of dialogue from films, and Ithink if you write enough of those down you eventually begin writing things of your own.

Were you supported at home or a school?

I thankfully came from a very literate family, there were always books in the house, endless wanders to the library and second hand bookstores, and on our bookshelves there were always new books to discover. From a really young age, I was reading Terry Pratchett, Tom Robbins, Ernest Hemingway, and other strange and surreal authors from all around the world.

Terry Pratchett

Were you ever mentored in any way?

Not really, I don’t think I ever really began writing public material until I was in my early twenties.Sophie Procter, another young New Zealand poet, introduced me to poetry and to a poetry community. Before then, I genuinely didn’t know much of those spaces until I went along one night to Poetry Live. (Poetry Live is an Open Mic event held regularly in Auckland)

You went along to Poetry live?

Yes. Poetry Live is a truly beautiful place. It allows all forms of poetry to exist and breathe, and space for anyone to get up on stage and offer something evocative or intimate; there really is something quite enchanting about that particular space.

Your work is quite gentle. Would that be reasonable to say?

Certainly, I do tend to deliver my work in a relatively quiet form in comparison to say, other forms of spoken word or slam perhaps. I’m rather drawn to fantasy or fairytale settings to convey certain thoughts that, I think, lend themselves to my particular style of delivery.I grew up reading Terry Pratchett and listening to Bob Dylan, and I think that was always an undercurrent in their work; there were issues they were addressing below the surface of their writing, and I often try to evoke that within my own work.

I often use fantasy settings, traditional storytelling motifs, to investigate more modern themes. I do think that sometimes allows for a more timeless quality to emerge from your writing. I don’t think it was a conscious decision though, it just seemed to develop naturally; organically..

You developed your style organically?

I think so, I really don’t think enough about my poetry with regards to an audience. Most of the time I really am just writing for myself, for my own enjoyment. The kind of poetry I adore is the kind you can get lost in, that requires the writer to create a comforting atmosphere, with words that allow for some form of vulnerability to emerge. I think for myself, when I’m writing what I’m most looking for is the kind of poetry I would most like to personally read.

Are you moving towards writing a collection?

Not at this moment, I’m really not looking to place any pressure on myself. I adore writing poetry, but it’s not necessarily my central form of self-expression. I design small poetic video games, and that alone takes up so much of my creative time. Having said that, I’m always open to allowing my writing to grow; such that it might at some point be worked into a collection.

I do sometimes fear whether committing more energy to my writing may take away from what makes me enjoy the practice so much. I don’t know whether that will happen, but it’s something I’m particularly wary of. I also think that my approach to writing allows me to develop organically and grow slowly without any pressure, and for me that remains the most important thing; to maintain a love for the craft of poetry.

Demi Schänzel performs at the International Page and Stage event – “From Opposite Ends of the Earth” – The reading starts at 1hr 30min into the event.

With that being said, where to now?

I’m not sure. I really do approach everything regarding poetry with a “come what may” approach. I don’t really have a timeline, and I really don’t have an answer; other than if opportunities arise I will certainly look at what direction those opportunities might take me—otherwise I aim to continue enjoying writing purely as a self-reassuring formof self-expression.

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