The Monthly interviews Australian writer, Nick Cave biographer and poet, Mark Mordue – Part 2

Part one of this interview is here

How do you develop your poetic process?

Depending on what I am writing about I can approach poems differently, but I think in some respects I am moving more in the direction of poetic journalism. The poem, “The Eucharist”, would be a good example of that style, and some poems are gifts in that you observe reality and then you write it relatively quickly. I work in a Community Centre in Sydney and the observations for that poem were made there.

You suggest that writing poetry for you is a process which takes place quickly?

Most of the poetry that I write does come very quickly and I like to try and write “in heat”, so to speak, where, as I have suggested earlier, a mood descends upon me and I begin. It could be initiated by an experience, or a line from a song, but whatever the trigger might, a process is set off. I always feel like I’m trying to grab hold of that moment; in some ways it might feel like catching a train, you are sort of travelling somewhere. Poetry is like holding a door open to see through the veil of reality, or perhaps you are peering into an event to try and examine the reality within it, maybe concentrating on a specific aspect which allows you to reveal or discover something. It might be that everyone experiences that event, but poetry, I think, allows you the opportunity to examine the event more sharply. And in my case I feel like I am trying to hold that door open for as long as possible.

It sounds also like it is a very immediate process?

It can be. I tend to try and capture that mood as fast as I can, and finish a poem as close to that moment as possible, and once I have finished a poem I like to publish them pretty quickly online, through Facebook for example. I might also add an image to partner the poem.

I do find that when I am writing I experience a kind of performance anxiety which makes me work even more frenetically in order to get the piece finished. I know that might sound like it is a “first thought, best thought,” type of approach, but I don’t really subscribe to that. I am still editing, still reworking, making choices, looking at the flow of the words, even if I am working very quickly.

What about form, structure, economy of language?

I wish I had more training and education in those elements of writing poetry. Most of what I am trying to do is influenced by my sense of rhythm, of my inner ear, of the breathing required to speak a line. I am also aiming to find a sense of truth in each line, if that makes sense.

I want to capture the truth of an experience, and sometimes that will mean being careful not to cover that up with literary lines. That might mean that keeping in words which might appear crude or rough around the edges, but I think leaving those words or phrases in will mean the poem will be better for it. Unexpected imagery or tangents can obviously be an outcome of that process, energising a poem and shaking a reader out of what they think is coming.

Are you working towards a collection at the moment?

I have produced a poetry collection, “Darlinghurst Funeral Rites” which came out in 2018. I produced that series of poems in around 3 weeks, and I wrote them in a period when I was going through a break-up which I talked about earlier. The poems are about a period of my life, my 20’s, and they revolve around the post punk music scene in Sydney, and the friends that I had and the life that I was leading. It is a pretty straightforward story; young fresh faced boy comes to the city and discovers sex and drugs and rock and roll, and for a while it all goes well and it is very exciting and then it starts to go wrong and things aren’t as much fun any longer. And it is a sort of a map of that decade for me.

That was your first collection?

Yes and I feel that it had a specific purpose. It was kind of a reminder of how you go about getting yourself out of a difficult period, and it was written in my 50’s during the break up and the dark period that followed that. It was me talking to myself about how you go about extracting yourself from a difficult time in your life. It came easily through memories, and one memory would lead me to another. It might just be me meeting a group of friends, going to see a band and the poem would come out of the experience as I remembered it. The unearthing of memory through poetry was really quite phenomenal to me.

Where to now?

I have written another collection called “Via Us – Poems from Inside the Corona” which is about the arrival of Covid in Sydney. Via Us, virus, it seemed pretty right as a title. It is available online in a digital format. I’m not sure that the format suits the work as most of my poetry is engaged with image-making, taking photos at the same time to partner a written work. Sometimes the photo is better than the poem! Sometimes vice versa. But they often work well together, and create a dialogue or enhance one another. “Via Us” looks into the situation of Covid and what the early experience of its arrival in Sydney was like. But it was written a year ago, well before the more difficult situation now and the more intense Lockdown we experienced. It appears quite reflective, more imminent and existential than ‘real’ maybe. It’s that feeling of something coming.

Otherwise, I am writing about things which interest me and I’ll see where that takes me. I’ve got a second volume of the Nick Cave biography to work on, a novel manuscript set in a cold place, and this news shift again in my poetry that seems to be more like prose or stream of consciousness, which is influenced by poets like Peter Boyle and my old friend Lorca.

For more information about Mark Mordue, see here:

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