The Monthly interviews Australian poet, Peter Ramm – Part 2 – Developing a Narrative Style

How do you go about building your narratives?

One example is when I wanted to tell a story about my grandfather’s neighbour, Larry. He was a professional fisherman and when my grand-father bought a little fishing shack on the South Coast of NSW. On weekends and he and Larry would go fishing.

Later, my grandfather died of lung cancer when I was twelve. He died quite young, probably in his late 50’s. But we kept visiting the shack where my grandfather had bought as a place to go for school holidays.

I wanted to document Larry’s life because the town where he lived had started off with dirt roads and eventually became a tourist area. It also became a major fishing area with big professional trawlers, which drove the small fisherman, like Larry, out of business.

NSW South Coast

How did the poem develop?

The poem started off as a poem about Larry, detailing his boxes full of fish, and then in the writing, it shifted to become a poem about my grandfather. It’s underlying theme is contained in a line about how lung cancer trawls the body. It was such a good line, in some why it kind of echoes the way the trawlers take over the sea.

There is also the theme of how men behave, how they show or don’t show emotion. There is a sense of what is it that men pass down to their children. In some ways in telling that story, the story about the shifts and changes in the town got lost along the way and that is how things develop in my writing sometimes. I start off with an idea but it takes its own course as the poem is being drafted.

Is that how your writing process develops?

I think I start of with an idea or a theme or even a particular issue I want to address but the poem develops in its own way in some respects.

And what themes do you aim to explore?

History is something that I have been interested in and I think I really like to look into the history of places. Like the story of the town, the fishing area where Larry lived.

As a good example, I have a poem which looks into the history of a Lighthouse. I took my kids to Cape St George Lighthouse and there is an interesting story about that Lighthouse. It was built in the wrong place and was so ineffective that there were ships which ran aground because of it. I think there was a reef which was not properly outlined by the Lighthouse and so this caused ships problems.

Cape St George Lighthouse

The story goes on because in those days, maybe a hundred years ago, the Lighthouse Operators and their families would live there. There is a tragic story about the family, which included a number of family deaths. Everything just seemed to go wrong for the family and that included the death of the father who was fishing off the rocks when a Bull Shark took his line and dragged him into the sea. And all of that information developed into a poem.
I also bring into my writing my interest in Ancient History. It’s such a rich source, so to speak—life repeats itself, we make the same mistakes throughout history and that allows the writer to bring in material from different periods. I like to weave all of those elements through my poetry.

And is this what people could expect in your book?

Yes, although my work also includes elements of my family life. I’m a young father so my boys and my wife often make appearances in my work. The book has formed over the last four or five years and during that time my two children have been born, so of course, that impacts your life and ends up in the work.

Your work seems very Australian but also very universal as well. Would that be reasonable to say?

I think so. As I said I like to tell stories and I like to look at places around me, where I visit and find out interesting stories to tell about those places through poetry. I don’t think though that I am part of the traditional Australian rural style of writing, I’m not a Bush Ballad writer like Banjo Patterson.

I think I could be connected with a more modern, more contemporary, ecological, style of writing. I think I fit somewhere in there. Many writers love the Australian landscape and I think I would fit in well with an approach that appreciates the landscape and looks for ways to write the human with it.

The one thing I can say is that I find it hard to write the city because I don’t live in the city and |I don’t visit the city too much. I live in a small country town with a population of around 1800.

In Robertson, we’re close to the sea and we live on the edge of an escarpment, which descends about 700 metres to the coast. So I suppose while I’m not a traditional Australian country poet, and I wouldn’t place myself in that tradition, I do try and stay true to my roots and the places which surround my life.

What about developing your craft?

I have been writing seriously now for about 6 or seven years and I have spent a lot of that time with Mark Tredinnick—I had a mentorship with him, and I think I have been developing my craft over that time.

I think also that you must read a lot, so that you can see what other people are doing, and you can see what elements of craft you might want to experiment with. For example the way other poets use line breaks, the way they use metaphors or imagery, or the way they write or withhold emotion on the page. What it is that they are bringing to their work. All of that activity has an impact. In terms of how you end up approaching your writing. I also read books on poetic craft; Mary Oliver’s handbooks or Jane Hirshfield’s Essays on poetry writing, which I think are very useful. They are quite comprehensive. One of my weakest areas is the rhythm of my work and that is something I think I really need to work on.

Is there anything else regarding your work that you are working on?

I like to think about economy of language, so much so, that I would like to revisit some of my work and tighten it up. I would like to work on some of my poems to see if I could maintain a central focus throughout the piece. And luckily I feel like a young poet who has plenty of time to develop my writing.

Where to now?

My book, Waterlines, came out in June and so I have been doing readings and workshops recently. My focus now is on the second book and I have about 30 per cent of that written. I am hoping to have a second collection ready in two to three years. I teach full-time and so my writing is a bit slower than it otherwise might be. Beyond that, I will be working on my craft and I want to be part of the Australian poetry community, supporting other poets where I can.

To see more of Peter Ramm’s work go to the following link –

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