Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

Poetry slam to try and bring cheer to Yarra Glum

April20

About a year ago I met with a local published poet, Sandy Jeffs. We were at a writer’s convention and she and I were guest poets together. We met again recently and she told me about a poetry night she has just established which will have its gala this May, 2012 in what she calls “Yarra Glum”. I decided to explore this further. Here’s our interview

DONNA WILLIAMS
Hi Sandy, welcome to the interview

1) You’re a poet. Tell me a bit about your life. Where did your ability as a writer come from?

SANDY JEFFS
My life is a bit of soap opera beginning with a very unhappy family torn apart by alcoholism and family violence, sexual abuse at 13 and then a descent into schizophrenia in my early 20s. But I managed to get to university and even graduate with an Arts degree even though it was a huge struggle because of the developing mental illness which was impacting before I was finally diagnosed.

When I went mad I started documenting my madness in poetry and after some years these poems became my first book, Poems from the Madhouse, published by Spinifex Press in 1993. This changed my life dramatically. I went from someone who was an abject failure to a poet.

DONNA WILLIAMS
I don’t think most people realise the importance something like that has in the lives of people with disabilities… to be someONE, not someTHING, to be PERSON, not ever reduced to CONDITION. And that’s what being recognised for a skill does. People may think poetry is no biggie, but becoming a poet has saved many souls, including the poet’s.

SANDY JEFFS
Since then I have had four more volumes of poetry published and a memoir, Flying with Paper Wings: Reflections on Living with Madness. I still can’t believe this has happened. I wonder where the books came from. I wonder where every poem comes from; it seems like little miracle every time a poem appears.

DONNA WILLIAMS
I can relate. It’s similar for me as a writer, especially my first book, it essentially wrote itself. My poetry does that, my art works seem to paint themselves, my music seems to compose itself. It’s like arts can, for some people, come from a sleepwalking state, a preconscious state, a place of our unknown knowing… and that place often seems far less screwed up, disabled or self defeating than our conscious mind. Good thing some of us tap into it, often quite by accident, surprising us that we even had those abilities.

SANDY JEFFS
I never felt that I was a creative person, that seemed to be the gift of everyone else around me. But I have found creativity and value its compelling and startling life. I was always fascinated with language, and poetry started to speak to me in the later years of secondary school but I didn’t really start writing until my midlle 20s. I read a lot and this is inspiration for writing, as is my quirky view of life and the absurdity I see around me. My poems range for high farce to deep darkness. Madness has been a muse for a long time but I write about many other things.

DONNA WILLIAMS
Yes, you have a good range of genres there. That’s important, part of the theme park poetry can take the reader or audience on… from the depths to the heights and all the surreal, silly and sometimes erotic places in between. Tell me about the diversity of poets and performers you’ve encountered.

SANDY JEFFS
Even though I am lucky to be published, I have never really engaged emphatically with the poetry scene. I have been a bit of a fringe dweller.

DONNA WILLIAMS
The archetypal writer in some ways?

SANDY JEFFS
There was a time when I tried to engage with it but I always felt a little intimidated by the scene. The diversity of poets is overwhelming and their performances ranged from the confident and accomplished to the fledgling poet testing the waters.

DONNA WILLIAMS
The newbies are interesting, to watch their daring, their progressive development if they keep practicing.

SANDY JEFFS
I am in awe of poets who have the courage to stand up at these imposing venues and read their work not knowing if it is going to be lauded or at once forgotten. There are the well known poets around the traps who have a following and they seem to be on top of things. I am not well known in this world. I move more in the mental health world doing my advocacy work which involves using my poetry.

DONNA WILLIAMS
I think your work does an important job in humanising mental health issues for people. What do you think people get out of poetry and performance – those writing it, those reading it, those in the audience?

SANDY JEFFS
When I do go to poetry readings I am always moved and inspired by other poets. The range of work is extensive and idiosyncratic. We can learn a lot from each other no matter how accomplished or new we are to the poetry world.

DONNA WILLIAMS
Agreed.

SANDY JEFFS
I always ask: why do we bother to write our poems when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care if a poet lives or starves?

DONNA WILLIAMS
Ha, ha… people rarely pay for poetry… but they might give you a cuppa if you read them a few… and that community spirit is worth plenty too.

SANDY JEFFS
And why are we compelled to share our poems with others? I don’t really know the answer but somewhere in it is the fact that we are compelled to write, that we cannot not write. And sharing a poem with other poets and and an audience gives it a life beyond the page and beyond the poet.

DONNA WILLIAMS
Awesome. So wonderfully put. That’s how I felt as a musician, hearing my music first played by someone else, or, for that matter, first time I dared share it with someone else. Reckon that’s the artist’s journey really. Because a lot of artists as Closet Schizoids… we sometimes appear social but we spend much more time inside our own minds, feelings, lost in some other world. We connect via our works, without them many artists wouldn’t connect socially much at all.

SANDY JEFFS
I think we want our poems to be read and listened to because it gives some vaildation to the fact that we bother to wrack our souls to bring forth a poem which did not exist before that creative moment. Perhaps there is hubris involved, we can be an egocentric mob imbued with our creative minds.

DONNA WILLIAMS
Agreed πŸ˜‰ Do I sense a poem waiting to happen there?

SANDY JEFFS
But we provide a unique view of the world written in a language which speaks the unspeakable, utters the unutterable and senses the insensible.

DONNA WILLIAMS
So damned true. And that’s what a GOOD writer does… they do find a way to “speak the unspeakable, utter the unutterable and sense the insensible” (so good a line, I had to replay it :-).

SANDY JEFFS
The audience is taken on a poetic journey which is always fascinating and never dull.

DONNA WILLIAMS
And if a poet does drop a clanger and we endure a dull moment during their reading, my view, as a Taoist, is that even that becomes part of the tapestry of the night… sometimes a lull, a dull lull, gives us a plateau for a moment, a place from which to soar with the next poet.

You have an event starting in what you call Yarra Glum… where is this, and why Glum? And how do you think this event might change that?

SANDY JEFFS
Yes, we are trying to inculturate and glam up the glum.

DONNA WILLIAMS
A Good example of how writers can’t help themselves but bend and shape and create new words… they are our plasticine πŸ™‚

SANDY JEFFS
I call Yarra Glen the Yarra Glum because it seems to lack a bit of character as a town. It’s a bit unkind and I probably should be more positive about it. It is a town in the Yarra Valley, the famous wine growing country north of Melbourne.

DONNA WILLIAMS
Yes, known as our Barossa Valley, really. Hot air balloon trips if I’m not mistaken.

SANDY JEFFS
However it appears to be dying with the some shops now empty, the main street is often quiet now that a bypass has been made and the street itself lacks physical beauty and is a bit boring.

DONNA WILLIAMS
Especially noticeable perhaps to an artist. We crave beauty around us, wonder, magic, color, texture, diversity, we are gluttons for experience even if we sit in a corner surreptitiously people watching.

SANDY JEFFS
We are hoping that by injecting poetry into the town’s psyche it will inspire it’s residents, and those from the surrounding areas, to get involved in a cultural life which might bring some life to its seeming dormancy.

DONNA WILLIAMS
Ya never know. “The greatest risk in life is taking no risks at all”. What are the details of the upcoming event?

SANDY JEFFS
Details of the event are: Thursday 24th May 7-9pm at Acme et al, 17 Bell Street, Yarra Glen, Entry $5 soup and wine available for purchase.

DONNA WILLIAMS
Ah, some of that famous Yarra Valley wine… that should entice the wine drinkers. And the rest can enjoy soup and tea/coffee. I understand you’re hoping this could become an ongoing event, 4th Thursday of the month. I wish you well with it.

SANDY JEFFS
The featured reader is going to be Isobel (Izzy) Roberts-Orr, a young up and coming poet with a modern style and edge.

DONNA WILLIAMS
And of course like all good poetry nights its a time for open stage where poets, old and new, can share their artistry or that they have read and loved, with the audience.

Donna Williams, BA Hons, Dip Ed.
Author, artist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter.
Autism consultant and public speaker
http://www.donnawilliams.net

I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community.

Comments are closed.