Writers On Writing / ‘Difficult, electric and slippery’: The thrill of poetry with Pip Smith

We interviewed songwriter, novelist and poet Pip Smith, whose six-week online poetry course will be launching on 27 May.

Pip Smith poetry online

Are there any poets that you are particularly inspired by, and how have they influenced your work?

For years I returned to the work of John Forbes. He’s playful, and powerful in equal measure, and certainly shaped my writing for a good many years.

More recently I’ve been bouncing between Anne Sexton’s poems about motherhood, and Max Jacob’s symbolist poems, and checking into what’s turning up on Cordite every few months. I’ve been quite taken by the work of Eloise Grills, which crackles along with verve.

Each week in your Online: Poetry course, students will focus on a different form of poetry. Can you pick a favourite form?

I often write in couplets or quatrains, because I enjoy massaging my free writing until it clicks into shape. But one form that I go back to a lot is the pantoum. There’s something about the recycling of lines that reminds me of being trapped in a half-sleep – a very 21st century condition!

What first inspired you to write poetry?

I think it was the highs and lows of adolescent hormones that first inspired me to write poetry! But a longer answer might be this: I always found reading and writing quite difficult as a kid, which meant I encountered language in a slow, yet charged way. Every word was important, savoured, read over twice. Theatre was my first love – this was literature, even poetry – but lived in the body, not frozen on the page. I had some great English teachers at high school who cracked open Shakespeare for me, and then it was a short journey from Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath on the bookshelf.

When I first started taking writing seriously, it was poetry that came most naturally to me. I often think in an associative way, and dream logic is more at home in poetry than many other forms of writing. You can say anything you like in a poem, and there is no one way to say it. When I am ‘in shape’ as a poet, this is a liberating experience, letting a thought or notion find its own shape on the page. So, what first inspired me to write poetry? The strangeness of language, and how it is at turns difficult, electric, and slippery.

Pip Smith is a songwriter, poet, and novelist from Sydney. Her critically acclaimed first novel, Half Wild, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2017, and her first collection of poetry, Too Close for Comfort, won the inaugural Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award in 2013.

Online: Poetry will take place on a website specifically designed for writers beginning on Monday 27 May. Book your spot here >

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