Spotlight On / Kerri Shying

‘Write daily, read widely in all genres and don’t think too much about the fashion. Don’t expect to get rich, and don’t go about comparing your work or your progress to others.’

Kerri Shying is a poet of Chinese, Australian and Wiradjuri heritage who recently published sing out when you want me, a poetry collection that arose from receiving a Writing NSW Early Career Writer Grant in 2016. Membership & development officer Sherry Landow caught up with Kerri about the collection and other writing projects.

Congratulations on the recent publication of your poetry collection, sing out when you want me. How will you launch the book?
I had so much material generated through the course of the grant that I separated it into two books; the first one published is sing out when you want me, in English and Chinese by ASM/Cerberus/Five Islands Press. We are planning to launch it at the June meeting of Newcastle’s Poetry at The Pub, on June 18th at the Wickham Park Hotel at 7.30pm. And yes, there’s an open read!

Know Your Country is being further developed and is looking for a publisher as a full-length poetry book.

What inspired the collection?
It completely came out of my experience as a mixed race woman and an insider/outsider in all kinds of ways. Through my life experience and work. My sense of belonging (to this country) was never fragile but to the systems that run it, well that’s the story I suppose, right there. When you come from people with a history of hiding who you are, there is a story always inside you.

I’m gobsmacked by your dedication to write a poem a day for 365 days! How did you maintain motivation for a whole year?
Stubbornness! Pride? I think it was some kind of magical thinking at various points. I was very intimidated in the first month, I even moved from place to place, certain that I would run out of things to write about, but by the time the month was up, I was begging to stay on for more. It gave me a sense of discipline that emboldened me to reach further in style and content. I got less precious, and that was essential. After the first month, it is a habit I think; you feel odd then if you haven’t written that day.

Tell us about your writers group, Write Up!, and how it came about.
I’ve been disabled for almost a decade now. Write-Up started as a NSW government-funded accessibility project auspiced through Octapod – we have now devolved it through funding from the Council for Intellectual Disability to the point where it is freestanding, and will work through an agreement with the Newcastle City Council Library. We provide monthly writing groups for any person with disability. We are a peer-support group, using the knowledge and experience of all the group members. You must write every time we meet. We try to source funds to assist with submission fees and so forth, and offer criticism, encouragement and social time. We have a load of good writers.

You were one of the inaugural recipients of a Writing NSW Early Career Writer Grant. How did this grant affect your writing year?
The grant was a huge motivation. I felt that I had something to live up to (everyone was very thrilled for me and that makes you work harder I think), and even the judges’ remarks gave useful feedback for me in planning how the work should go. I opened up a far larger field of interrogation to myself than I would have, had I not been applying for a grant. It is the reaching a little beyond what you think you are capable of, that makes the space for new work to rush in, in my case.

I did not go to university, so I was not used to being tested in that way; the understanding of having a ‘mission’ and spacing it out over the time was quite alien to my normal work process. It is a far better work process now and the grant is to blame for that. I became connected to the writing world in a way I had not thought to be before. It seemed like a space I could be.

Has your writing process changed since writing more poetry than short stories?
I think the process was changed by the onset of my chronic disabling disease, which makes me very tired; I found it harder to write longer pieces and it seemed ‘the governor’ in my head had gone. I always wrote small grabs in notebooks, this had been a lifetime habit I urge on everyone – I write things on bar coasters, on table napkins, anywhere that is paper if I am caught short, and throw them in a box. The point at which they became stories was when they were assigned to characters – now, I write the lines in a clearer way, it seems to have less subterfuge to arrive at a similar destination.

I would say I use the same process, but have taken away the long process of dressing up the actors…..

How did a writing retreat benefit your manuscript?
It was vastly important. Time away from your own writing space is always worthwhile, and at two points of the writing. The first point is during the time you are collecting your work. In my case I was writing of the area of Young, Cootamundra and the Ballast Ground and port area of Newcastle, so spending time writing amid the small creatures, the growing plants, listening to the place, it all matters. The second time retreat was important is when the poems are collected and you must sit and read them aloud to some interested person (hopefully your mentor) over and over, to discover their faults. It is hard to do this at home. I was lucky to have Professor Kit Kelen to help me on this score. It helps to go walk in the bush after hearing a poem limp like a child with a stone in her shoe.

Do you have any advice for emerging poets?
Write daily, read widely in all genres and don’t think too much about the fashion. Don’t expect to get rich, and don’t go about comparing your work or your progress to others. Everyone will go along at their own rate, as in other things in life. There are many terrific workshops available at writers’ centres and around the traps, go take them. Go read in pubs. Kill your darlings. Poems are like buses, there is always another one, right around the corner.

What are you reading at the moment?
I am reading Divine Gardens of Mayumi Oda, and Judy Johnson’s Dark Convicts (yet again).

In your opinion, who/what is the most inspiring…
a) Writer/Poet: C.Boyle
b) Weather: sunshine with those high brisk clouds
c) Time of day: early morning sunrise blush
d) Music: Chinese pipa music

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