Born in Melbourne, Mark O’Flynn now lives in the Blue Mountains. He began writing for the stage before turning to fiction and poetry. He has published five collections of poetry, most recently The Soup’s Song. His novels include The Last Days of Ava Langdon, Grassdogs and The Forgotten World. In 2013 he also published the comic memoir, False Start, and a collection of short stories, White Light.
What challenges do you experience in writing poetry that is original and meaningful?
One challenge is trying to make any sort of meaning at all. When I satisfy that I then have to say what I want to say, or describe what I want to describe in the right words, and also the fewest words, the most effective words. Poetry allows you to say as much as possible in as few a words as possible. This can have the effect of making it incredibly dense, but this should not mean obscure. As Douglas Stewart said, one should strive for absolute clarity. I still think that’s good advice.
How much of poetry is about following rules and how much is it about breaking them?
Yes, paradoxically you should understand the rules before you can break them. It’s not complete anarchy. There is something to be said for conventions, even if it’s only to have something to buck against. These rules might include the mechanics, grammar, syntax, spelling, structure and so forth. But also you should read as broadly as possible so as to discover how others have broken the rules and applied these, whether these are merely traditions of form or subject. The challenge is then to create new rules and see what new forms emerge.
What rules have you broken in your poetry?
I guess one can’t help being cheeky. I once wrote a series of 13 sonnets, one of which had 15 lines. On another occasion I wrote a long sequence without using the letter ‘e’. Not really earth shattering innovations. I am not personally into the whole language poetry experimentation, although I can see how it can lead to new modes of playing with words, of rejecting more conventional forms and perspectives.
Join Mark in his course Breathing Life into Language: Writing Poetry on Saturday 1 April, 10am-4pm