‘The slippage of speakers’: Lia Dewey Morgan in Conversation with Shastra Deo

By and | 1 September 2023

LDM: Oh, I love that sense of violence as a metaphor for intimacy! Perhaps this relates to this next subject I wanted to pry open with you.

I’ve noticed you have quite a guarded authorial voice, writing within a persona instead of delving into personal or familial matters. I think sometimes poets write so personally that it becomes obscure, with little for the audience to take away. Ironically, writing within popular characters perhaps only furthers the reader’s accessibility into the ideas you explore, and the reader remains at a safe distance from your personal life: suggestive, but rarely conclusive. Nonetheless, your name remains on the front of the book, filled (for some) with demeaning connotations of what a person from the diaspora should be writing. This is where the poem ‘Shastra Deo’ seems to step in, for me, at once acknowledging your heritage, while also engaging with the distance you experience as someone growing up in Australia, and the ways you have made meaning of your own sense of place and time. I’m curious about your inclusion of a more personal poem in a collection that is often at a remove. Could you tell me a little more about how you consider this?

SD: Until I became a published author, I really didn’t realise readers assumed poetry was personal! I was just a happy little fiction writer writing morbid little fiction poems! The poems ‘Shastra Deo’ and ‘गुम’; or, ‘Lexical Gaps’ (from The Agonist) are probably the only two that delve into my cultural heritage and ethnicity. But I think, critically, they’re both obsessed with etymology, which tells you a lot more about my preoccupations and who I am as a person than my skin colour or where I was born. I’ve been very privileged in that these things just haven’t taken up much mental space for me. When I think of ‘heritage’ I think of my mother watching Dragonball Z with me when I was a kid (Goku was her favourite). When I think of heritage, I think of my mother saying ‘Like Anakin in the sand I grew up with red soil all around me’ (still trying to work that into a poem). I guess we’ve always been a family that diffracts experience through popular culture.

I’ve kind of regretted including ‘गुम; or, ‘Lexical Gaps’ in The Agonist, because I think it pulls a lot of unnecessary focus. But ‘Shastra Deo’ is a special poem for me because it was written after my past mentor’s poem, ‘Bronwyn Lea’. Once I made the decision to include Hindi text within other parts of the book, it felt diffused, and safer to include, especially as a letter of appreciation to the person who taught me how to read poetry. I wrote the poem back in 2017, so it’s also something of a call-back to my younger poet self too, which is pleasurable in its own way.

LDM: I love that idea about diffracting experience through popular culture! It’s interesting how, even when we are displaced and taken out of context so many times over, we still find a language to negotiate our sense of who we are, where we come from and where we are going…

Okay, final question: so, I’m going to assume it’s been at least a year (if not more) since many of these poems were written. How are you reflecting now on The Exclusion Zone, and where’s your writing headed now that it’s been published?

SD: Yeah! The earliest poems are from 2017, and the most recent (‘Aubade (Earth-TRN688)’) was finished in November 2021. The collection was written as part of my doctoral thesis – I submitted for examination back in June 2021, and was conferred in January 2022, so it’s fair to say I was already feeling a lot of distance by the time The Exclusion Zone was released in early 2023! It’s been strange putting myself back in those zones of slow violence and past hyper-fixations.

My doctoral thesis was very interested in speech acts of command – you can see this play out most explicitly in the choose-your-own-adventure poem, but also in other poems where the line is broken to create a command where one wouldn’t be otherwise. The thing about J L Austin’s speech acts, however, is that they have three parts: the locution (what’s said), the illocution (the intent behind what’s said), and the perlocution (what consequently happens in the real world). I’m still waiting to see how The Exclusion Zone’s perlocution plays out (read: I’m desperate for a review from a gamer).

Meanwhile, I fell in love. And adopted two cats. In the last interview I did for Liminal, I mentioned I hadn’t written for a long time, but the last five months have been full of love poems, cat poems, loving cat poems. Poems where I’m a version of the ‘I’ capturing a moment in time. That’s new for me, and it’s been a lot of fun to write fragments that feel a little bit silly, or indulgent. I suppose in times like these, every poem is an indulgence. And I’ve made my peace with that.

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