AP: So you’ve got this situation where already there’s a potential fear of how the work might get perceived or misperceived, and then also the publishing climate is challenging.
AW: Yes. But I’m going to come out there and yes, do it. But you know with this kind of material you sort of think, maybe I should put it under the bed, or what do I do with it? Because it could have just been published on the Deakin University website, but I did want a book. And my ex-supervisor that I’m devoting the book too – Marion Campbell – she was very encouraging, and actually she contacted UWA Publishing asking if they would be interested.
But at times I would get quite frightened, sort of worried, like, what will people think? I even talk about it in the work, how I’m scared of these professors, trying to cut off my head. Because I was given permission to write in the fictocritical style I required – which is already established, which really began you know in the early feminism where people tried to write different texts, so these things have been done – Hélène Cixous, Monique Wittig, you know – all sorts of different formats appeared. But then I thought, supposing people dislike it … I’ve always felt a kind of feeling, ‘hmmm, what are they going to do to me?’ But there are always people who have understood it.
But I’ve done different things recently, I was involved in this music project, Andrée Greenwell’s ‘Listen to me’, material that’s online connected to the #metoo movement. So I’m interested in investigating everything. I make Youtubes with students, I feature in there too. Teaching has given me the right kind of connection with literature, because I’m encouraging other people to write, and to write in an open-minded mode, and to self-publish and to feature on all sorts of different platforms, so I’m encouraging myself. But it’s funny how Horse came out from class, from teaching, someone bringing the fairytale – so it’s a great circle.
AP: It strikes me as well that for you publication is just, if it happens it happens, but the process of writing is really important to you.
AW: Oh absolutely, it’s the process of writing, that I love most of all. The actual doing of it. Because that’s when one is a writer. But publishing you know, it’s all a fraught situation, because of the funding needed, and specific aims and publishing now is under greater duress. But I would say the online material interests me – so, all is good. And I am, I don’t know, I’m open to anything that can happen in literature. Maybe in the future literature will be done on some kind of interspace of visual material like film and then the writing is on top of that? Who knows how it will be done? I’m always saying, ‘I have to work out this really commercial mode’ – voice, image, I don’t know, but it could well be a kind of different level of literature will appear.
AP: Your work has always kind of pushed those boundaries and Horse continues that. What is the importance of the performative in your work, do you think?
AW: Well, I would say the act of writing in itself is a performative act. So there I am, typing away, but the thinking about it is performative too, you know. The images one gets, it’s a very fascinating sort of process. But the actual reading of the work interests me too, because it is theatre, it is theatre. And I will wear, I’ve done a performance from Horse where I dress with the beard and had a big red cloak, and I’ll put it on again. But I didn’t know that people will recognise it was me. Ahh – it’s my height!
AP: You have previously discussed conservatism in Australian poetry, and I wonder – is that another dimension to it, that poets here aren’t engaging with that performative aspect of their work?
AW: Oh I think they are. Oh yes. And anyway, a student of mine is now running Spoken Word Melbourne, so I am putting it out there. And I think that’s the most vivid and exciting part of poetries now, you know, that whole Youtube material that’s appearing, and the kind of freedom of self-publication. There’s a new movement, set up by younger poets, who are now exploring that sort of idea of presence in performance. And a kind of egalitarian presence. Although undoubtedly you know there’s always editing – websites edit, they have their specifications – but a wider ground is opening. And that immediacy of publication: if someone reads, then they are published, they are made public.
But I don’t know, I always found the whole poetry scene…it is a kind of strange, formal scene. So that’s why I have to wear a beard!
AP: Has it always been that way, since you’ve been involved in poetry in Australia?
AW: I think so, and not just in Australia, I think it’s like that everywhere. I don’t know, when I started to write, I would go to a place in Gertrude Street which in that era was called ‘Keyhole Club’. It was a gay venue, but they let the poets come in on Monday, so we’d all come in there. Poetry readings started, that’s where I would go. I don’t know when I started writing – ’79, ’80 – and that was the year, you know, Patti Smith appeared – there was a punk movement, so that’s where I emerged from. I had an outfit, which was leopard skin, with leopard skin pompoms – those were the days!
But it’s interesting, how does one create a sort of more active scenario for people? How to get out of this particular club situation, I don’t know. I was looking at, you know, Louise Bourgeois, artists and films of an older person performing, and there seems to be less of that; maybe they are excluded. I don’t know, I sort of like to think, ‘I’m 100 years old, reading with a beard’ (laughs) … I’ll have to get a new beard. But you know, I think there should be a great variety of experience. But I wonder how literature really functions, maybe literature also is a sort of directed, politicised field too. What statements are encouraged … it’s fascinating, you know the whole reception theory, how things are seen, and it is also related to, perhaps, a political climate. So it’s fascinating how, what will happen next?