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‘The concept of risk is intensely personal’: Jonno Révanche Interviews Hera Lindsay Bird

1 August 2017

JR: I love that you directly mention Paris Hilton because I feel like people are only just beginning to feel nostalgia for her, despite her being quite famous still, especially with her presence being felt quite viscerally in places like Ibiza (I think she’s the DJ ambassador there at the moment or something.) Can you relate to her power of supposedly unlimited celebrity? The function of a poet, at least in public life, seems to fall within this expectation of modesty or nobility, which feels to have been recently shattered. Why aren’t poets allowed to also be models, aestheticians and socialites? How do you feel that our poetic generation has begun to break down these walls of oppression, and revive sensibilities of glamour?

HLB: I don’t think she does have unlimited celebrity. The Paris years are slowly waning, like a pink velour sun, dropping over the horizon. Modesty and understatement in poetry are still easy currency, and it’s still fun to tease people by putting on a heavy black wig and calling yourself T S Eliot’s war widow. There’s this idea that the best poets are the ones who never give much away, who never reveal themselves in the text, who never call you on your birthday even though they promised they would this time, but if you want a solitary goose in flight you know who to ask. To me it’s the True Detective phenomenon of contemporary literature; a lot of scenic jaw clenching and an underwhelming payoff. Frank O’Hara wasn’t reticent or well behaved in his poetry, but, to me, his work is alive with generosity. I’m not saying that poetry must be generous either, I’m just saying it shouldn’t be the literary equivalent of hotel art.

I don’t know about glamour. There’s definitely a lot of leopard print in my book, but I prefer the feather boas and aesthetic overstatement of this book to be tempered with junkyards and pissing in supermarkets.

JR: Camp is really validating to me also, and I’m glad it’s making a comeback because frankly us gays need all the validation we can get, and that age old magic has well and truly vanished. What does camp offer us, in poetic form, that nothing else can?

HLB: I’m not sure I’m running with anyone else’s functioning definition of camp, but, to me, the central tenets of campiness are irreverence, sentimentality, cultural reference, aesthetic decadence and a sense of humour, all of which I want in my poetry. I don’t know what camp offers exclusively to poetry, but the idea of camp was important to me when I was writing this book, because I see a movement in the contemporary fiction / poetry scene where women, in order to be taken seriously by the literary establishment, are donning men’s tuxedos and posing on concrete steps for their author photos in great numbers. There was an article going around a few years ago encouraging women to stop smiling in their author photos because men didn’t have to, but I don’t care what men don’t have to do. I want people to like my writing on its own terms. I like a good suit as much as Fran Lebowitz, but let’s not throw the leopard print out with the bathwater.

A long time ago I promised myself I wouldn’t fall into the trap of dressing like a half-assed Burberry ad in order to get people to take me seriously. I don’t want people to take me seriously. I love camp, because it gave me permission to write about femininity in all its humour and grotesqueness and sentimentality.

JR: There’s a small band of New Zealand poets who are writing very daring, colourful and adventurous poetry at the moment. Do you think there is a particular tone or narrative emerging from this geographical / cultural standpoint, or are you too close to it to say anything? And what do you make of people like me, blindly but sensibly, trying to understand you all together in this possibly reductive way?

HLB: There are lots of emerging NZ poets who I love, and who are pushing all kinds of different boundaries, but I have to say, I actually have no idea which group of people you’re referring to! I love Stacey Teague and Gregory Kan and Carolyn DeCarlo and Jackson Niewland and Ashleigh Young and Chris Tse – all of these voices are profoundly different from each other, tacking different very different content in very different forms and I don’t see a movement at all. Who are you talking about?

JR: I suppose Teague and Tse are definitely names that spring to mind! Talking about scenes is fundamentally a bit gross, and probably makes everyone want to die – yes or no? Can anyone say the word ‘scene’ earnestly without clasping hands with their nearest mall goth and singing along to ‘The Black Parade’ by My Chemical Romance?

HLB: I guess talking about scenes doesn’t make a lot of sense to me in a New Zealand context, because the internet has made geographic proximity kind of irrelevant. The people I feel most aligned with are young writers from the States and the UK. That’s not to say I don’t have a community here, but my favourite writers in this country are all completely stylistically different from me and each other. Speaking of ‘The Black Parade’, though, there’s a great Mariah Carey / My Chemical Romance mash up I have been enjoying this festive season.

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