Chris Mansell, intervewed by Anne Kellas



A conversation with Chris Mansell

Chris Mansell was born in Sydney in 1953, and has been widely published in Australia and overseas. Besides three books of poems to her credit, another collection of poems — Shining like a jinx — won the Amelia Chapbook Award in America, and is being published there shortly.

From 1987 until early 1989 she was a part time lecturer in creative writing at the University of Wollongong. In 1988 she participated in the NIDA Playwright's Studio, and in 1989 was full time lecturer in creative writing at the University of Western Sydney, Macarthur.

During 1990 she was writer in residence at the University College of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, and after a short National Book Council tour around Hervey Bay, she came to Tasmania to work for eight weeks with the Kaleidoscope Community Arts Company, and subsequently seven weeks with the Gambit Theatre Company in Launceston.

This interview took place during Chris Mansell's stay in Hobart, and was published in Famous Reporter, issue 5, May 1992. The interviewer is Hobart-based poet Anne Kellas.

Interviewer: People will be interested to know what your impressions are of Hobart — is it the first time you've been here?

Chris Mansell: It is the first time I've been in Hobart in fact. I've been to Launceston before, a couple of years ago for the Tasmanian Poetry festival, witnessed the Launceston Poetry Cup: it's great, it really is good fun.

I'm quite stunned by the place, frankly, and I like it, the way it nestles in, and the dominance of Mt. Wellington everywhere, that's stunning visually. I think you feel quite differently about a place when it's got that big mountain there all the time, I don't know what it is exactly about it.

But because I'm being writer in residence, I get to see all the literary people, so I've got this impression of Hobart as this incredibly literary place, because I see writers all the time, and the circus people. So I have this view of Hobart that is probably uncharacteristic in a way!

Interviewer: You were brought out here by the Kaleidoscope Community Arts Company.

Chris Mansell: Yes, for nine weeks, eight weeks of which are in Hobart, and one in Launceston, and then seven weeks in Launceston with the Gambit Theatre Company.

With Kaleidoscope, I've been working with Apprentice Theatre, Mummers, the Tasmanian Youth Circus, Horizon, Whispering Circus; I've been going out to visit schools, a few readings, and workshops on Wednesday nights—that was just because people wanted them, and that was really good.

Interviewer: How did the theatrical connection with Kaleidoscope happen?

Chris Mansell: I think Apprentice wanted a writer, because their students had said they wanted to do some writing, and so it came via that, and then a whole package was put together. And then I've been working with Mummers as well, which is another young people's theatre group, on a very specific writing program, a short program very much designed on just writing.

But Apprentice do a lot of different things, voice, movement, plays, so it's very broad.

I've been working with Youth Circus just a bit, but mainly working with Horizon Circus, and a show they're going to do which is very exciting, it's going to be brilliant.

Interviewer: How will they use the writing?

Chris Mansell: With circus of course there isn't a lot of dialogue, it's mainly structural things, so we work together, I much prefer that, I don't like to come in and say do it like this, because it's not very useful, people don't want to do your thing, they want to do their thing. Which is fair enough. And they know what they can do—I mean particularly with circus, they know whether they can hang from the ceiling, or go off in a puff of smoke, they know whether they can dangle from one foot—people have the most amazing conglomeration of skills, weird things honestly Anne, weird things! It makes my stomach turn just to think about it, and I'm afraid of heights....

That's been very good. Horizon are very dynamic. It's a big production, but unfortunately I won't be here to see it. They're in training even now.

It's far and away from poetry which is my main thing, I mean I'm primarily a poet, but I suppose it is working with performance that leads you up these strange alleys....

Interviewer: Would you say you are a performance poet, or also a performance poet, or sometimes a performance poet ... ?

Chris Mansell: I think I was briefly a performance poet once in about 19.. ! It is true—I did a lot of performance work when I was younger. It is very energetic really. I do believe that you should be able to communicate at least a proportion of your work, and frankly it's a necessity, if you are going to communicate to people. Though I feel a lot more comfortable on the page in a way, because you can get increasing levels of complexities across, which in performance sometimes you can't. it depends—sometimes you can't.

Often, the term performance poet means you can actually read your work out, without your head on your chest, and that you actually open your mouth when you speak, and look at the audience once or twice.

Earlier this year in Toowoomba I did a show there, a proper scripted hour long thing, which I enjoyed doing. It was all my work, and I had another actor with me, and some students did an interpretation which they devised entirely of a poem of mine, which was very interesting to see. I enjoyed doing that. It was quite theatrical—we did have a script and we did have lights and we did have proper entrances and exits and all those sorts of things that you don't normally think of as performance poetry.

And I suppose also I did do a tape in 1988 with a musician. [Rob Cousins, called Raptor Blue]. So I deny it, but when you look at the facts, I do a reasonable amount of performance work.

Interviewer: But it happens as part of your work?

Chris Mansell: It's being put in the situation where, if you were going to communicate, you have to do a certain amount of performance.

Of course once you get this tag, people expect you to come up with the goods, whether you've given yourself the tag or not. If somebody else gives it to you, they say 'Oh, do one!'—you're given no choice.

There is a school—a bunch of people who would see themselves as performance poets, very strongly influenced from Melbourne, or coming from Melbourne even though they're geographically spread—and they're not 'performance' in that theatrical mode we were talking about, but in that 'poetry-performance' mode, which is interesting.

And I've gone away from that, because I find that for me the type of poetry that often had to be written then, is not the type of poetry that I now want to write, ten years down the track. I'm not running it down but it just does not suit me. I now want to say different things.

Having said that, I've just finished a poem that will take half an hour in performance, and that is a performance poem. I won't read it to you, relax! It has very long lines for me, and very long long lines for performance. A very angry poem. So it's a transition. It's really different to what you've read of me before, just really different. And the whole rhythm, the whole technique is different.

In Redshift/Blueshift [published by Five Islands Press in 1988] i really like making things double up, and the ambiguity, and I've knotted it all back in. In this new poem, I've blown it all out, that's why the lines are so long. It's almost a physical thing, I've un-concertina'ed them and pasted them on the page. With my earlier poems the lines cross over, they break the grammar so that you end up with an ambiguity at the end, and they are grammatically enjambed, and they're meant for the page. And yet I read out those often.

I've been very influenced by the Americans, as just about every Australian poet my age has been, but from time to time I change. I was reading a lot of O'Hara, and recently I've been reading a lot of prose, a really weird variety—I've got some Carver on my table, I've just finished Sally Morgan, Tom Wolfe, anything that walks past, Eco, Asimov.... Ricocheting all over the place, which I don't mind, because I've been writing these stories and I hate writing prose. With a poem if I'm changing form, I understand what I am doing, and I know what the parameters are. With prose I think, 'This is great, what is it?' I don't understand it in the same way. Often it comes out very much as I write poetry, that's why I write short fiction.

Interviewer With your poems, do you see them visually, when you start writing a poem, do you begin with an image?

Chris Mansell: Frequently they begin entirely verbally. I love language, and with my stuff, especially in Redshift/Blueshift, if you don't have a sort of consciousness about language, it will lose you. You won't know what's going on, because the grammar won't behave properly, and if you don't understand where the shifts are, you won't be able to read it.

I think post-modernism is fascinating, but it's not my sort of thing; I mean I read it but it doesn't sting me, it doesn't excite me. I actually prefer the Russian formalists, I prefer Roman Jakobson and people like that.

As far as I'm concerned if a theory of language doesn't excite me, well, very clever so what, I'm not really interested. It seems to me it's gone about as far as it can go. I don't think people often allow a lot of humanity, they're too busy with the superficially structural things.

Whereas somebody like Mary Fallon—Working hot—that is brilliant, the most exciting book I've ever read for its outrageousness. You go from one thing to the other, it's very light, you don't get bogged down with pages as with William Burroughs. She assumes you're quick on the up-take and goes zing, zing, zing.... I think it's much undervalued, that book.

One of the people I've been reading is Jennifer Maiden. She's a wonderful poet, very complex, very intelligent.

Interviewer: She's one of the 'Generation of "68"' poets....

Chris Mansell: She was included in that anthology ... but that anthology is ... shall we say idiosyncratic? I think that Tranter would say that too. Of contemporary Australians I read whatever comes along. I enjoy Maiden, she's quite difficult to read but she's also fun because of that. Mainly other women.

When you're in the trade you read quite differently, it's like being in the theatre if you're an actor.... So I read Dot Porter who's different to Maiden, and to me.

But I take more notice of the women because I think they are undervalued, significantly undervalued. At poetry readings, it's mostly female, but on the pages, it's the other way around. That's very interesting.

I don't think people are being nasty doing that, but they define what they want to see, and it leaves out a lot of good poets.

Interviewer: Do you feel that you are rowing your own boat in a way, and that you don't want to be pigeonholed?

Chris Mansell: Yes, which is a dangerous thing in a way, because if you're not in the gang, you get beaten up in the playground....

But there are a few people around who undertand what you're doing....

Interviewer: How do you keep strong like that?

Chris Mansell: I don't! I write to people I really like, that's important, to have some sort of confidence about the language and how you use it and want to use it. Also I read not only contemporary people but I like people like e.e. cummings, who are incredibly quirky and mad. I would't want to write like cummings, but there's a dynamic in him that I really like, a sort of kinesis, always switching from one to the other. Being able to hold two, three, maybe four bits of movement in the language all at once.

That's why I resist the tag of performance poet, because oddly the spoken word is less layered. I want you to be able to dip your hands in it—at the level of language too, not just at the level of reference.

Don't you agree that all artists have to row their own boats to a degree, otherwise you're saying 'me too, me too', running behind....

Interviewer: I think your work has an Alice in Wonderland freshness about it ... and I was wondering how you keep that freshness, the spontaneity? Do you try to be very unconscious when you are writing?

Chris Mansell: I think I'm just weird to start off with Anne!

Interviewer: You have a whacky edge to things, the way you look at the world....

Chris Mansell: It's at a tangent, yes. Actually that's a major theme. I didn't realise until someone got the names of my books mixed up, and I suddenly realised that each one has some idea of transformation in it. The first one is Delta, meaning river delta but also as a mathematical symbol for change. I was very aware of that. The next one, Head heart and stone, I was trying to get a notion of otherness, so you've always got this shift, and the next one, Redshift/Blueshift it's like the Doppler effect for light.

So that idea of transformation is really important, and coming at things from funny angles; and notions of epistemology, theories of perception, that's what I'm really interested in, and that's why it comes in at weird angles because I'm trying to see things—you know how when you want to see things, you're squinting, you walk around it and see if it works from that angle.

That's a major theme, and that's why I write in that overlapping form. Grammatically enjambed is the only way I know how to say it. That's why i write like that, because in the form itself there's a sort of transformation of kinetic things, like cummings, going through. Well, that's the aim anyway.

Interviewer: That transformation you mention, does that tie in with the overt themes of the heart, and anguish, and pain?

Chris Mansell: I think actually there's a lot of concealed humour. I mean I think things are funny often. And funny things are sad at the same time. I mean, quite frequently humour is appalling. We laugh at the most hideous things. And I find that quite intriguing, and I like to do seriousness-frivolity-hope-despair in one line. I actually like that, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

It's frequently misconstrued, but I do think that we've got to do all these things at once because it's simply how we are. And people who think that we are the way we chat....! seem to be the most appalling sort of persons.

I mean we're not like that at all. Each individual person has got their pockets of despair and pockets of joy that they never speak to another human being about, ever ... and yet we all carry these pockets, these secret pockets. All over us. And we don't even tell our closest loved one frequently about some particular ones we hide.

And so the joys and the despairs—I think it's reasonable, if you are a poet, to get to the heart like that.

That 'otherness' is very important to me, that sense of being out there, because it's a fundamental problem of consciousness, that things are ... that you are not you; that they're you and that you're conscious of them, but that they are unyielding at the same time. They're other, and strange.

Because we accustom ourselves to all sorts of amazing things, you know, we act as though it's perfectly alright, all these strange, weird things in the world that we zoom around saying 'that's fine'—we haven't got a clue.

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Interviewer: With your early reading, who influenced you?

Chris Mansell: Keats and Coleridge, and Dylan Thomas—everyone goes through their Dylan Thomas phase. And Eliot of course we were taught at school.

But the very first things that made me start to think about poetry were through Keats and Coleridge in particular, you know I came across the 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner'—and it was great, it's a wonderful thing to discover.

Interviewer: Were they things that you discovered, or did teachers say hey look at this?

Chris Mansell: Well, with Keats it was definitely teachers, and there was a particular teacher who was very fond of language. Every week we had a certain number of words, we had to know how to spell them, we had to know their meaning, and their etymology. And to a kid, at fourteen, it left a lot of kids cold, but Keats I could really understand and I really liked that reasonably complex stuff. At that age you really enjoy it, because you're certainly capable of understanding it.

Then later, Sylvia Plath—it's sort of dark and light, and wow, you know, one got very excited. With Thomas it was the other way round, with lovely rhythms you haven't got a clue what it meant but who cares you know, you go sailing off.... So I really enjoyed those.

I was about sixteen, seventeen when I actually started reading poetry journals in Australia. I started reading contemporary Australian poetry when I was about that age—to me it's always been there. I remember I'd bought some of these literary magazines and took them to school—I was at boarding school at the time—and reading these things, and being totally floored by them, totally shocked. Everybody was going through a concrete poetry phase at one stage, and I was just stunned by this, like you are when you confront some new art work that's totally—it hit me here, I thought, this not like Dylan Thomas!

And that was really good. I thought a lot of it was rubbish too, but I've always been fairly arrogant about things—I think you have to be. It's an arrogance and humbleness all mixed up, you know, you have to be arrogant to survive, and you have to be humble to learn, so you have to keep both going at the same time, don't ask me how. That was so stunning. So I kept on reading, anyone who was going at the time.

Interviewer: And any particular poets that you came across that....

CHRIS MANSELL: Mainly through reading. I mean I know a lot of poets now, I didn't then. I'd read most people before I met them. And some poets about my age I remember hearing—Dot Porter's about my age, I remember Dot read at the Opera House in Sydney, and I was taken with that, because she is a very aggressive reader. A whole lot of readers in that series of readings I remember quite vividly because I hadn't been to very many poetry readings.

I was quite shy, I'd go to the reading, but I wouldn't speak, which is odd, when people meet me they don't understand that, they think that this is everything.

I went to those readings and didn't meet a lot of people until I started editing Compass. And then I had to meet people because if you're going to get a magazine out, and sell it, you've got to start holding your breath and say 'Right!'....

Interviewer: When did you start Compass?

CHRIS MANSELL: Another poet called Dane Thwaites and I, we started it in '78, and then he dropped out and I continued for a while, and that was really good—I reckon there's nothing like reading huge batches of dreadful poetry, as you must do as an editor, to really sharpen up your skills. Because you're reading something and find yourself saying 'I hate that! Why do I hate that?'

And you think, on what basis am I saying that, and you have to re-examine your own things and the principles you work on—sometimes they're unconscious. Then when you react, you think, well, what is this exemplifying, what is this, why, where's this line....

And sometimes I think it's philosophical, an attitude to language.

But that taught me so much about writing, being in the thick of it, and meeting all these people and talking with a lot of people. As with writing workshops, you've got to think in a different way, and you catch yourself doing things, and it really hones up your skills quick smart.

Interviewer: What became of Compass?

CHRIS MANSELL: It closed down, actually i passed it all over to a little magazine that comes out of the University of Wollongong, called Scarp, and that gave them a real boost, because we had Literature Board funding which they then took over—and all the subs went to them and everything. Usually what happens when a literary mag folds, it just folds, and everyone just goes down the gurgler, but I think that's hopeless, you know, we might as well give it to somebody—that was about '88.

And thank goodness. I found that I hadn't been working. At one stage I was secretary of the Poets Union in New South Wales, and I was working full time, in a job that was quote demanding—editing, print production, stuff like that, long hours—I was working on Compass—and I was trying to write. One night I was setting things, and my hands were shaking—and I don't normally shake, and I said to myself, 'Gee you better give something up here....!' So I quit work. And then after a while, you know what magazines are like, they're unending sources of—you can put yor life and your heart into them—so I had to say enough is enough, I've given that many years, and from now on I'm just going to be a writer.

And I'm not out agitating and carrying on for the Poets' Union, and I'm not out on the barricades, not doing things like editing magazines any more. I just want to get my work done.

I'm worried about some people too ... because some people ... plainly ... they're very interested in you if they thought you would publish them, but people would suck up to you and say the most dreadful things. Because you're a writer you understand, and they think you're a different species when you're an editor. Very odd.

And sometimes it's people you don't expect to be like that. And some people you can see coming a mile off.

Interviewer: Do you find you have a freedom now that you've given that up?

Chris Mansell: Oh yes I do, and also I can go to a reading and just listen. Because I was always going to readings on the scout and thinking mmm.... Especially new writers, I'm interested in them, particularly because I know how hard it is for new writers to break through, to make contact.

Most of them don't seem to read anything! Most people, they write more poetry than they read, which is extraordinary behaviour. They can think up the most amazing excuses for the most appalling lumps of poetry, and yet other people get torn to pieces for the merest infringement. You think, WOW, should be the other way around. You should be generous to other people and fierce to yourself. Very wrong, very wrong.

Interviewer: You don't work at a career....

Chris Mansell: Writing is my thing.

Interviewer: Do you teach creative writing at Wollongong University still?

Chris Mansell: I used to, and last year I was at the University of Western Sydney, one of their campuses there, and I took writing there. So I suppose over the last four years I've spent a lot of time teaching writing, though I've also taught Adult Education - writing.

But it's really weird that I get sick of teaching writing, or lecturing about writing, because you find yourself too certain about things, and that's dangerous. For me as a poet, that's dangerous.

Interviewer: Because that's encroaching onto the edge of that freshness that you want to keep, and you want to have that strength, but that's a different kind of strength?

Chris Mansell: You can get technical strength I think, by being very sure about certain sorts of things, but you can't get too sure about your own possible ways of knowing things. Your own approaches. You can't say, if you do a, and b, and c, and d, you should end up with that. It becomes uninteresting to you—and to anyone else I suspect. And clutters up your consciousness with all sorts of other ratbag nonsense.

It is actually very enervating, teaching writing. Though I love it, after the fact I'm always, drained. But I love the actual process of workshops, and I get excited about people's work. I genuinely do, at the time I get really into it, but I think that's why I get so drained. If I could maintain a sort of bored distance I'd be fine.

But I've never managed to do that. I always find someone who is doing something really interesting and I start leaping up and down on the spot saying 'Hey wow, there, look at that, isn't it great....'

But you just end up drained.

There are a lot really good writers around who really do need attention and someone to say yeah yeah. Often they don't need the things that they are ostensibly asking you about. What they need is somebody to say yeah now do the next one, do the next one. So it's a pat on the back and a kick at the same time. Which is fair enough, that's what I would have needed, I think. Support, and push at the same time.

I've seen some people with workshops, they take over and insist that their students write the way they want them to write, and I don't think that's fair. If you're going to be an artist you've got to find your own way.

Interviewer: And you can't tinker with somebody's else's way....

Chris Mansell: Oh I think you can tinker all your life, but they've got to be the ones who, arrogantly or humbly, say no or yes, as the case may be. That's craft, but I think that for the way, they've got to find that, and they've got to go and do what they want to do, and not what you think would be a good idea.

Last year I tried to tell people, yes, you are where it is for you, so go with that, and go as far as you can, don't hang back at the margins being polite or safe or reckon somebody else could do it better, just do it.

And I remember one fellow, he came running in, saying 'Chris Chris, ah, I want to do—I want to put it on big posters—and there's a bit like this you see—and I want to put it right across—and a little bit down here....' describing this sort of installation!

And I said, yeah, yeah?

And he said, 'Well? Can I?'

And I said why are you asking me? You can do anything you want!'

He said 'Right, OK!' and raced out the room as if I'd really told him something.

It was really funny, but for me that exemplifies the way I like to teach, that you're there, for the being excited, the being articulated at, an accepting environment so that people can rush in with their mad projects, only not so mad. And you can say 'Yes, well, but what about that?'' and they can accept that or reject that, and rush off and do it themselves.

I'm a bit keen on people having mad projects, I think it's very important.


Interviewer: Your own beliefs, or faith? Spiritual explorations?

Chris Mansell: I'm not quite sure what spiritual things are. I don't actually know what other people mean by spirituality, I don't actually understand what they mean. I've listened. I've got a vague idea, but I don't consciously strive for a spiritual sort of approach, because I think for myself I can't divide things up like that. I just can't say 'That's my more spiritual side.' I just really don't understand the question. And I'm not trying to be evasive. To me it's all the one thing, I can't really take it out because it all belongs with how you see the world and how the world sees you if it does see you at all. It's an odd answer I know, because usually people say I am not spiritual or I am. But I don't know.

Interviewer: For you, does poetry change things? Do you find that in the process of writing a poem, you arrive at a different point that you didn't expect?

Chris Mansell: Frequently yes. I don't know if it changes other people. Other people's poems have changed me, their way of looking at things has been stunning, and I've thought oh right OK.

But certainly for me I am not a person who will say I am going to write a poem about giraffes; there's a wonderful poem about a giraffe by Judith Beveridge whose work I love.

But I can't write a poem 'about', it's always a process. In the crafting stage I then clarify certain things and discard things but in the initial stage it is an exploration. I have written poems where I've been asked to write a poem for a certain occasion. The most recent was at Toowoomba where there was a peace march and they said can you do one and it was clear to me I had nothing that was entirely appropriate. Originally it was going to be in the open, and the sorts of poems I had were not meant to be read in the open to a large bunch of people all looking in the other way.... I mean you needed something with a different form.

So then I would sit down and say I want this this and this, and write something with the appropriate rhythms.

But even within that, there were discoveries for me, ways of getting there that I hadn't thought about, images had crept in and had to be looked at.

That particular poem I had to read at 11 and someone was picking me up at 10.30 and I was finishing the rewrite of the last line, and they were saying 'Are you ready!' And I was trying to get the last line down.

This one here I started—I'm fairly insomniac and I woke up in the middle of the night and I was thinking of this and that, and I did a workshop at me, and I said to myself, well, don't whinge to me about it, write it. Which is what I'd say to a student. Pretend that you're really irritated with them. So I did that to myself and then got up in the morning and wrote this in a very concentrated fashion. That's reasonably unusual, normally I would carry it around with me.

Interviewer: What about writers' groups, do you participate in one, do you think they are important?

Chris Mansell: I don't. Very early on I went to a few workshops at Sydney University, with the Sydney Uni. Poetry Society, with people like Dennis Haskell, and Dot Porter. People like that. But I got tired of writing groups very quickly. Some groups, people always say the same things. There's always somebody who will say 'I don't like the line-breaks....'

Interviewer: Do you ever get fed up with poetry and give yourself a rest from it, or are you writing pretty much constantly?

Chris Mansell: I'm not very prolific. Poetry I don't write every day. I find if I do, it tends to be really boring. It comes usually in rushes. And I'm there catching it.

But with prose I tend to be a little bit more well-behaved. You have to be, don't you, with prose, you have to be in there and punch out a certain number of words....

Interviewer: Do you keep a journal? In which you write daily?

Chris Mansell: Mmm well.... I keep a notebook, I've got all sorts of things, little notes, and all sorts of rat-bag things, all mixed up together, with notes and lumps of things—that's actually a bit of draft for that poem.

Because I find if I sit down to write a journal it comes out 'incredibly precious darling'. I tear pages out of it and write people's telephone numbers on it, and it gets all bashed up because I always carry it around, and I find that's actually much better....

Frequently I talk about what I'm going to do and then don't actually write it in thre. I write it directly onto a piece of paper or the computer, I don't usually write drafts in there. Sometimes I do but it's only a fragment. I don't draft it all out into a journal as I know some writers do, they're very assiduous with their journals.

I tend to find that if I write my journal up very well, I don't do anything else! An exquisite journal but there's no actual work, because it's so much more comfortable chatting to your journal, waxing and waning through it and not actually getting down to work.

And letters—friends can tell when I've got some project on because they get swamped with letters.

Interviewer: Do you re-write a lot, or do they come out first time right?

Chris Mansell: Very rarely do they come out first time. I rewrite quite a lot depending on what it is. And I like to leave it for a while, like this thing I'm carrying around, because this poem came out pretty whole and I'm worried about that, so I'm carrying it around and reading and seeing if it's OK.

Do you know how you can con yourself that things are OK and it's all the sort of first flush of young love with the damn thing and then you read it later and you think how could I posibly have gone out with it, it's awful, this pimply youth of a poem! I mean it is like love, isn't it?

Interviewer: Have you written much while you've been in Hobart?

Chris Mansell: Not a lot, I've been working on these stories, I get so depressed with prose, because I've got a heap of stories.... I've been rewriting them and trying to get this pile of stories, which have been published, trying to get them into a collection.

Interviewer: What is the title over all?

Chris Mansell: It's called Walking to Antarctica. My aim is to finish that collection before I go home. We will have been away for nearly seven months, from nearly February, you know. Now you know why I bring my family. It's a long time to be on the road....!

ANNE KELLAS is an Australian poet, published widely in Australia and overseas since the 1990s.

She’s been described as “an original living in the whole world, not just a small corner of it”. Born in South Africa, she’s lived in England, Swaziland and, for the past 30 years, in Australia. Like many poets, Anne also has a passion for teaching poetry: she has lectured in poetry at tertiary level, and often gives poetry workshops, mentors poets, assesses manuscripts and reviews books.

Kellas’s themes often address deracination, dislocation and loss. Her work has been translated into Ukrainian by the poet Hanna Yanovska, and into Portuguese by Francisco José Craveiro de Carvalho – appearing in the literary journal, LOGOS: Biblioteca do Tempo (n.10, May 2022).

“There is something dreamlike, and often nightmarish, just below the surface” (Ivan Vladislavic, in an interview with Kellas). She brings “both wit and deep seriousness to her poetry” with themes that “take up the kind of apocalyptic vision of Doris Lessing” (Kevin Brophy, reviewing her 2001 book, Isolated States).

The White Room Poems was shortlisted for the Margaret Scott Prize in 2017. It is currently being set to music by Australian composer Scott McIntyre. In 2016, the book received one of two inaugural awards for poetry issued by the small press, Blue Giraffe.

Anne’s been shortlisted in the Bruce Dawe poetry prize, and in 2013, Anne collaborated with artist and designer Patrick Hall, in one of the Bett Gallery’s Poets & Painters series. (Poem: My Father and the Cars).