It was good hearing poet and podcaster Alice Allan in conversation with 3CR’s Waffle IronGirl on the ‘Spoken Word’ show, on the 20th October 2022.
Alice has published a couple of poetry titles—’The Empty Show’ (Rabbit Books), and the chapbook ‘Blanks’ (Slow Loris)—but considers herself primarily a podcaster. She produces the weekly podcast ‘Poetry Says’, an entertaining, erudite, often funny podcast with interesting writers—including Cassandra Atherton, Bonny Cassidy, Pam Brown, John Kinsella, Alison Whittaker, Ellen van Neervan, among others. Currently the podcast series has reached episode 197, it’ll be interesting to learn in due course, her plans for episode 200.
Alice notes the show has ‘evolved’.
‘Yeah. Well, I started it very much as a poetry beginner, six years ago, I think I’m even more of a beginner now than I was then’. She says she now fully understands the scope of what she took on back in 2016—back then, she had no idea. ‘I think it’s evolved because I can ask my guests better questions. I think I’ve grown a bit as an interviewer, and I can see the conversation more effectively now.’
What she loves most about putting the show together is that she gets to introduce people to poets beyond the bios that you’d find, for instance, in the back of Black Ink’s annual ‘Best Australian Poems’, (2003 to 2018). Previously she’d felt the world of poetry closed off to her, but these days ‘when I get to invite people onto the show, get to hear them um and ahh, laugh and make fun of themselves and read their poems in their own voice, that really excites me. I think about the version of myself where I started back in 2007. Understanding that these are people just like you and me.’
Asked by compere Waffle IronGirl about honesty and letting yourself ‘show’ … and about ‘perhaps even the dreaded word— (though) maybe dreaded only by me—authenticity,’ Alice responded appreciatively that she loved ‘that you underscore how difficult that word is—”authenticity”‘.
‘I’m playing a role to start with as the host,’ she explained, ‘but also with each interviewee. I come with a set of expectations, I often come with a lot of fear. I hope I’m getting better at digging a little bit deeper with people.’ (Here Allan remains customarily—but unnecessarily, in my opinion—modest; the relaxed and intimate podcast environment of ‘Poetry Says’ has triggered many delightfully ruminative exchanges—the following, for example, from a 2019 interview with poet Bonny Cassidy:
ALLAN: I remember talking to you around the time that Chatelaine was about to come out and you talked about feeling a certain level of separation from the work, even at that stage. I totally understand that now, with my own collection on the verge of coming out, it feels … so far away. And it’s a weird thing because you have this moment where it all publicly culminates, but actually in your world….
CASSIDY: It’s old news…
ALLAN: … it’s kind of over! So how do you feel about your three books?
CASSIDY: I think I’ve come to really own past work the past few years, such that it always feels very present to me. I’m very proud of it even though to me it is old and belongs to a certain phase of my writing, particularly with formative work, like when I look at Certain Fathoms now … there was a time when I’d look back on it and go … aaagh, I wish I could go back and revise it; or, hope no-one reads that now.
And I kind of got to a point where I thought, you really have to come to terms with that Bonny, you’ve got to stop looking at your first book and a) being so hard on it, and b) not really seeing it for what it is. I spent some time re-reading it and thinking ohh, okay, I see the DNA that goes from the first book through to the second and the third. And I honour that. Without that book, I wouldn’t have written the second one, without the second one I wouldn’t have written the third one, there’s this interdependency.… You can’t just cut it off and go, oh that was me then and let’s not talk about that now, that’s irrelevant. It’s not at all! It’s totally relevant. It’s an artefact, but … it’s something I made with thought and purpose, and it’s informed later work. It’s informed the ways that my three-and-a-half readers (laughs) might see my writing….
So I’m really fond of all the books, really fond of them. I don’t go back and re-read as a matter of course. I did think recently of doing that and maybe just setting aside a day—you know, maybe just spend this with my own words. I spend so much time consuming other people’s words day in, day out, maybe I should go back and just sit with my own, and be a reader of myself.
Roland Barthes has this statement about how the author can certainly go back to their own text, but they will only ever do so as a guest. And I really like that idea of going back and … you know … visiting your own work, and taking pleasure in it as a visitor—rather than going back with a cringe, or going back and seeing it as a kind of inscription of yourself. It’s not a tombstone!)
On the state of poetry and spoken word as it stands in Australia, Alice Allan says she’d ‘love for there to be more fun, love for us to play and laugh more’. She feels ‘very allergic personally’ to a serious strain she sees running through Australian poetry. ‘I don’t mind if it’s there. But I do mind if it’s all that’s there. I’m excited to see those moments where spoken word starts to inform poetry that purely exists on the page, by which I mean when we have a poet who is not thought of as—quote unquote—a spoken word poet, get up there and deliver their work in a way that cares about the audience. Don’t see that very often, though.’
Asked of what might be missing or deficient from the Australian podcasting scene, Alice is adamant: much is missing. ‘We need many, many more female voices. We need many, many more voices from people of colour.’ She recommends people check out the Barron Field experience, being made by Justin Clemens and his friends out of the Melbourne School of continental philosophy. ‘That show is nuts. Just three philosophers yelling at each other for way too long. And it’s fantastic. I want more shows like that, I want less production!’
And on the question of recommended reads, she singled out Eleanor Jackson’s ‘Gravidity and Parity‘ (Vagabond Press), a title that was shortlisted for the Small Press Network Book of the Year in 2022, and highly commended in both the 2022 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and the ASAL Mary Gilmore Award 2022. (‘As soon as I opened it and realized what she was doing, I was like, oh, hold the phone…. Yeah, it really blew me away!’); along with Harry Reid’s ‘Leave Me Alone‘ (‘I came to that book with exceptionally high expectations. And Harry has not let me down.’) She’s also had the chance to chat with Tracy Ryan a couple of months ago. ‘And I read pretty much everything of Tracy’s I could get my hands on in preparation, including “Rose Interior“, her tenth collection, out this year. She’s really a poet working at the height of her powers.’