Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by _______________
My routine has changed recently because I’ve gone on a bit of a health kick and all of a sudden I can be a morning person. I used to be really sporty but I had a back injury and that had me out of action for a while. I became a bit depressed because I tried to make a few aborted efforts at getting back into sport, and my back kept playing up. It seems to have healed for the most part and so I have just started jogging.
It has been pretty exciting to see how exercise helps you feel better about yourself. It clears a little bit of space in your head and in the day. I think the most important thing is just creating that window of stillness in my mind, which weirdly comes through the motion of running.
For me, it sort of replicates the sleep process. It is probably similar for a lot of people – you have all these disparate ideas that you can't figure out how they come together, but then if you just sleep on it, often they form together in your mind with some kind of coherence by the morning. That also seems to happen when I’m running.
After running I’m immediately energised and find that I can work in the morning, whereas that is not my normal state of being. I think it links in with this idea I have that poetry and writing is an act as a thought process. Somewhere deep down in my brain I am probably making a linkage between the movement of my body and the action of writing.
I’ll get a coffee and before I eat I will do some writing. It is weird because people talk about being metaphorically hungry, but I almost think that being literally hungry helps you see more clearly. Once you are sated you become a little bit lazy. I don't put myself under too much pressure, if I get down even 200 words that feels good.
I don't have a nine-to-five job, but I do a lot of work at schools, and talks at universities and stuff like that. It takes a lot of energy and focus because I want to do a good job, which then drains me and leaves me sort of incapable of creative work. So if I am really knuckling down on a project, I can't really be doing a lot of school workshops and talks because I do find it distracting.
I’m always having different lunch dates and coffee dates. I love a good conversation – you get so much inspiration and encouragement – so if I’m in Sydney I'll try and meet up with someone.
I’m involved in a lot of other projects, so partly when I say I’m meeting up with people it's not just to hang around and talk shit, it's working on music with people, helping them write interludes, or maybe doing guest verses.
In the afternoon I’ll try and do a bit of reading. My reading habits can be compulsive at certain times, but I go in and out of it. Sometimes I will be reading four books a week but then there will be months where I don't read anything – maybe just short stories or something online, but not getting stuck into big bodies of work. Then suddenly I'll just drop back into it.
I do try to read a lot because I’m certain that no good writing comes without good reading, but what is probably becoming clear is that I’m not the most disciplined person.
I live quite a solitary life in many ways. I always love to meet up with people, but I also go for really long walks. My days are spent either hanging out with people, having meetings, walking, or trying to make new work.
In the evening I like to be at shows, usually it’s concerts but also exhibitions, sometimes theatre.
If I'm performing, shows tend to go late. There will always be interesting and fun people around, but if I am up late after a show that will then impinge upon the time my writing is at its best.
I’m such a sociable person so during the day I can't help but have conversations and hang out with friends and I would prefer to do that than work. But that being said, some of my friends make fun of me when we are out drinking and around ten o'clock I have to go and do some work.
It is hard for me to figure out what works best for me. I’ve always been a really late night person and my best work tends to come at around two or three in the morning after procrastinating for ages, reading, watching telly and having conversations.
But with my new health routine, writing at two in the morning doesn't work as well. My best work will still be in the evening, but I do need sleep so I have to bring it back to ten or eleven.
Certain types of food help me when I am writing, especially in the late night runs. Sometimes I might start off with a coffee, as crazy as that sounds, if I know that I’m going to be pulling a long night. I need something savoury such as Pizza Shapes or those Japanese rice crackers, and then some lollies or sour worms. Then maybe some Tom Yum soup or two minute noodles about halfway through the late evening. I don't care if I’m on a health kick, I know this is what helps me and I just kind of go for it.
Just before going to sleep I listen to either the old XFM Ricky Gervais Show with Steve Merchant and Karl Pilkington, that gives me a good laugh. Also I'm addicted to the NBA podcast called Jalen & Jacoby.
I do find that my poet's eyes are sharpest early in the morning when no one is around. I don’t know if that is just because there aren't as many distractions, but that is when I can see the world the clearest.
You have to have these type of eyes as a poet I think, where you simultaneously see the outside of something, but you also see through it in a way, not exactly an x-ray, but you can see it dissemble in front of you to reveal the true heart of an object or story.
I’ll often have a bath or a shower and sit there and think during those long hauls. Sometimes it might be five in the morning when I finish. All of it just changes so much, the routine.
I do tend to travel most of the year, which makes it pretty difficult to have a routine because there is no stability. Often I’m sleeping in hotels and catching flights at all sorts of hours, so sometimes I do try to build a bit of discipline into that, as hard as that is. I try to maintain a certain type of diet while I’m travelling just so there is some resemblance of routine. I used to do meat Monday and fish Friday and I was vegetarian besides that, but I kind of drop in and out of that. I tried to go full vegetarian, but I don't know if I did it in the right way because I became very lethargic, so I decided to have that blast of protein at least twice a week. People said oh, Fish Friday sounds a bit religious and I was like, no it's just the alliteration – the poetics of it.
Having said that, I don't think that really necessary counts as a proper routine or structure. When you are in various cities, states, continents, countries, it is pretty tough to maintain order in all of that, but I guess the theme that runs throughout it is that I do try to get a little bit of writing done each day. Even if it is something as simple as just writing down a hundred words, or a couple of vivid little images, scraps of conversation, or well-turned phrases. That is something I can do when I am travelling on planes and buses.
BEHIND THE SCENES
On the conditions needed to create…
I find I have to have a combination of being somewhere quiet where I can just sit, think, read and have my own time, and being out and about. Often I will just take my headphones and go off and listen to beats and write stuff into my phone directly, or preferably a notepad or printed copies of something I’m working on so I can just scribble all over it. I've found that really helps me.
On embracing a haphazard routine…
I've always been a night owl and I realised that I work best in short sharp bursts. Sometimes I'll do an hours work and it will just be so intense and the good stuff will come out. What seems like procrastination is actually probably my mind formulating a lot of it and hyping itself up for that intensity of creation.
But after having conversations with other artists I started to feel a bit ashamed of myself. You see such hardworking people who don't do it in a haphazard way and really apply themselves.
Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng used to be a lawyer and a fine martial artist I believe, and he is very regimented. He will go and work out, have a shower and dress in a suit even though he works from home, then sit down at his desk and work from ten till six. I started to think, if only I could do that I would get so much more work done and be able to write way more in a day, so when I started writing my novel I didn't do exactly that but I tried to be regimented and treat it like a nine-to-five.
But I just wasn't able to work like that, so I eventually reverted to my natural rhythm of pottering about and reading and having conversations and then doing the short sharp burst of work late at night. It just worked better for me. Sometimes you can't fight your natural inclination or instincts, but at the same time you have to learn to write every day because otherwise you are going to be one of those people who say, ‘Ohhhh, I’m only going to write when the muse strikes,’ and then they don't get a book out for twenty years.
I've got urgency, but I can't funnel that urgency into that type of structured discipline like a 9-5. I'd like to think that once the product is out there it is tight and it all hangs together, but god it can be painful getting there.
On the playfulness of art and poetry…
Both my parents were true believers in the arts. My mother had a more Protestant work ethic – she was always talking about simpler is better –simplify, simplify, simplify. Whereas my dad was more about the emotions and he was very prolific with a keen observational eye. But I think the most important thing that both of them taught me was that art was playful – that it was liberating and it was fun, just the way footy was fun for my other mates. That was the key ingredient and what separated something like poetry for me – other people thought it was a very serious pursuit, whereas my parents said it is joyous and a good laugh as well. Even if you are talking about something deadly serious, it is important to be playful with how you use words or sentences and ideas.
It's also cheap. I took that on from an early age and thought okay, well I’m an only child, I don't have all this gadgetry that the other kids have like video games and stuff, but I can just sit here with my pen and paper and consume myself with it for hours.
On creating a patchwork living to juggle art and business…
When it comes to work, it all comes together to create a bit of a patchwork of talks, commissions, grants, show fees, sales, and royalties. I've managed myself for so many years that there is then the business side – emailing, meetings, and calling people, which is very distracting from the creative process.
I do wish I had a dedicated hour for emails because that really does distract me. I have an agent, publishing house, and record label, sothere are all these different things tugging away at me and I know that I have to be on top of it because otherwise I won't have a career. But when I’m on the computer and right in the middle of a flurry of creative activity, I wish I was better at just following that and doing the other stuff later, but I can’t. I just sort of bounce back and forth.
But I do enjoy both sides. It's not as if I hate dealing with the business side of stuff because it does feel like you’ve accomplished something and you are across your career and what it is you are putting out there but I do wish I could be a tin bit regimented in how I deal with it.
"What makes an extraordinary life? I mean, friendship and kindness and resilience despite the whirlwind of madness and the rising tides." – Omar Musa