A few months back I was very lucky to receive a review copy of BRB; a verse novel by Australian poet, Maree Dawes. I’d just started a new job and it took me ages to pick up the novel, but it was worth it when I did. I love poetry- writing it and reading it- and I am very honored that Maree was able to take time out of her schedule to give some meaty answers to the questions I posed for her.
How did you first discover poetry and what is it about poetry that appeals to you?
I can remember my mother saying the Song of Hiawatha (Longfellow) from memory so I guess poetry has always been a part of my life. I wrote poetry in primary school, and one of my teachers was very keen on us learning and reciting poetry by heart. From then on I wrote a lot of very heartfelt but not very crafted work. Doing some creative writing workshops, some Uni courses and reading volumes and volumes of Australian poetry made a difference.
Why verse novels and do you have any people you look up to within this specific genre?
Verse novels because that was the form that most nearly suited this work. It’s something I try and achieve with all my writing – find the form that makes the most of the other elements. My other full length work Women of the Minotaur has some aspects of narrative, but it remains a collection not a verse novel. I called BRB a nanonovel to start with, but that has another specific meaning in that you write it quickly which wasn’t what I did. I also like to write shorter works, for example my short stories are short short – less than a page.
I can’t go past Dorothy Porter if I’m choosing my favourite writer of verse novels.
Who are your favourite authors and why?
This is a difficult question for me because it often relates to just what I am reading at the moment. David Malouf and Michael Ondaatje are both writers I admire for the sheer beauty of their words while writing of things that really matter – and they both write poetry! Barbara Temperton and Caroline Caddy are South West Poets who inspire me – they both use imagery which stays with me for days.
You portray the beginnings of the internet chat culture in BRB. What inspired you to write about this topic?
I was involved with chat at that time and while I was chatting I wrote imagined pieces. It was a fascinating world to me and I had a lot of fun creating my verse novel world alongside my chat world – although it wasn’t a verse novel then – just very many disparate pieces. In a way it was a writer’s paradise having a world made of words.
Did you do much additional research to write this verse novel? How did you go about it?
Unlike Women of the Minotaur where I read autobiographies, biographies and visited galleries this was more about little snippets of information coming to me. At the time I was writing the original draft I would see an article, read a book or go out into the community and think – what would Boadicea’s IRL person be thinking in this situation. The lovely day at the beach in Dogs have been known to die from eating sea hare was based on a day at Parrys beach with friends. I also read erotica and conducted a chat room poll on words for vagina. Honey pot appears in the poem Contemplating the options with a clear head.
Do you have any personal stories of early life on the internet that you’d like to share?
I really did write Rengas across the digital world – Mumbai, Albany, Bucharest and what we wrote about was the outdoors, the sea, flowers, leaves falling and snow. Not quite Basho but great fun.
When reading BRB I was struck by how ‘Boudicea’ is able to express herself both sexually and artistically when anonymous on the internet. Was this a theme that you sought to bring out deliberately within the novel?
Themes were the middle work of writing BRB – after most of the different poems and fragments and made up chat were written. Reflecting on theme really helped link the pieces into a narrative. I certainly wanted to explore what aspects of the self were revealed when it was possible to try a particular role and not be hampered by judgement, or being stuck with the choice – online in a new persona, Boadicea could explore many aspects of self, including the sexual and artistic without being concerned about reputation.
The ocean is a re-occuring motif in BRB. What significance does the ocean hold for you?
Perhaps it’s the recurring dream I had as a child of surfing a huge wave I could never dismount from … or the fact that I lived in a dry inland place for the first 18 years of my life… or that I now live on the edge of the Southern Ocean and can hear it from my front door on a quiet night. I think my next work is going to be about the ocean.
What’s a question about your writing/work that you’ve never been asked before and you’ve always wanted to be asked?
Really I want someone to ask me “can I pay you for a year to just write?
Now answer it.
The answer is yes!
Did you base Thistlehead on your own cyber lover?
Answer: I never kiss and tell.
Maree Dawes is an Albany based poet, who has been published nationally and internationally. Her childhood in the wheat belt and following lifestyle close to the coast in WA’s South West continue to inform her work. Maree’s first collection Women of the Minotaur explored the lives of the mistresses in Picasso’s life. It was featured on Poetica in May 2009 and dramatized for the program launch for PIAF writers festival 2010. Her short story I am so sweet and truthful first appeared in Indigo in 2008, was published in Best Australian Stories the same year and is in production for a short film with Starchild media. Maree has collaborated with artists, dancers and embroiderers resulting in a range of performance pieces and publications, from ephemeral water colour pages to projection onto the Albany Town hall. Her verse novel BRB, Be Right Back is published by Spineless Wonders and was launched at Perth Writers Festival in the Great Southern in February 2014. BRB dives headlong into on-line life in the nineties and explores its quirks, erotica and dilemmas.