The April SpeedPoets gig is shaping up to be something special. Pru Gell is a spoken word artist living and working in the Northern Territory and a member of the gathering sister’s stories collaborative project. Luckily for us Brisbane folk, Pru is heading our way and will be performing a feature set at SpeedPoets on Sunday April 5. I had the pleasure of chatting with Pru recently about the role of poetry in our culture, her role models and the gathering sister’s stories project.
Who are your models and how do they/have they informed your writing?
I once heard Dorothy Porter say that she is drawn to read “poetry that’s like black oil from a poet’s heart.” I relished her saying this and asked her what she meant just so I could hear her talk about this more. Dorothy Porter, Suheir Hammad, Romaine Moreton and Audre Lorde are poets whose work I respect immensely.
Their poems show vulnerability, are unapologetic, tender, courageous, share ugliness and beauty and expose elements of the human experience. They are comfortable writing themselves into their poetry and they share their own experience as the foundation of their story making. I believe when poets, and or artists in general, are honest and reveal themselves in their work then audiences are more likely to be able to connect with the work and make their own linkages to personal and universal experiences.
Their work cuts through comfort to tell the heart of a story. Yet they tell enough of a story so that the words stand strong on their own. Reading, and or hearing their pieces, I can feel drawn in and connected to something visceral and therefore their words don’t just float in the ether or on the page.
I want to look back in a few years and feel that my writing and performing is imbued with such qualities.
What is the Gathering Sister’s Stories Project that you co-founded?
gathering sister’s stories: desert to sea is a collaborative poetry project working on developing a writing collective and a collection of poetry on the theme of invasion/colonisation. The gathering sister’s stories collective is around 10 Indigenous and non-Indigenous women from the desert (Australia) to the sea (Timor Lorosa’e) who are poets and spokenword artists. The collective is spread out from a small country town near Adelaide to Dili in Timor Lorosa’e.
For a while now I’ve noted that I’ve been compelled to write about connections and collisions stemming from invasion and living in an invaded land. Over the last few years at different writing festivals and on travels I’ve met a number of other writers whose work is also often responding to invasion. I wanted to get some of these writers together and find other folks who are also compelled to write on this theme and see what kind of pieces we could create if we worked collaboratively and shared stories and writing processes. So my friend and spoken word collaborator Ella McHenry and I asked a bunch of women if they’d like to work together and the collective began to form. It is a great collective of writers and I’m really exciting that we’ve just begun to share drafts of poems on a monthly basis.
What is the relationship between your speaking voice and your written voice?
For me there’s a significant difference between reading a piece of poetry and performing a spoken word piece. For my spokenword pieces I feel more comfortable having more flesh on the bones and using more words to tell a story. Whereas my poetry for the page tends to be sparser, with more flesh carved off but hopefully with enough words left so that the heart of a story is shared.
What is the role of poetry in our culture? We have so many media we can choose from – film, video, performance, etc… so what does poetry have that is unique to offer the human spirit?
Once I heard a quote along the lines of “the need to have a poet guide to walk beside when entering Dante’s inferno”. Poetry can be a ‘poet guide’ as we walk into and through the everyday.
I feel poetry has a number of roles. To connect. To illuminate. To capture moments and essence of a human experience and reflect them back to people. Breathe life into the spaces between commonly told stories and the unspoken. Zoom in and out of experiences and offer observations in the form of a few select words, a concise story. In a few distilled words a poem can tell the heart of a story.
In an essay called Poetry is not a luxury (1977), which I adore, Audre Lorde talks about the role of poetry to distill and illuminate experiences “… poetry as illumination, as it is through poetry we give name to those ideas which, until the poem, are nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt” and the “revelatory distillation of experience” …. “that distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought.”
thing not from here, interfere
not belonging to
with 4 week contract
working to save the children
no really it’s true
wearing new red beads
scintillating dinner talk
“hmm yes hmm yes hmm”
boots slightly dusty
long drive rust sand roads, just back,
“geez they don’t talk much”
swiped on basics card
2 jelly snakes, white bread bought
my silence tastes sour
50 minutes passed
5 longer that had been planned
3 town camps reviewed
I stuff your mouth with
bursting, crimson, tart quandongs
now will you listen?
1000’s of kilometres between
Familiar stellar pictures
Pull same three from infinite
That’s all there is
Scorpio, Southern Cross and The Pointers
Drown in swarm of stars
Constellation sea so milky
Moistening pink lips
Catch Pru live at SpeedPoets when it returns for its second gig of 2009 on Sunday April 5. It all happens at the The Alibi Room, 720 Brunswick St, New Farm from 2pm. The gig will also feature local spoken word/hip-hop artist Dark Wing Dubs and Brisbane songbird, Skye Staniford. There will also be live sounds from the SpeedPoets engine room of Sheish Money, free zines, giveaways and the hottest Open Mic section in our fine city. Entry is a gold coin donation. See you there!
SpeedPoets: Sunday April 5, 2pm – 5pm @ The Alibi Room, 720 Brunswick St. New Farm.