Q & A with poet and activist Mark Tredinnick

Mark Tredinnick boasts an impressive list of accolades, including but not limited to, winning the Montreal and Cardiff Poetry Prizes, The Blake and Newcastle Poetry Prizes, two Premiers’ Literature Awards and the Calibre Essay Prize, as well as having penned 13 books and taught for 20 years.

The highly celebrated poet and essayist will reflect on how poetry can be used to promote a powerful message at Castle Hill Library’s A Touch of Poetry, the first instalment in a series on poetry seminars starting next week.

Q: Describe your style of poetry.

A: I am a lyric poet. I write moments, not stories. But moments in which eternities are told, or implied. I think of poetry as a sculpture of voice, an architecture of utterance, and my poems are marked by their forms. Some of my forms I invent; some are ancient (sonnets and haiku and Sijo). And rhythm is a big deal in my work—rhythm and speech music.

My subject is usually where I am and what cluster of thought and feeling, emotion and ideas insist upon themselves. Nothing starts without an image (from a dream, from the world near at hand, from a child’s voice, or a play of light, or a tree or a bird, or an expression on a face, the shape of a body). Nothing starts without the sound of something that commands me to set it down just so. My poems write a kind of calm ecstatic. They are devotions, and they are divinations. They try to overhear the music of the intelligence of things. I think of them as little hearths I make with words, on which I and maybe some readers can fall into ease with much that is distressing or exhilarating and mysterious in life.

Poetry is what happens when we ask more of language. Poetry is language organised in lines. Out of the restraints poetic forms place on the free trade of language, a poet sometimes finds a way to say and mean much more than she or he could even begin to say in prose or in conversation. So it is, I hope, now and then, with my poems.

I am a poet of place. But my places are not just landscapes: I write moral and spiritual geographies, too. And I am nearly always writing the relationship between the human and the more than merely human worlds.

Q: What sparked your love of poetry?

A: There was never a time I didn’t love poetry. It sparked when I sparked in the womb. I got the gene for it, and I’m not sure from where. But it could be from my one grandfather’s oratory in the Methodist pulpit and from another grandfather being an English teacher; it was certainly nurtured, if not natured, by my mother’s being an organist and chorister, and her mother’s playing the piano through my childhood. I’m not sure my father’s being an accountant had much to do with it. I loved from the beginning the meaning and dance and delight and wisdom the right words—in their shapes on the page and in their sounds said—make in the mind. There are truths that only poetry, or the right language, lead to, and somehow those were always the truths I sought.

Q: Which poets have inspired you?

A: The poets who have inspired me have changed as I’ve aged and become, myself, a poet. And I am inspired more by other artists and sports and musicians and birds and people than by poets or their work. But of course, particular poems and poets have been my teachers. Those poets include Robert Gray and Dorothy Harwood; John Keats and Gerard Manley Hopkins; Emily Dickinson and Mary Oliver and Rumi and Charles Wright and Jack Gilbert and Anne Sexton and Judy Beveridge and Kevin Young and Seaumu Heaney and T S Eliot and W H Auden and Sappho and Basho and David Ades. That’s a partial list.

Q: Why activism as your theme choice for your talk?

A: Auden wrote in a poem that “poetry makes nothing happen.” He knew it did, really. Or else he meant that it is precisely a resonant “nothing”— a silence, a refusal of speed and  banality and superficiality and abstraction—that was what it made and makes. My theme is not so much what it advocates as what it refuses and refutes: can’t, hypocrisy, enmification, triviality, unexamined verities. Also the retributive justice it ought to speak and the tenderness of the heart’s affections, as Keats puts it, that it speaks for—both at once. These ideas interest me in part because activism or politics are probably the last things most people think of poetry as performing, and yet I think it changes everything, from our hearts to our headlines. It insists on the mystery of things. It outs the inner life of the world. And it keeps language honest. It celebrates and renews it, and it resists cliché, and so keeps our minds and discourses recharged and accountable. Justice of all kinds is its work. Poetry makes lives better; it is a stay against confusion. It leads us and holds us to deeper truths. It speaks for what is often silent or silenced. These ideas interest me because we live in unpoetic times, times when cliché abounds and our rich lives are on the edge of poverty, and I think poetry can help. I am interested in the retributive justice poetry does because I see and I have experienced deep injustice in the world, and poetry is the soft kind of ordnance I’d like to throw back.

Q: You’ve written numerous poetry books and won many prizes for your work in an industry that is quite difficult to excel in. What do you attribute your success to?

A: Thank you. Norman Mclean has written a better answer to this than I could, so I’ll quote him: “All good things come by grace, and grace comes by art, and art does not come easy.” I read a lot. I wrote a lot of prose first. I started poetry late, when I had lost and loved and travelled and discovered some passions. I had good mentors, and I had some luck. Also I studied hard to master what I could before I trouble the world with poems I wasn’t ready to write, or that weren’t ready for me to write them.

Q: What’s next?

A: Three new collections that are long overdue. A book of haiku. A work of prose and peotry on grief and love. And two other prose books: one on reading; the other on the Great Divide.

Catch Mark at ‘A Touch of Poetry – An Evening with Mark Tredinnick’ at Castle Hill Library on Thursday, February 8, from 6.30pm to 7.30pm.

Book now to secure your spot at https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/a-touch-of-poetry-an-evening-with-mark-tredinnick-tickets-41569204610.

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