Michael Farrell

Interview with Michael Farrell

by Angela Gardner


Michael Farrell is the author of six volumes of poetry: I’cing: Eight Poems; Ode Ode; Break Me Ouch; A Raider’s Guide; ThemPark and his most recent open sesame. He is the winner of the Harri Jones Memorial Prize and the Peter Porter Poetry Prize and has been shortlisted in other major competitions. He has recently completed a PhD at Melbourne University on experimental nineteenth century poetics.

How do you decide on questions to ask yourself in a poem? Does the question arise fully formed and prompt the poem or is a half-heard voice in the back of your head that coalesces into a poem through the writing process?

Sometimes a question does produce a poem, most likely I think when a poem is prompted by reading non-fiction of some kind; the title is the specific question - what can be said under this framework?

Could you talk about how you see yourself and your work in relation to the poet’s role as activist or observer of popular culture and the gay milieu?

I am informed by activism - thinking about it etc - reflecting on past experience. My thinking on it has changed over the years. I'm not interested in being against - resistance as content. Whatever you write comes out of what you think/feel, so I prefer to keep myself open ... this might sound passive to some, but I don't think it is. My main objection to government is its lovelessness; much activism seems similarly lacking.

The word 'observer' sounds a bit remote: I participate in both popular culture and gay life. Poems come out of that, or from intense instances of it. 

In open sesame, you have used characters from The Bill as narrators of their own stories, do you see this as a method of widening the scope and concerns you are able to use in your poems? Can the voices of soap-characters be authentic, do they need to be?

As above: it came out of an intense interest in the show (after not having paid it much attention). The voices are as authentic as anything else in a poem.

In open sesame the poem ‘debit of a pirate kino’ is an oulipo poem; that is a poem written under structural constraints, and in another poem, ‘lovey’, you used “dice to determine poetic structures”1.  Is this an act of de-centralising the ‘I’ in poems, or are there other concerns?

I called it an oulipo poem because I used an oulipo constraint ... Many others of my poems have different constraints. It's not specifically related to the 'I', rather conventional form: and by that I mean also my own habits. Changing the constraint inevitably changes the form.

How do your poems begin?
Usually with a title, sometimes with a breeze.

How much do you plan? How much do you stick to your plan?
IT depends on the mode of the moment; sometimes I'm repeating a mode so I don't need a plan. Generally I stick to the planned structure ... but sometimes structures are behind the will to write words ...

What are you currently reading and which poets do you return to?
I'm currently reading some new British poetry in anthologies, plus Richard Price. Also the new fat & great collected Tim Dlugos; the longer Auden; new Latin American poets such as Omar Perez and Urayoen Noel.

Has being immersed in the theory/poetics through your PhD altered your approach?
Not so much my approach, but new poems come from theory.

Where next?
That depends on the land: where I am on it.

Thanks Michael

1. Notes for Translators: from 142 New Zealand and Australian Poets, Ed. Christopher (Kit) Kelen, Association of Stories in macao (ASM) and Cerberus Press, Macao 2012 p.129.