Alicia Sometimes is a writer, poet and broadcaster. Alicia was editor of the national literary journal Going Down Swinging for seven years, and her poems have featured in Best Australian Poems, Overland, Southerly, Westerly and The Age. She performs her spoken word poetry, and has published two poetry collections, Kissing the Curve and Soundtrack. Alicia has also co-edited an anthology of footy stories From The Outer (2016) and A Footy Girl's Guide to the Stars of 2017 (2017).
She is also a regular on Radio National and co-hosts The Outer Sanctum Podcast, and was a 2014 Fellow at the State Library of Victoria.
- Alicia read non-fiction every chance she got as a child, including entries from Encyclopaedia Britannica. She can, however, recall poems by A. A. Milne.
- In her teenage years, she continued to read non-fiction but expanded her repertoire to include Bob Dylan and John Lennon (both of which she describes as ‘out there’). She also discovered Berni Janssen, a Melbourne poet.
- Realising the gap in her fiction, she deliberately went back to read classics such as Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Sally Morgan’s My Place.
- Her love of humour and playfulness was influenced by Monty Python, The Goon Show, and E. Cummings.
- Alicia cites PiO, another Melbourne-based poet, as an influence on her poetry today, a poet who also cites facts as she does (for example, she the quote from John Adams).
- And just to confirm, Alicia’s first poetry reading was on 3 October 1992 (the day Jeff Kennett was elected).
- Alicia admires the performance of Dorothy Parker, who read her own poems.
- One of her favourite poems is ‘Julbilate Agno’ by the monk Christopher Smart.
- Peggy Noonan was Ronal Reagan’s speech writer, and she included a well-known poem in the speech mourning the Challenger.
Nic Brasch: Welcome to The Garret. The Garret podcast is a series of interviews with the best writers writing today. Alicia Sometimes is a writer, a poet, a broadcaster, a podcaster, a musician, a spoken-word performer and a footy fan. I spent an hour with Alicia at the State Library of Victoria, and we talked about all the things that fascinate her and that influence her work. My chat with Alicia is coming up in a moment.
We’ve had a great response to The Garret podcast. This is our second season, and I’m grateful to everyone who has subscribed to the podcast. Thank you very much. The Garret podcast is on Facebook. You can find all of our episodes, videos and transcripts there. Search for ‘Garret Podcast’ and look for the blue sign up button.
I just want to let you know that The Garret podcast has been shortlisted for a Cast Away Award. We are one of three finalists in the Literature, Arts and Music category, and we’re thrilled.
This episode features the wonderful and smart Alicia Sometimes. I started my chat with Alicia with a question I ask everyone. What was she reading when she was ten years old?
Alicia Sometimes: That’s easy.
Nic: Oh? Good.
Alicia: I was reading a lot of non-fiction. So, I would have been reading A. A. Milne and the like when I was maybe seven or eight, and my mum read it to me, and ‘marmalade on toast’, and ‘the king’, and everything sounded very poetic to me. But something happened in my reading, where I just exclusively looked at encyclopaedias. And so…
Nic: You nerd!
Alicia: I was really nerdy. And so, I loved facts. I wanted to know about geography, and science, and was time travel possible? I just loved anything to do with non-fiction. And that suited me well for a while, but that meant that where you have probably spoken to every other author, and they said Anne Tyler, or whether it was Playing Beatie Bow or something like that got them into literature… For me, I read what I had to at school, but for me those lost afternoons were all about reading non-fiction.
Nic: Ok. I don’t know if you’ve read this book and I can’t remember the name of it, but several years ago there’s a non-fiction book from an author who writes about his experience reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica. And he decides he’s going to do the entire thing, from start to finish, and then certain entries in that book. But it’s about his life at that time and his obsession with it. It’s a really interesting book, I don’t know if you’ve read it.
Alicia: Well, see I’d love to read that.
Nic: I’ll look on my bookshelves for it. I’m sure I’ve got it somewhere.
Alicia: But I felt that it’s a dearth in my education, that for such a long time, perhaps from when I was ten to 18, that I didn’t really read a lot of fiction. Some here and there, but I was completely lost for days learning about a special subject. I guess I was kind of googling before there was Google, because I’d read about the Sphinx and then go read more about it and then get lost. Yeah… I got stuck on astronomy.
Nic: So, at some point, did you get into fiction?
Nic: And if so, what was it that got you in? Before we talk about poetry, let’s talk, you know, about fiction.
Alicia: So, my gateway to fiction was through music as well. So, I was reading a lot of Bob Dylan’s writing. So his lyrics, but then his fiction, which is out there. And John Lennon, out there. And so, I started getting into poetry, really, before I even got into novels.
Alicia: I remember the first poet I got into, when I was about 18, was Berni Janssen, who is a local Melbourne poet. And I just loved her words on the page, and just the way that she would express herself, and that it wasn’t the poetry that I’d been subjected to at school, so it was very free and creative. And from there, I was reading… I thought, ‘I’ve got a hole in my education, I’ve got to go back’. So, I read The Great Gatsby. I read My Place by Sally Morgan. That kind of thing. So, I went back and had to redo all the biggies.
Nic: Ok. And when you were studying at school, you were doing English, poetry, was there anything that was inspiring or resonating, and at what point did you go, ‘I want to write poems’? Was it much later? Or was it teenage angst?
Alicia: No, no.
Alicia: It’s funny, even though I still to this day wear a lot of black, I was very bouncy and not typically that angsty teenager, although my mum would probably disagree.
Alicia: I came into poetry from a sense of just wanting to express myself and make my friends laugh. So, I would pass notes in high school, and write poems and just make them laugh.
Alicia: So, I came at it from a sense of humour. And that was a kind of a problem in a way, that I would search all these amazing – you know, Sylvia Plath or a lot of Australian writers – and it was all a bit serious for me at the beginning. Just at the beginning. I thought, ‘I need a little bit of humour’. And then I found humour in Les Murray or Judith Wright, you know. So…
Nic: So, I don’t have a great poetry education, and my favourite poet is Spike Milligan…
Nic: I used to love his stuff, and my favourite one – and I’ve written it down but I don’t know I even need to – but it was four lines, and I still, as I was preparing for this I thought, ‘I’ve got to go back and look at it’. ‘String is a very important thing. Rope is thicker, but string, is quicker.’
Nic: That’s it. And I remember that from the time when I was eight or nine, and I love, more than ‘On the Ning, Nang, Nong’, and you know, for me it was humour as well.
Alicia: Very Dorothy Parker of you. And I grew up with Monty Python as well, and as I said, Dylan’s lyrics, and The Goon Show, and just humour was what got me into literature. And I realised about bending sentences, and playfulness, and E. E. Cummings, and a lot of things like that, and then it was after that I sort of delved a little bit deeper.
Nic: Well, I mean, that makes sense. Because reading your poetry, there is a lot of humour in it the poems, and maybe that’s why I pick them up and I love reading them, because of that humour. I’m not interested in sitting down and reading a lot of Sylvia Plath, or you know, that sort of thing. So the humour is great. But what I also realised – perhaps for the first time when I was reading your collections – is that with poetry, when you’re writing a collection… Poetry allows a writer to explore just about everything that fascinates them at once, within the one collection, and sometimes within a single poem. And other forms of writing don’t seem to do that, others tend to have to do that one book at a time, one script at a time. And one thing I noticed about… I mean, your personality comes through the collection. Sport, science, art, humour, literature. You manage to get it all. Is that one thing you like, love about poetry, that ability to get so much into the one thing… Or hadn’t it really occurred?
Alicia: Yeah. And every collection is a bit of psychoanalysis, isn’t it? On any author. And I think the same in some ways with a book as well. I love poetry because of the deftness, and the use of language, and again the playfulness. But it’s also just a tight, beautiful sentence can mean so much. It can sing. So, that’s why I love poetry. And so many people express themselves in different ways. But those subject matters keep coming up again and again for me, no matter how much I might explore elsewhere they sort of all come back to that.
Nic: Yeah. What do you read now? What are your reading habits now, do you still a lot of non… I mean I know you are still fascinated by science, and I am too, but very much on a layman’s terms, I read a lot of science non-fiction to try to understand concepts. You know, do you… Is that still the bedrock of your literary world?
Alicia: It is. It’s so funny, it is a great description. It is the bedrock, I read science all the time. But, I read at least three or four fiction books a month.
Alicia: But I’m in two book clubs, so I’m forced to do it. And I’ve chosen those – they are both for radio, funnily enough – but I’ve chosen them just so I keep on track. Because given my natural inklings, I will pick up a short story collection or a poetry collection, but I won’t pick up that novel.
The novel doesn’t transform me the way it does other people. It’s just one of those things, I do get into it, but I seem to always think I’m not in a real world. Even at it’s very, very best, I sort of see the edges somehow, and I’ve always thought it’s a fault with me. Having said that, some books just completely make you cry or get lost. But I force myself to read fiction every month, and I’m never ever disappointed. So, I’m juggling.
Nic: At some point, you won’t need to force yourself.
Alicia: That’s right, that’s right! I keep saying that, though.
Nic: This realisation will come to you, ‘oh my goodness, it is fun’.
Alicia: And saying I am forced to read fiction sounds like it somehow this chore, it’s not this gorgeous pleasure. It’s just not my natural default button.
Nic: See, a lot of people would say that about poetry, that is a common thing to be said about poetry.
Alicia: Yes, exactly.
Nic: But once you get into it, you do find the joy, and you wonder why you don’t do more of it…
Nic: … But it’s not a natural inclination.
Alicia: It’s been described as a world where it’s like a treasure chest, and you just need the key for it, the right key. And once you’ve got the key and you’ve opened it up, this whole world comes about. And that’s how I feel about poetry.
Nic: Here’s Alicia reading from her poetry collection, Kissing the Curve.
Alicia: This one is certainly influenced by the poet PiO, who uses a lot of facts in his poems. And I remember reading a lot of facts at that moment, at that time, at that place, and being inarticulate, and I think a lot of my poems are about being inarticulate. Even though I have chosen words as my profession, I am one of the most inarticulate people when it comes to describing things. I leave out nouns, I leave out verbs, I jumble sentences up and I get too excited, and often thoughts don’t string together. So, this is what it’s about, really.
Nic: So, this is ‘Letting You Down Gently’.
Alicia: Jazz, aqualung
Pop, garage, Sputnik
All 20th century words borrowed from African American slang,
Latin, French, Russian and the name of a Polynesian island
A competent modern novelist writes with a vocabulary of approximately 15,000 words
James Joyce used 30,000
A lot of people spell propeller and connoisseur incorrectly
Half of our speaking time is made up of pauses
The word facetious has all the vowels listed inside it alphabetically
Stop chop shops selling chopped shop chops
I can’t even say that.
A man, a plan, a canal--panama, my favourite palindrome
Most people get by using 850 words
My computer doesn't recognise the word wahoo! with or without an exclamation mark
John Adams said you will never be alone with a poet in your pocket
And when I wanted to tell you I no longer wished to be with you
All I could muster was ‘Hamsterface’.
That was a bad break up, that one.
Nic: That’s all right. And I was going to ask you about the John Adams quote. Which I think, unless I read it wrong, is actually ‘you will never be alone with a poem in your pocket’. You said ‘poet in your pocket’. Is it a poem or a poet?
Alicia: I think he meant, he said ‘a poet’, but he does mean that.
Nic: I was going to ask you, what you thought he meant…
Alicia: He means a book of poetry in your back pocket.
Nic: And why do you think he says you will never be alone?
Alicia: Well, it’s that intimacy, isn’t it? I guess it’s the same for novelists as well, is that you feel that you know someone when you read them, in a way that I don’t know you can just by talking to them. It’s this intimacy of language, of feeling, of sense that you get. And back then, maybe the pockets were a bit bigger or the books were a bit smaller, I’m not sure. But I always like the idea that there was this little tiny human in John Adams’s back pocket.
Nic: [Laughter] Can I just get you to read from the same thing… A very different poem…
Nic: I just loved the, well, I won’t say what I loved about it, go.
Alicia: In 1906, J. J. Thompson received the Nobel Prize for proving electrons are particles
In 1937, his son George received a Nobel Prize for proving electrons were waves
In 1958, my grandmother won an award for baking tea cake in the hills of Leongatha
Her sister Martha said the taste was pure poetry
In 1996, I won an award for splashing graffiti on a train station wall, claiming art and calling it a poem.
Not quite the same thing.
Nic: Not quite the same thing. In both those poems, again, your love of and interest in science and various many other aspects of the world are included, and I think…
Alicia: I’m such an amateur lover of science, and I always… It’s that thing where up faced against the gorgeous, amazing minds of just say, an astrophysicist, and their talking and you think, ‘they are really doing something with their lives’. And here I am just splashing words around, and sometimes, I don’t know about you, but as a writer, you feel like you’re not doing much yourself, even though you could be creating happiness in a room, or you’re giving someone a feeling. So, it’s that thing of… I love the ideas, but I don’t think words can capture science accurately, and I’m always just trying to capture a little bit of my excitement, and I never quite get there.
Nic: Well, let’s talk about the mechanics of writing a poem. How you go about constructing a poem, and how you turn an idea into a poem. Do you even have to start with an idea all of the time?
Alicia: No. In fact, I’m very rarely inspired. Very rarely. I always want to create, but I don’t often think, ‘Oh, that would be an amazing poem’. I start with words. So, back to my non-fiction thing. I often get out the dictionary and just randomly open it and right down several words, and a pattern starts to emerge for me. So many of my poems, maybe 60 or 70 per cent, have started that way, where I see the words and I think, ‘What does that mean to me?’. And all of a sudden, a picture emerges. And obviously it comes for experience. So that poem about my grandmother had some resonating part with me, it resonated with me. See, words good with me. Awesome. Verbs.
Nic: But, maybe the beauty of bad poetry is you can leave out a noun or two, and people just think you’re being clever.
Alicia, Yes, yes, that’s right, you’ve got me. That is exactly it.
Nic: But at what point did you start writing poems that way? I mean, you say it comes with experience, when you first started writing poems I’m assuming it was a different process.
Alicia: Only in primary school. So, in primary school I might have had an idea… No, fom day one. I remember one of the first poems I ever performed, at the Perseverance Hotel on October 3 1993…
Nic: That is very specific, it means something.
Alicia: Yes, it’s the day Jeff Kennett was elected. Or was it 1992? Might be 1992.
Nic: I think it was 1992.
Alicia: See I remember the date now and not the year. I was told in my writing class in Holmesglen, ‘You have to perform a poem’. And I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ So, I grabbed a friend who was a musician, because I really wanted music behind it, and he said, ‘Write a poem in the second person, future tense’. I went, ‘Awesome’.
Alicia: So, I wrote a poem, and that was it. So, I like the writing challenges. And that really can annoy a lot of people too. Because when you’re communicating, you need to have a reason to say, you need to have a reason to talk or to express yourself, and people only want to hear a genuine connection. Now, that genuine connection can be complete fabrication, so you can lie and make up stories, as long as you are entertaining. But for me, sometimes it comes from wordplay. So, I just thought, ‘Ok. Future tense, second person. Let’s do something phonetic’. And then I come up with a poem called ‘Here It Goes Again’. And it was mad.
Nic: Ok. I once had the pleasure of sitting in on one of your workshops, and even having a go at an exercise or two, and I was pleasantly surprised by the results. And I figured if you can get me to write a poem then you must be pretty damn good.
Alicia: It was good, it was a good poem.
Alicia and Nic: [Laughter]
Nic: I’m wondering if there is an exercise we could try now? On me, but also anyone listening may want to try, who maybe hasn’t done poetry or has a different approach to it, that may illustrate what you’ve been talking about. Like, you know, starting with almost nothing.
Alicia: Well, the thing I start with in talking about poetry or words or writing is that the detail matters. Your life isn’t a cliché, my life isn’t a cliché, but if we start to talk in generalities all of a sudden people are quite bored. So, say, if you are talking about a flower. What do you picture when I say flower?
Nic: What am I picturing right now? I’m actually picturing a vase of white flowers.
Alicia: Yeah, white flowers. So, all of a sudden, that starts to have a story taking shape. Whereas I am thinking of a geranium, a really yellow happy geranium, and I start to think of a picture from that. So, detail is important. So, what I would do with people, just to start with, is think of something that you own, an object. And then start thinking about what it smells like, what the story is behind it. Is there a music, a musicality that is involved with it? Is there… Put it in a scene where lovers are quarrelling, and how does it figure in that? And 90 per cent of what you write, or what you’re thinking about may be irrelevant, but it will just be, ‘Oh that white vase with those flowers, yeah, that’s actually taking me back to when my grandma died, and I was sitting in that room, and I was thinking about what I’d done with my life’. And then all of a sudden you’ve got this story, and from that is just the detail. And detail is just a great place to start.
And a lot of people are afraid of just beginning and throwing something down on the page. But don’t be afraid, just think of something and it expand it a little bit more and a little bit more, because I think you can always go further. It’s like with your feelings, too. Let’s talk about feelings.
Nic: I’m very good at that. Jeez, anyone who knows me will be having heart palpitations right now.
Alicia: But it’s funny, because my son said to me the other day, ‘Oh, I’m so angry’. And I said, ‘Why?’. And we got further and further and further, and it just turned out that he was bored. It is that thing of peeling away the layers. How are you feeling? You’re feeling fearful. What does that really feel like? We say ‘Is sitting in your tummy, or is it in your head or your arms, or are you locked in your shoulders?’ And then all of a sudden we get further and further, and you can go anywhere with that.
Just don’t be afraid. The biggest sin is only cliché. It’s nothing else.
Nic: Have you ever started a poem and not wanted to go further? Not because it wasn’t any good, but either the subject matter or the way you were feeling about it?
Alicia: Yeah. I mean, I think that is really common. There are some areas I get uncomfortable talking about. And I just think, ‘Is this… If I’m performing, is it entertaining?’ Which not every writer has to have that feeling, that they need to know that… Because it’s good to be, I love reading a book that makes you uncomfortable. It’s dark, it’s sad, it’s miserable, all those things. But sometimes I get uncomfortable in that space. So for me, sometimes those bigger issues make me feel a little uncomfortable. But in the right hands, I’ll go anywhere.
Nic: Ok. Is writing poetry for performance different to writing it for the page? And does everything that works on the page work – or be made to work – in performance?
Alicia: It’s the age old question. I think that no, not everything on page works for the stage, and vice versa. But I can write very complicated poems – complicated for myself – that have maybe you know won an award, or got published in a literary journal… But I can make it come alive on the stage. It’s all about what am I saying, and who am I communicating with?
And you have to know your audience. So, if you think your audience is going to be interested in what you’ve written, of course it will work. Absolutely anything can work.
If you ever saw Dorothy Porter read her beautiful rich poems, she’s read from the page, she’d break all the rules of performance in a way. But one thing she kept was the essence of her words. She absolutely communicated like no one else, and she cared about the medium that she was there with. So, it’s that thing, I think anything can work if you try, but obviously concrete poetry or... It’s not going to work… though your mouth.
Nic: When you start writing a poem, do you know in your head this is a poem that is going to be for the page, and this is one I’m really writing to perform?
Alicia: I’ve heard people say that they do, and so forth. And 90 something per cent of mine are just written for the page.
Nic: You’re just making up these statistics.
Alicia: Yeah. Exactly.
Nic: I do the same thing, that’s how I can tell.
Alicia: Most of my work is written for the page.
Nic: Right, ok.
Alicia: And then if I am lucky enough to perform it, I will. But some I have written are completely ridiculous. I do a poem about testicles and you have to visually see it to show that I’m squashing them. Sometimes just for play I’ll do performance things.
Nic: Australia seems to me, as an outsider, to have a fairly dynamic poetry and spoken word culture, is that so? I mean, you’ve travelled. Tell me about the Australian experience compared to other places.
Alicia: I agree. I think at the moment spoken word and poetry is alive and completely vibrant. And I think that is the same for all of the cities. Melbourne, we’re lucky there is something on most given nights. But everywhere, all the capital cities and around regionally as well, there are things going on. And travelling the world, it’s on par with everything.
And I like the unique voice, too. I get sick of the same tone in a poem sometimes. Of the performance, sometimes. So, it’s different.
Nic: Yeah. We were talking about poetry that is performed, also entering into the connections between music and poetry, I mean song lyrics. Writing song lyrics is poetry, is it not? I mean, it’s just a form of poetry, is it not?
Alicia: It’s certainly a form of poetry, yeah. And what’s interesting, when I used to teach poetry I would say, ‘Bring in your favourite lyrics, and let’s read them as a poem’. And what happened time and time and time again is that they would fail as a poem. Absolutely fail. Because everyone was hearing the music in the background, and they were putting all the emphasis on it, without the music it just didn’t…
Nic: What about the people that had never heard the song, and it just…?
Alicia: Yeah, that’s what I mean. As than audience who had never heard that song, it was mostly that they failed as poems. And I don’t mean tick, tick, tick, it’s got this pentameter and it’s got this enjambment or whatever, I mean, just as an interesting piece of writing, most fail. But, that’s not a failure of the poetry of music. Some absolutely are gorgeous and work, but they are different mediums. I just want to say that, they are just different mediums.
Nic; Right, ok.
Alicia: But whatever works, works.
Nic: You’ve written lyrics?
Alicia: Yeah, yeah.
Nic: So how do you approach writing lyrics differently? What is different about the approach to writing poems, because I know a lot of the people that will listen to this will be budding songwriters as well as poet, so they’d be interested.
Alicia: Everyone has their own way, and it’s whatever works. For me, you’ve got to let the music have some say and space. That’s really important. And so, you’ve got to care about line breaks. You don’t have to care about rhyme, necessarily, but you have to care about catchiness, and giving the music space and respect, and that’s important.
Nic: Yeah. What sort of opportunities exist for emerging poets in Australia, someone starting out of has had a go? I mean, I know organisations such as Poetry Australia are very useful and helpful. What sort of advice would you give to people who are you know… other than, ‘don’t do it for the money’?
Alicia: Or the groupies.
Nic: Or the groupies.
Alicia and Nic: [Laughter]
Alicia: You don’t get many of those. Well, like you said, starting with organisations is great. Being online, an online community. How amazing is it now to be a writer in the world? You can just connect to so many great journals, so many great sources online. And obviously there’s a lot of venues that do performance. It is always good to go and hear. That may not be your style. Someone who lives solely on the page, that’s ok too. But just go and hear and read. I can’t emphasise that enough, is to read. If you are a poet and you don’t read other poetry, how do you know where you sit? You’ve got to read before you.
Nic: That is great advice. And also going out and seeing it, because I guess, there is something a dynamic about performance poetry – and I have been a long and seen quite a bit of it, and I’ve always enjoyed it a lot. I go to book launches and hear authors reading from their books, and usually after five minutes it’s boring as bat shit. So, you know, I guess people interested in poetry do have this other advantage in being able to go and see writing that is dynamic and can inspire them in some way, rather than novelists reading. Mainly you are going to get that from the page, you are not going to get it from them reading.
Alicia: That’s true. And some readings are the most gorgeous, heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen, because somehow it connects. And then, yes… I think all art forms have their boring moments, and have their moments that sing.
Nic: I was going – this is the perfect opportunity – to ask you if there is… and to talk about one of your other favourite subjects. Would there be a need for the arts to actually enrich people, if every football season a story like the Western Bulldogs winning the Premiership emerged? If you had one of those every year, I mean… In a way, the Arts can’t compete with that.
Alicia: No. But luckily, it’s not in competition. And I think sport is healthy to the brain, Arts are so healthy, science… I think they all should be funded well and often, and respected. It’s so important and enriching for our lives. I really am a big believer that the sports and sciences, huge elevation, they should get huge elevation. But of course the Arts as well.
Nic: Well mentioning science, tell me about the Elemental project that you’re involved with, tell me a bit about that.
Alicia: That started a few years ago. I just want to… I had been long taking poetry into different spaces. A lot of poets do this. And so I didn’t want the typical performance or reading. So, I wanted it in the Planetarium. The Melbourne Planetarium is one of the best in the world, and it’s gorgeous. You sit back, and you’ve got the beautiful dome. I wanted to express my love of science. I love collaboration, so I worked with other writers, scientists, musicians and video makers and animators, and just put together a show that was in celebration of that. And it was about the beginnings of the universe – so a really easy topic to start with. Just an immersive experience. There was some live elements as well. So, I hope to do a part two of that soon.
Nic: Yeah, we do that sort of thing well here.
Nic: That merging of different disciplines with the Arts in really interesting ways, and its reasonably well funded, and I guess it does have to be funded, because there is very little…
Nic: … It’s not going to break box office records, but it is so important and exciting, on so many levels. Emotional levels, intellectual levels, spiritual levels…
Alicia: Yeah. It’s funny you should say that because, yeah, of course. But the first season we did was with the Melbourne Festival, and it was a sell-out season. And what happened was a lot of people who were interested in science or just the Arts, who had never really seen poetry before, came. And that’s what I wanted to do, take poetry outside of just poetry audiences and to a greater audience. Because if you think of poetry, it’s read in political speeches, it’s on TV, it’s even in advertising, it’s in music, there are spoken parts in movies… All sorts of ways poetry is absolutely part of our consciousness, and everyday person understands that, but the minute you label it a poem, they’ll run away. But if you… there’s some speaking, it’s poetic, they go, ’Oh my god, that’s so beautiful’.
Nic: So why do people run away from poetry?
Alicia: I think it’s because of their expectations of what it should be, and the box that it should fill.
Nic: Based on what they’ve been taught?
Alicia: Yeah, maybe. But nowadays teachers are being amazing and the tools that we have are great. But maybe it is the past, maybe it is just that thing of, ‘Oh, it’s got to be a certain way and we don’t understand it’.
Nic: Which classic poem do you wish you had written?
Alicia: I wish I had written? I don’t know.
Nic: When I say classic, I mean, it doesn’t have to be particularly well known, but a particular one that for some reason, ‘Jeez, I wish I’d written that, it…’
Alicia: It’s so funny I don’t feel that way about anything, that I wish I did that. But one poem that’s from a long time ago, Jeffrey Smart, ‘Jubilate Agno’. And he writes a poem to his cat, Jeffrey.
Nic: The artist? Jeffrey Smart the artist?
Alicia: No. Christopher Smart; his cat Jeffrey.
Nic: Oh. Christopher Smart writing about Jeffrey.
Nic: The cat Jeffrey, not Jeffrey Smart the artist, that’s why I was confused. Ok.
Alicia: A monk from a long time ago. He wrote a poem for his cat, and it is just gorgeous. It goes on for an eternity, an eternity. And he… just the rhythm in it, just gorgeous. And every time I hear it it’s such a gorgeous soothing thing that I just love the rhythm of it.
Nic: Ok. You mention poetry and speech as performance, which is interesting. Are there particular speeches that you love or admire because of the use of words and poetry?
Alicia: It’s funny that.... Peggy Noonan, who’s a speech writer, wrote a poem, included a well-known poem in Ronald Reagan talking about the Challenger, that accident.
Nic: Yes, yes.
Alicia: And she included a poem in it, but also Reagan’s last lines were, ‘and then they reached out their hands and touched the face of god’. And it is just gorgeous the way she incorporated it, and she wrote a lot of his speeches, and she was a really interesting speech writer…
Nic: I think Aaron Sorkin pinched that line.
Alicia: He did.
Nic: For a speech in The West Wing.
Alicia: He kind of twisted it.
Nic: He gave it to President Bartlett.
Alicia: That’s right.
Nic: I do recall that. Just to end, do you have a favourite joke that you would like to share with us?
Alicia: Because of my inability to remember and twist things, I remember one from when I was six. What did one mushroom say to another mushroom?
Nic: What did one mushroom say to the other mushroom?
Alicia: You’re a real fungi.
Nic: Fun guy. Indeed, that’s a great joke.
Alicia: But honestly, I’m terrible at jokes, because I get to the punchline and I go, ‘Oh no, hang on, that was meant to be…’ I get it mixed up.
Nic: Thank you so much for spending the time and talking to us on The Garret. It’s been really enjoyable, and I think a lot of the listeners will get a lot out of it, particularly if they haven’t been exposed to a lot of poetry.
Nic: Hopefully they’re going to go out and see some performance poetry and have a go and immerse themselves in the world of poetry.
Alicia: A pleasure.
Nic: There is a wealth of material out there, a wealth.