Friday, January 3

interview: lucy orbell (poet)

A poem Lucy wrote several years ago and stuck to her bedroom wall.
Several weeks ago I met Lucy Orbell at a new bar on Cuba Street. I was instantly fascinated by her confidence and ability to articulate such interesting observations about life and the people she has encountered. Lucy has completed the prestigious MA in creative writing at the Institute of Modern Letters and worked at Radio New Zealand, but the interview I conducted with Lucy (below) focuses on her capacity as a poet and lover of poetry.


Could you briefly describe your background?

I originally trained as a journalist, it was my pragmatic decision, I really wanted to be a photographer, but didn't see how it could ever support me. I became a journalist, of sorts, and now I am trying to spend time writing poetry.

What's currently on your mind?

All sorts. Most of the time I find myself skipping around how human beings are in the world, why we behave in the ways we do, how we can change that and how endlessly startling this life continues to be.

When did you first describe yourself as a poet?

I still find that hard, actually. I think, well, I think of myself as someone who wants to make things and share them, and that I have chosen words as my instrument/medium. In lots of ways I am not a poet, or I don't match up with the traditional image of a poet (in my mind at least). But, then I can't trick myself into thinking that for long, as the argument unravels in my head: I know that for me poetry is the greatest of all art forms, it is supple, expansive, visual, tender, esoteric. And mostly, it is made out of language, and therefore reaches us immediately; we understand it even when we "don't understand it". I feel that even though poetry can be considered inaccessible it is truly the most accessible of all art forms, because it is made from the currency of our communication.

How do you read a poem?

I try to read poems slowly, but truth be told I can discard a poem very quickly. For me, the opening line sets the environment and tone of the poem, the opening line tells you what world you're in, so if you don't feel that you're in a world you like you can exit fairly quickly. When I do like a poem I go back and read it over and over for years to come and let it wear into me.

Do you follow a certain approach or technique when you write a poem or a collection of poems?

I tend to come up with a concept for a whole series of poems and work from there. Sometimes I write a one off piece, but often I mull over an idea, it sticks, grows, multiplies and then I have a story to explore in a suite of poems. This can be problematic, as then you have to end the series, and I never quite know how to tie things up at the end - so I have a lot of projects started that fall away without conclusion.

Why is the word (or concept of) "permission" important to you?

Yes, this is important to me, and I hope I can articulate why: I feel that we are constantly seeking permission to do things, how to be etc. I see it in all aspects of our lives: how to hold a knife and fork, whether to go back for seconds, if one should ask a question at the end of the lecture. I don't mean permission in a literal sense, I mean that when we see others behaving in certain ways that gives us confidence (permission) to do the same; when we meet an inspiring person and they tell us their story we discover a new approach to life. I think what I am saying is that exposure to many different experiences, places and people shows us how the world is to others and how it can be to us - and that that can break open the framework we operate in. I also think artistically it's very important to sample as much of life as possible, because artists, like anyone, can fall into a pattern of making work that has been deemed acceptable - so artists need the permission of new things to let them keep making what is truly interesting them.

Do you have a separate mind space when writing poetry? How do you usually fall into this mind space?

Sort of, it's a bit of a night-time-at-home-alone space. I love to be in the house on my own, there's nothing to clutter your thinking, but all this space your thoughts can stretch into. I found early on I couldn't write and listen to music - too many words and ideas competing. So, silence, a cup of tea, a blank, unlined journal and drawing - sometimes if words can't express what I want to say I draw it first, then write it.

What does next year involve for you?

I have a poster project starting in Wellington in early January. Large posters around the city offering encouragement. Then, spend a bit more time on my writing, and in the middle of the year a trip to Scotland.

Could you recommend three poems to read whilst sitting on a beach in the sunshine?

Denise Levertov "O taste and See" and to complement that William Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much With Us" . These are good poems for thinking about life and what it is we put in and get out of it. Like many people I find the 21st century's obsession with fame and being known quite disturbing, so I recommend what is possibly my all time favourite poem, by Emily Dickinson, "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" I used to always carry this poem in my handbag. When I first read it I found it both electrifying and resonant - it lit me up, and gave me permission to be nobody.

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