A life of poetry

Thursday, March 13, 2014
By: 
Chris Wallace-Crabbe interviewed by Sharona Lin

Photo of Chris Wallace-Crabbe
Chris Wallace-Crabbe

Chris Wallace-Crabbe has been writing poetry since the age of 18 and continues to write poetry at the age of 80. He shares some of his wisdom with Sharona Lin ahead of his Month of Poetryworkshop.

In all your time writing, have you ever wanted to pursue something else, or have you always known you wanted to write forever? What advice would you offer for someone who would like to make writing their profession?

I was put off writing at school by dull secondary teachers. I read poetry, adventure stories and so on, instead. Maybe I always knew that I wanted to write. Drunk with language I was, especially that of Keats and Browning, Ezra Pound, Slessor and Judith Wright. Yes, I loved it more and more, even while working for mere money, which I did for fifty years. If you want to make writing your profession, marry someone rich — and tolerant.

You’re considered to be one of the foremost voices of Australia in terms of poetry. What does the Australian “voice” mean to you?

The “Australian voice” is most important to me. It connects with our energies, saving us from being blurred photocopies of American or English poets. There was a good piece in the paper last week about how we’ve become scared of being audibly Australian.

Are there any contemporary Australian poets you admire?

My favourite living poets here are much varied. They include Jennifer Maiden, Lisa Gorton, Les Murray, Alex Skovron, Bruce Dawe, Lisa Jacobson, Chris Andrews and… Shakespeare. But Auden, Emily Dickinson and Andrew Marvell are just as alive for me. Live poetry lives on, chiselled in auditory marble.

You’ve been writing poetry for a long time now. Do you find you look back at your earlier work and can critique it and improve from it? What do you think your biggest improvement in your career has been?

Most of my early poetry is a bit stiff, rhetorically or metrically. But I’ve learned to avoid rigidity, and also fashion. Fashion is the jailer with the leg-irons. Trust koalas instead.

How does your writing process work? Do you have a particular place or time of day that inspires you? Is it a process of letting yourself be inspired, or do you just sit down and get it done?

I don’t just sit down and get it done; I start walking and let it begin. Break your habits. “Try it again with a not in it,“ as I once wrote. Look at things in new ways, from quite different angles. Write a lyric about rhubarb, or socks, or “the furred and curious wombat”.

You’re a very widely read poet and academic. How important is studying and reading other poets in your opinion? Is studying poetry vital to being able to write good poetry?

If you yearn to write, read what other poets have already done: the liveliest English language poets since Wyatt. And if you can read some in another language, to shake up your habits. But you can’t write free verse until you really know what fettered verse was. Write in other voices, why not?

About Chris-Wallace Crabbe

Chris Wallace-Crabbe is a Melbourne-born poet who has read and written all round the world. He also taught for many years. His latest books are ‘My Feet Are Hungry’ and the prose volume ‘Read It Again’. He is also a Life Member of Writers Victoria.

About Sharona Lin

Sharona Lin is the Program Intern at Writers Victoria. She is the founder and editor of Pop Culture-y, and also has opinions on Twitter.