This article was originally published in November 2019 on our ‘Writers on Writers Vic’ page, for our 30th year of operating.
Andy Jackson is an award-winning poet and performer who writes about bodily difference. He lives in Castlemaine, Victoria, and his poetry has been published in many literary journals. He has performed in several festivals, including the Brisbane Writers Festival, Prakriti Poetry Festival in Chennai, India, Newcastle Young Writers Festival and Overload Poetry Festival, among others. Andy, who has also worked in cafes and libraries, has been a resident at Writers Victoria, the Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre and Asialink. His first full-length poetry collection, Among the Regulars, was published in 2010 and was shortlisted for the NWS Premiere’s Prize for Poetry. His most recent collection of poems, Music our bodies can’t hold, consists of portrait poems of people with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic condition. Andy is the Write-ability Project Officer at Writers Victoria.
You’re on the record as saying that your involvement with Writers Victoria helped you as a writer. Tell us about that involvement. Did you sign up as a member? Do a workshop? Work with a mentor? Get a manuscript assessment?
In the late 1990s—that’s about as specific as I can get!—I did a workshop through Writers Victoria with Edwina Preston, on writing and music. I remember sitting around a table, writing in a journal, almost underneath the table—some part of me was sure there was poetry lurking in my body; another part was sure there wasn’t. Taking the workshop didn’t resolve that, but it made me realise I could improve, and that I needed community.
What kind or support or resources are most helpful to you as a writer?
Having fellow-writers (especially fellow-poets) around who understand what I’m trying to do, and want to help me do that better—that’s crucial, especially the long-term workshops and friendships.
What’s the most useful writing tool for you as a poet?
I can’t decide between a print journal so the words are pressed into the page with physical energy, life experience, time, love, sunshine; reading, reading, reading… So, I’ll have to say all of the above.
Based on your experience, what advice do you have for aspiring and emerging poets about engaging with their local writers’ centre?
I’d suggest doing one thing now that you think you could only do a year or two from now—submit to that esteemed journal, memorise that poem, put together a manuscript, seek out a mentor, etc. Progress is incremental, fitful, and full of failures, and you sometimes achieve more than you expect.
You’ve participated in poetry slams, how have these events helped your writing?
For many people, slams are an astounding community and an encouragement to do better. Personally, I find competing very stressful, so I rarely do it. Performing and reading my poems in general has been much more affirming—the local poetry scene is full of stages on which we can hone and expand our confidence. To know that I can stand up and speak back to the disabling myths (and to be heard!) has been invaluable for me.
Any advice for writers who have received their first fellowship and/or residency?
There’s always a pressure from inside yourself—a kind of stage-fright, as if now you really have to come up with the goods. That can make you self-conscious. Push through. Go for a walk. Live your life. Eat well. You’ll get there. The people who awarded you that opportunity know what they were doing—they trust you.
How has mentoring/tutoring affected your writing? What have you learned from emerging poets?
I had my first official mentoring relationship around the manuscript for my first published book Among the regulars (2010). Jennifer Harrison helped me make the decisions I didn’t quite realise I needed to make—a meticulous attention to the music and shape of the lines, cutting extraneous words away, and connecting poems together (I thought I had three poems when in fact I had one). The pleasure of seeing a poem become even more fluid and open—and the relaxed attentiveness required to help that happen—I still try to access that now.
But I’m always learning from emerging poets—they take risks, do things no-one else has done. Imperfectly, sure, but imperfect is human. When a poet is being themselves, that encourages me to go deeper, to fail better, as Beckett said.