A thinking-through of hard questions: Interview with “Good Ghost” Bill Moran

“Good Ghost” Bill Moran is making his way down the East coast of Australia to visit and perform in Melbourne for a third time. Margaret Coulter chatted to him mid-tour about coming back, what’s in store, what makes him tick and what’s in his workshop.

How do you prepare for a tour – is there anything in particular you do to prepare for a big international tour as opposed to a one off feature (other than pack a suitcase of course)?

So much! Workshop lesson plans, set lists, alternate set lists, social media (show flyers, hashtags, promotional stuff), printing books, so on and so forth. There’s always a lot of logistic stuff to sort out too, in terms of transportation, lodging, international phone plan, music and reading list, and all the little things that you wouldn’t think about unless you’ve toured before: which sleeping aid works best, what the heck is a ‘flat white’ and does it have enough caffeine to make me a halfway-functional human, exactly how many times can I wear the same pair of socks while still maintaining minimal hygiene / dignity, etc?

Then, of course, the show. Writing, memorizing, sequence, performance, music, and all the adornments that make the show more than just a handful of poems read aloud. And how to make people care.

Oh yeah, and then the nerves. Always the nerves– handling the nervousness on the flight there, and keeping the reflexive roar of self-doubt down to a steady, sleepy purr.

This isn’t your first visit – what are you most looking forward to about coming back to Melbourne?

Seeing all the Melbourne poets and organizers I admired who, over the past couple years, became friends I admire (especially now with Sir Scott Wings and Sir Will Beale in town too!) Other than that, I’m especially excited about the show at the Howler. Last year, Ben put on a killer show that I felt was as much for the artists as it was for the audience, with an incredible lineup, turnout, space, and a real tangible feeling of collective expression. It was one of the first times I felt not only licensed to stretch my more abstract, artistic muscles a bit, but celebrated for doing so too. And I felt like nothing about the show was expected or standard– so much was surprising and cool and was kinda like greasing the wheels of a larger artistic machine, bigger than everyone in the room and even the room itself. Rad stuff.

What are your favourite and least favourite parts of touring?

Going away and going away.

To elaborate– I love how small touring makes me feel, like I’m being washed away in a weird dream (because, like, who gets to travel and pay rent with poetry? Amazing.) But, as I hinted earlier, it’s also like I’m part of something bigger. And gosh dang, that’s worth a lot in this life.

And then there’s going away. Long story short: I’m in a place where moving around all the time like a ghost, between cities and people and jobs, just doesn’t cut it anymore. I want to be a human person with, ya know, friendships and roots and some kind of locatable presence in a community. And touring isn’t super kind to those sorts of goals. Lots of goodbyes. It’s a good problem to have: knowing enough quality human beings who are home to you, each in their own small way, that you feel varying degrees of homesick everywhere. But yeah, the homesickness is especially real this year, now that I have a significant other and a significant-puppy-other, both of whom I love a whole stinkin’ lot. Sigh.

But! Every goodbye presupposes a hello, I suppose. And I can’t wait to see familiar faces and to meet new ones all over again. Touring is a goshdang miracle, y’all. If you have the means, you should do it. Go outside. Meet good people. And then return home to good people. And then become good people. Go now. Quick.

Do you have any rituals for before or after you go on stage?

Aside from nervously mumbling poems to myself… I pee. A LOT. Like, again and again and again and again until someone with a microphone calls my nervous self out onto a stage. Honestly, at this point, peeing has been elevated to a special kind of prayer for me. But hey it’s worked out thus far.

When you’re out on tour do you find you get inspired to write new pieces or do you have a very separate headspace for performing and writing?

Absolutely. Something about a change of scenery– especially in the midst of it on a train, plane, hot air balloon, flying dragon etc etc– really gets the gears in my head turning. I also do a ton of editing too. Traveling allows me leeway to edit for both page and stage without a deadline, try new things on stage that night, and make changes accordingly as I go along. I like reading one or two unfinished poems on tour stops– it clears the path for other, newer poets to be brave with their work, and to avoid getting caught up with having total gems lined up before ever touching stage. Not only do I tend to write and edit new poems, but I also find myself editing performative elements of old poems. Pro tip: if you’re bored of one of your poems and want to overhaul it, go out and perform it 15 times in 15 nights and get really, really bored of it. It’ll start coming out in surprising and different ways before it even gets to that point. And I promise you, you won’t recognize the piece when you’re done (in a good way.)

We know from your past tours and youtube videos that you are a dynamic and enthralling performer so we have that to look forward to at your feature, but what can we expect from your workshop on Saturday 4 June? Is there anything in particular you’re hoping to impart on our impressionable minds?

Aww, thanks. The workshop last May was one of my favorite and most proud moments as a touring poet and educator, hands down. There were so many eager, sharp, and enthusiastic writers in the room who engaged in the prompts and discussion material each at a very unique and interesting level– I really felt like I was able to take a backseat and be both participant and audience to a discussion that was, I think, rigorous and imaginative and enlightening for everyone involved. That room itself was a thinking machine that we were all a part of, and it’s all to the credit of the Melbourne writing community.

So yeah, I don’t want to give anything away, but I’m going to do my damndest to establish that kind of environment this go-around. I have a couple specific ideas and prompts– about language-as-conjuring, culture and celebrity as a kind of shared language, etc– that I’m currently infatuated with and eager to introduce. But I’m hoping to offer them only as a launch point. Hopefully, we’ll all be surprised with where it goes from there.

Do you find that facilitating workshops helps you to grow as an artist also? What has been your most rewarding experience running workshops?

Yep yep, and since I probably answered most of this in the last question, I’ll just say: my poems are, to a certain extent, a thinking-through of hard questions. And God knows I think far too much on my own, for moderately disappointing though humorous results for the most part. But yeah, sometimes the world has to look new. Sometimes you have to toss yourself into a room with human beings, all with their own imaginations and experiences and humanness, and think out loud together.

Other than writing, performing and running workshops, what else do you do to further yourself as an artist?

Go outside. Eat good food with people I love. Tell the people I love that I love them (hi Kim hi Brady.) And my girlfriend’s dog too. Try not to yell when Blue (girlfriend’s dog) bites a chunk of my beard hair clean off of my face. Hug him. Turn the cameras away from my dumb, dumb, grinnin’ face.

Bill Moran will be performing in Melbourne for Melbourne Spoken Word at Howler on June 3, alongside Arielle Cottingham, Will Beale, Ed Carlyon, Jess Alice and Esme Foong. You can buy tickets at Moshtix. He’s also hosting a workshop the next day at Under the Hammer which you should also pre-book for.

Margaret Coulter