I’m sitting down for an interview with Waffle IronGirl, me on one end of old faithful (Facebook Messenger), her on the other. I’ve – somewhat unwisely – started off proceedings with a list of ‘suggested’ questions from my partner Lexi, all of them uniquely bizarre. For instance:
“How adaptable is the waffle iron as a printing technology?”
Waffle IronGirl shoots this one down:
Waffle Iron isn’t a printing technology.
It’s very adaptable personal weaponry though.
Things are off to a cracking start.
We’re here to talk about performing in Singapore (she was recently a support act in the Singapore poetry slam) and chapbooks (she’s running a workshop on chapbooks for the Melbourne Spoken Word and Poetry Festival). But I can’t resist. Where does the name “Waffle IronGirl” come from? ” I once wrote a flash fiction story about a vigilante called Waffle IronGirl,” she explains. “She used a waffle iron to dispatch with those who would violate her boundaries or the boundaries of those she cared about. When I started performing I needed a stage name, and it seemed like she could impart a courage and frankness that I felt I was lacking personally.”
I could pause here to note that Waffle IronGirl is one of the most original performers I’ve seen, and when she featured for us at the Dan, I felt like the top of my head had been taken off and I had a whole range of new weird and wonderful ideas poured in. Instead, I ask about the Singapore slam; what differences between Singaporean spoken word and Australian spoken word did she notice? “What struck me wasn’t so much the difference in style”, she says, “although that was certainly there. From a style perspective, there was certainly a more natural use of multiple languages and accents and dialects within the same poem. Also as a performer – it was interesting to gauge what references and assumptions I’ve made in my poems “carry” and what doesn’t.”
But, she goes on: “I think the biggest difference I sensed under the surface was what was at stake .” What on earth could she mean by this? “It seemed to me that the very fact of choosing to be an artist in certain countries is political, whether you want to be or not. “More so than in Australia? “Yes, it just seemed to me that there is more at stake in terms of straying too far away from the official line.. Stephanie Dogfoot, who hosted the event I opened for and who is featuring in the MSWPF 2019 opening says a lot more about this in an upcoming MSW interview, so I’m reluctant to speak for those with lived experience. In my opinion, it resulted in poetry and performances which was subversive in clever and novel ways. I learnt a lot, particularly from artists like Ng Yi-Sheng whom I opened for, and Kok Wei Liang who performed at a Poetry event at the National Library. The use of story telling and metaphor to make statements such that everyone in the room understood what was being said, yet there was no way you couldn’t actually quote the artist.” She wants to encourage everyone to check out the Malaysian and Singaporean Spoken Word scene, the Spoke & Bird Open Mic being a very welcoming starting point. Aside from this, in Singapore, she noticed “a different kind of diversity…. performing in Singapore, I had the novel (to me) experience of walking into a roomful of poets, and having them all “look like me” i.e. for once I wasn’t the only or one of a few Asian poets in the room. And that was a strange feeling.” It was, she says “a freeing absence.”
We move on to chapbooks; her own book, Margin Doodles vol 1. – currently being sold through Melbourne Spoken Word – contains both art throughout and an unconventional page design, with some real surprises thrown in. She describes putting the chapbook together as a three stage process. “Stage 1 was me figuring out exactly why I wanted a chapbook. I believe once you’re honest with yourself about what you want to achieve, and how you wanted the “product” to make people feel – you have half a chance of achieving it.” Stage 2 was the how: she collaborated with Sam Ferrante as editor, and Frangellina Ferndal-Gawain as artist, working with her over drafts and sending “mood drawings” back and forth. Stage 3 was the practicals: ” I shopped around for an affordable printer, got quotes and printed it… the end.”
We talk a bit about collaboration (for my zines I end up usually begging Lexi to do pictures). Waffle IronGirl says “I actually talked to a couple of artists other than Frangellina, and I found that there was a range of reactions from artists, where on one hand their drawings were in some ways closer to, and more literal to the words in the poem that I intended – and SIMULTANEOUSLY, there was always something the artist added, a mood or texture or just a way of interpreting the world that added extra meaning…” She goes on to say “Frangellina read things into my poems I didn’t know were there, but all in the ways I liked, and simulated what I like about performance… where I know people read things into my spoken word.” In the workshop, she says, “what really interests me and what I’d like to help people through is the Why and the What. I’d like to take us through some questions that will draw out motives, and what feeling and intentions we are conscious, or unconscious of. If we spend enough thinking through the why and what, the how will eventually work itself out.”
I’m starting to ramble, but I remember to ask her if she’ll be selling Margin Doodles at the festival Book Fair: “Yep…. Although I’m still folding those pages Tim. I’m still folding those damned pages”.
Hours later, Waffle IronGirl gets back to me, answering another one of Lexi’s questions (“How can chapbooks work against phallologocentrism”?) offering as an example Valeria Solana’s SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto, the same manifesto which led up to Solanas shooting Andy Warhol. “That manifesto certainly made me go wide-eyed and ask a few choice questions about how things had been taught to me… I also just found out she sold the first editions to women for $1 and to men for $2 – which maybe doesn’t quite deconstruct meaning in a literary sense – but might in a capitalist sense!”
If you want to write a chapbook and/or shoot Andy Warhol, why not register for Waffle IronGirl’s workshop?