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
Why should poems always be interesting? For some time I have wanted to write a poem that is perfectly bad, or boring, or both. On purpose, I mean: poets strive to make their audience happy or sad or amused or anticipatory or intrigued…. why should they not also strive towards the full gamut of poetic emotion and also make their audience tired or apathetic or full of ennui or sickened at the tedium of it all? Boredom is really an incredibly interesting emotion: why do we get bored? What do we do when bored? Can boring things be comforting? If we can even get bored by the things we know and love the most, does this mean that the things which bore us straightaway will be the things we come to know and love the most? If we get bored to distraction, what do we think about in that distraction?
The secret lies in making the boredom seem interesting to the audience: in making them not bored by their own boredom, but rather simultaneously bored and fascinated. Boring boredom bores me, oddly enough, and it is, after all, easy to achieve by not trying: that is why I used the words ‘On purpose’ in the first paragraph above: it is easy to write a boring poem by accident, by not caring much about it, by paying no attention to the audience, by not ever once attempting to actually speak with them, and by not even really thinking what we are writing. We’ve all heard that boring poem, which, whatever it actually says, somehow says exactly the same thing as every other boring poem. No, I’m more after my own individual style of boredom, my own voice of tedium. Maybe something like
Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock
Now that the Dirty Thirty poem-a-day-for-a-month challenge is upon us, it seems an excellent time to write less than I ever have, and even that could be too much. There’s nothing like a challenge to make you not want to do it, and there are certainly a whole lot of poems I now wish I hadn’t done. I’m writing a poem about clouds at the moment, which for some reason I decided to write in strict Spenserian stanzas. What the hell was I thinking? What the hell was Spenser thinking when he wrote the first Spenserian stanza? “Oh, I’ll just take the Rime Royal and pop another rhyme in there” – why? There are only so many rhyming words in the English language, and you can’t use Nat-the-fat-cat-who-sat-on-the-mat in every stanza.
Really, the last thing poets need is encouragement. Some poets get into poetry for women, or alcohol, or the swearing, but my motivations were hardly so noble. I started doing it as a distraction from the work I was supposed to be doing, and if I attempted the Dirty Thirty now, I might end up actually doing work as a distraction from my distraction, and no-one wants that.
Uninspiring! Not writing at all this month seems like a good place to start. I can’t quite come at that – what with this stupidly epic poem about clouds – but perhaps I can work my way down to it. You should try to set yourself a challenge a day, and come up with a new idea not to write. A love sonnet? A haiku about nature? A dirty limerick? All fine and easy ideas not to write – though the interesting thing is, the more detailed and specific is your idea for a poem, the less inspiration (and more unspiration) you will have to write. An abecedarian list poem about sous-vide cooking? Just writing out the idea seems exhausting. I shall enjoy not writing that one next Saturday; maybe I shall even not write it twice. And, lastly, there are the ideas you don’t bother having for the poems that
I have heard it said that page poets look down on pub poets, and I know that pub poets often return the favour. When it comes to pubs, pages, and poets, however, I have nothing against any of them. In fact, I’m a bit of a pub poet myself. And there are good reasons for having poetry at pubs, not the least for the way it introduces poets to ordinary people, and vice versa. It is true that these ordinary people may often be seen quickly exiting out the door they had just recently entered without knowing a poetry reading was taking place, but hey, it’s better than nothing*.
People tend to think of poets as cafe creatures, a compound of caffeine and nicotine and black skivvies and intense looks and maybe the occasional slice of sponge, but that’s not really true now, if it ever was. Even the Melbourne Poets Union played into this stereotype recently, when they called for an anthology of poems about coffee, wine and tea. (Did they forget entirely about long-running readings at the Dan O’Connell and Brunswick hotels?) But the association of poetry – and the rhetorical arts more broadly – with beer and wine is much older than their association with coffee and tea.
I often say that, if you can win over a room of drunks with your poetry, then you’re not doing too badly. That’s true, although alcohol can also have a way of taking wits away, first from the audience, then from the poet, so that the poet has to use up less of what little wit remains to impress their audience. The ancients appreciated alcohol alright; it’s well known that much of the philosophy of Socrates and Plato was cooked up at Athenian drinking parties.
Across the Mediterranean, the Persians – when they weren’t attempting imperial wars, that is – brought drinking into their politics in a big way:
It is also their general practice to deliberate upon affairs of weight when they are drunk; and then on the m
An empty can is worth 1000 words.
Heckling is bad taste’s revenge on good taste.
A bitch in time saves nine.
The open mic without the mic.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, two seats over from yourself.
Modes of heckle: Traditional, with rotten fruit and vegetables.
Rock’n’roll, with beer cans.
Hipster, with fermented fruit and vegetables.
Yuppie, with craft beer cans.
Exaggerated, with wine bottles.
Natural, with nothing but a voice.
Clothes maketh the heckler: dress not to be noticed, until you want to be.
Your voice should be louder than your shirt.
Wear nondescript pants: either too much, or too little, would draw attention away from your heckle.
Tact: knowing not to heckle in church.
Liberation: heckling in church anyway.
The art: knowing how to be politely impolite.
Delicacy: being able to get everyone’s attention, but not too much of it.
A poet is just a heckler facing backwards.
Poets, the Jekyll to your heckle.
Who needs a mic?
Classic heckles: I wish he would explain his explanation – Byron of Coleridge.
I take it as a general rule That every poet is a fool But you yourself will serve to show it That every fool is not a poet. – Pope, on some random.
Here lies our sovereign Lord the King Whose word no man relies on; Who never said a foolish thing, Nor ever did a wise one. – Rochester, on Charles II.
And that’s the reason, some folks think, He left behind so great a stink. – Swift, on the death of a great general.
May all my enemies go to hell – Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel. – Belloc on – well, you know.
The first Whig was the devil. – Johnson.
The Fool’s heckle: when a witty retort turns into an awkward trail off.
Any heckle as long as a haiku is t
As a poet, at some point you will of course have to tackle the subject of nothing, writing about the fundamental nothingness of existence, or the basic nothingness of something (or something), and what to do when that horrible event comes along that we’ve all been dreading and nothing much happens. Obviously it is very important for you to take this all incredibly seriously, and wear black, scowl gloomily, and sit about doing…. well, nothing. Good.
So, writing about nothing is the most important thing you can do as a poet. Basically, nothing is really something, or should I say, you should be able to make something out of nothing, or maybe writing something about nothing should make you really feel…. something. I don’t know, you’re a poet, I’m sure you’ll be able to get round to it. Point is, writing about nothing is so incredibly urgently mindblowingly important, that you shouldn’t be on an empty stomach when you start. You need to get some food into you. But what?
1. Donuts. Donuts are an excellent food to eat when writing about nothing. You need to take those donuts out of the bag, one by one, and admire their wonderful shape, their smooth curves…. and most importantly, the little empty hole of meaninglessness at their centre that makes them look like a zero. You really need to get those donuts into you, straight away, so you can have that little empty hole of meaninglessness at your centre and you can start writing about nothing. But make sure they’re hot, fresh out of the oven and dusted with cinnamon sugar! Otherwise it won’t work.
This food is so important for poets that I’d go so far as to say that you should eat it every day.
2. Also good: Cheezels, Toobs, Burger Rings, and those types of breakfast cereals that have holes in them. You could even try a little DIY project at home and make pancakes with a hole in the middle, but this subject is so incredibly