The Last Word: Nathan Curnow

Nathan Curnow talks to Amanda Anastasi about The Right Wrong Notes.

In That Afternoon Room, you are “still the boy turning the handle” and “still the boy waiting quietly”. What is it you are now waiting quietly for?

Audience burn out
Death by karate chop
The end of McDonald’s
An ant bite between the toes
Kanye’s new album
Wonder and a fresh salad sandwich

The falling and opening of curtains is a recurring image in your book. How much is life like a stage for you?

Life used to feel a lot more like a stage than it does now. Growing up in a public family we were always aware of the eyes upon us, and we worked as a team in many ways. We were an everyday troupe of bible belt players. It wasn’t dishonest, it was just us in a spotlight week to week, a normal extension of the performance gene we were born with. It was sometime later that we began to challenge that script in our personal lives.

These days it’s in my writing where life feels like a stage, particularly in the poems that seem confessional. I present parts that are true while other parts distort the truth in order for the piece to work successfully. The poem demands it. It’s like an actor who draws on lived experience in order to portray a believable, fictional character. So the writing is a pose, but an honest one that’s completely setup.

In this sense I’m interested in filling the spotlight so that the spotlight shines for all.

Do you erect a Christmas tree and how much tinsel is on it?

Yes, it’s a ratty plastic tree that needs to be thrown out. Santa leaves a note every Christmas morning that says, ‘more tinsel :(’, but he keeps coming.

In Reply, you express the idea that a poem is about more than its subject. How much must a poem be about the reader?

It’s about the reader as much as the reader is about the poem, which I realise is a very annoying answer. It’s about the interaction of the two.

Reply speaks of the reader’s need sometimes to meet the author face-to-face, or to reply to the ‘real life’ character of the poem. It’s a natural desire for something more tangible beyond the intimate reading of the words. It’s totally understandable, although a perplexing moment for all concerned when it happens. Yet can writers have a similar need, a desire to know who is reading the work and how it’s being received, if at all. Who are these readers? What do they look like? Where are they? How do they come to the poems?

Still, it all pales in comparison to the magic of discovering something meaningful on the page. There is an everlasting quality to that interaction which no one, especially the author, can live up to.

Denis Levertov touches on it her poem The Secret. I really wish I could have met her.

Is poetry at all like prayer?

Yes, in that it does and doesn’t work.

What is your favourite word?

Today it’s ‘jalopy’. Yesterday it was ‘vermillion’.

Name the poetry collection that you have kept returning to.

results of love by John Laws. Only because it’s the worst book of poetry ever written. It reminds me to throw in the towel before I ever get that bad.

Poetic self-portrait: in no more than seven words, describe Nathan Curnow.

Always one word short for everything.

The Right Wrong Notes by Nathan Curnow (Flying Island Books) will be launched in Melbourne on Sunday, 22nd November 4.30pm at Schoolhouse Studios, 81 Rupert Street, Collingwood.

Photo by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Amanda Anastasi