The Work of Curiosity: Interview with Peter Bakowski

Your most recent collection, ‘The Courage Season,’ opens with ‘Portrait of a teenage boy wandering the CBD, Melbourne.’ In it, you are observing a young man navigating the city and all of the possibilities. There is a sense that this may also the younger Peter. What were you like as a young person and how did your journey in poetry begin?

The main character portrayed in ‘Portrait of a teenage boy wandering the CBD, Melbourne’ is partly autobiographical, as I worked and wandered (during lunchbreaks) around the Parliament end of Bourke Street for 30 years. I remain a habitué of Pellegrini’s, The Paperback, and the Hill of Content bookshop. The poem is about restlessness, choices and searching for nourishment, stimuli and connections within and also beyond one’s stomping ground/hometown.

I was an extremely unhappy teenager who loved books, the map of the world and the idea of going on the road as soon as I could manage. I wrote my first poem on the road at the age of 28, still an unhappy young, questing man.

You have written many ‘portrait’ poems. ‘Portrait of Frida Kahlo’ is written in first-person, while ‘Portrait of David Bowie’ is in third. How do you approach inhabiting the world or character of someone else, and is a certain level of commonality between yourself and the subject needed in order to take on that first-person voice?

My portrait poems come out of empathy and research. Given my own medical history, major surgery and health crises, I can relate to the sense of body violation and salvation Frida Kahlo faced. In regard to David Bowie, his investigation into the multiplicity of identities one could adopt and discard is an ongoing investigation of mine, as I feel I am multiple selves within any 24-hour period. I’m always imagining other lives – the lives of total strangers and passers-by.

Your short poem ‘Self Doubt’ is very much about procrastination. How do you avoid the rut of “sharpening the pencil to delay using the pencil?’ How do you equip yourself to face the blank page?

As a disciplined poet who faces the blank page each week, I try to actively nourish myself with walking, reading and thinking. I’m always gleaning, gathering up observational, researched and philosophical information and stimuli. So, when I place the blank page, I do so with the seeds of what I’ve been reading, seeing and pondering. Of course, I’ve had periods in my writing life where I’ve had fear of the blank page, fear of the typewriter, and have avoided both. Currently I have overcome that fear and DO face the blank page each week.

You have written some deeply observational poems about your own early family life, particularly in your previous collection ‘Beneath Our Armour’. How do you approach writing about the people and places so close to you, and is this more difficult?

I continue to admire honest, frank, non-cosmeticized writing. Sometimes distance in time is required to write about one own’s family tree/family circle but as some of our family experiences are the furnace of our self-perception and outlook, that ‘furnace’ needs to be examined and revealed.

You mention how important it is for poetry to be frank. You have said on many occasions that you wish to create poetry that is accessible for all and for your work to engage both poets and non-poets. What are the things you proactively do to reach audiences outside of the poetry scene?

I try to remember that all writing is grounded in image and story, so my poetry is very image-based without over-describing. I’m trying to paint vivid, enthralling, refreshing pictures in the mind’s eye of the reader/listener. I also try and bring variety and a blend of seriousness and humour into a poetry reading. I’m trying to move and entertain the reader/listener.

*Name the poetry collection you keep returning to.

Currently I’m re-reading Ted Kooser’s poetry collections.

‘The Courage Season’ is very much about the life and observations of the artist. Having written and published poetry internationally for a period of 35+ years, what is next for you?

I’m working on my seventh full-length poetry collection here in Australia and also working on slowly having my poems translated into German with the view of a Selected Poems collection being published in the German-speaking world. I’m also working towards a second bilingual (French-English) edition of Selected Poems of mine to be published in Paris in 2019.

*What is your favourite word?


*Poetic self-portrait: in seven words or less, describe Peter Bakowski.

A detective in my own city.

Peter Bakowski is featuring at the Melbourne Spoken Word and Poetry Festival Opening Night on Thursday, 17th May at 7.00pm at the Toff in Town, Melbourne. Tickets available at

(Questions marked * are questions I ask all of my interview subjects.)

Amanda Anastasi