Ali Whitelock is a Scottish poet and writer living in Australia. Her first book, ‘poking seaweed with a stick and running away from the smell’ was launched at Sydney Writers Festival and published to critical acclaim in Australia and the UK. A few years later, after an abrupt life lesson, then stumbling upon Mary Oliver’s, ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ she took the decision to give up her spectacularly boring day job in order to write full-time. Her brand new poetry collection, ‘and my hear crumples like a coke can’ is a result of this time. It is published by Wakefield Press, Adelaide.
When I first started writing poetry, I didn’t have a clue where to submit my work. I was sending my poems to very ‘establishmenty’ poetry magazines who didn’t even take the time to send me a rejection letter – they just never contacted me at all. As I dug deeper into the poetry scene, trying to find places where my work might find a home, I stumbled on The Poets’ Republic. The opening lines on their submissions page read, ‘Send us your poems. Sorry, please send us your poems.’ This was the most humanity I’d encountered in the world of poetry submissions at that time. I was overjoyed. The Poets’ Republic was the second magazine to publish my work.
Poetry used to be the voice of the people. How can we regenerate people’s understanding of and enthusiasm for, poetry as a vehicle for social change?
‘Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.’ Adrian Mitchell
Where I grew up, poetry wasn’t even a thing. It was never referred to, never discussed, there were no poetry books lying around. In fact, there were no books lying around. The poetry on my school curriculum was lofty. It did not speak to me––it was not written for the likes of me. In the English lessons, incomprehensible poems lay on the page staring blankly up at me, as though they might first need to be run through an enigma machine in order to be understood (that’s a line from Australian radio presenter Phillip Adams on his own experience of a lot of poetry!). So from my perspective, writing poetry which is rooted in the day to day, in the small details of life and of the world, poems that are relevant to the times, to our selves; by writing poems that will make us laugh, make us cry and make us think––these are ways in which we can regenerate an understanding and indeed an enthusiasm for poetry. I think more and more people are turning to comedians, writers, poets and the arts in general for a more honest portrayal and understanding of what’s going on in society. There is something about this truth-telling through the arts which is getting ‘better’ or perhaps ‘truer’ social messages across. People are tired of news outlets and politicians spreading their hyped-up panic and fear designed to keep us all scared, divided and dumbed down. I believe that poetry, comedy and the art, in general, l can unite us and give us some sort of hope, or at least a sense that we’ve been heard. That we count.
What are the most significant social issue in Scotland today?
I live in Australia now and have done for the last 23 years, but from what I see and hear in Scotland, I think the most significant social issues are the same as those in Australia: growing inequality, fear, indeed often hatred of migrants and refugees, healthcare, education and the effects of climate change.
What one other poet would you recommend to readers of The Poets’ Republic?
If you can get your hands on any of the work by Australian poet Dr Brentley Frazer, grab it. My first reading of Brentley Frazer’s poetry collection, ‘Aboriginal to Nowhere’ broke my sternum and administered CPR on my heart that had too long lay curled and dying like a dehydrating caterpillar barely clinging to the underside of a leaf in a world numbed by Instagram followers, Netflix trends, Facebook likes and Twitter fucking hearts while shining a big bright light on my fear that I do not have the contemporary bathroom tiles of my dreams. Brentley Frazer’s poetry pares back the world. It wakes you and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can see Brentley’s work here www.brentley.com Here’s a quick excerpt from the title poem in his collection:
Aboriginal to Nowhere
‘The Citizens Netflix & chill in their minimum eight hundred/thousand dollar concrete sky-coffins in the river city;/streaming a hot series in air conditioning; Gen Y & Millennials/staying in for dinner.
Plate up & Instagram, change the rotation with a PlayStation/control, post a clever meme on Facebook, consider the likes,/speculate on advertising revenue & think of the friend requests…’
Brentley Frazer has been described as a modern-day Holden Caulfield. His work is mesmerising, philosophical and profound.
Who should submit to The Poets’ Republic?
All of us. Because poetry is a means of expression and of speaking out (and everything else poet Fay Zwicky says here): ‘Poetry has always seemed to me a source of hope, a means of speaking against any orthodoxy, be it religious, political, or social. It has offered a place for the dissenting imagination that hankers to encompass not only the truth of what is, what has been, but what might be or what might have been.’
In what space or media would you most like your work to appear?
On the back of an entire fleet of buses or in ten feet high pink neon lights suspended from the Sydney Harbour Bridge on new year’s eve televised the world over when the clock strikes midnight. A girl’s got to dream.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given so far?
Don’t treat it like art – it’s work.
Don’t wait for the muse to show. Inspiration comes from the actual act of writing––from pressing the nib into the soft page.
And this quote by Charles Bukowski set me free as a writer in ways I never thought imaginable, ‘I believe in grasping at the curtains like a drunken monk and tearing them down, down, down.’
And okay, so this cheesy quote too: the first rule about writing is, there are no rules.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I’m lucky enough to live on the coast and spend way too much time staring out across the water trying to work out original ways to describe the sea without using the words blue, roaring, wave, froth and deep. I also run The Sydney Poetry Lounge – a monthly poetry event in Sydney and talk about going to the movies a lot but never quite get there and every new year’s resolution is to read more prose but I don’t do that either.
Where can we find you online?
Any upcoming gigs or events?
6th October 2018
Reading at Ness Book Fest, Inverness
20th October 2018
Reading at The Press in Newcastle NSW Australia
6th November 2018
Reading in Sydney, location to be confirmed
7th November 2018
Reading in Melbourne at Studio Cafe in Northcote
That Poetry Thing, Canberra, Australia