IF GOD IS A POET – by Ron Barton
I could write a sonnet on it.
Yes, that would suffice.
Perhaps a ballad would be better
Or a free verse, just as nice”.
The Thought Process Of A Poet
This is Ron Barton – my appointed Poet Laureate for today’s ‘Smackdown’. A man on a word mission, to share and teach the intricacies of verse in all it’s styles and traditions.
Discovering Ron bounding from the pages of the Australian based e-magazine The Tincture Journal, was another one of life’s unexpected pleasures. An excellent collection of authors from both hemispheres, their thoughts micro and long. It was Ron Barton’s poetry that hit me first. His swaggering word beats, his insights and mirth. I could hear his music, lilt and rhythm. An assonance filled with honesty, regret, pride, frustration, identity, humour and darkest dark glimpsed light.
Ron’s poetry hatches in a realm of real and some of it ain’t pretty. Though, he also has a romantic side. A spirituality to his knockabout prose. Thoughts and gems of wisdom that could melt the heart of the most hardened brickies labourer.
His latest collection, If God Is A Poet. An eclectic example of self. Thoughts that give the reader an understanding of the poet and his motivation.
You open your collection with Chalkie – its roots is a kind of late 60’s Watt’s Prophets & The Last Poets era – that tradition of word beats, a hip hop cadence. Was this style a conscience way to connect with the subject matter, your students?
It began as a rant at a particular class that I couldn’t finish while fuming. I woke in the morning and wrote the rest, hence the two tones that make it. I think, though, that that approach makes it a better poem. That it better reflects the profession for the majority of people I’ve met who are part of it. We get frustrated, of course we do, but those of us who truly care about what we do get over it pretty quickly. That sentimental atmosphere at the end of it reinforces the idea that teaching is (for the most part) a thankless profession. You might get token praise every now and then but the true effect of what happens in the classroom doesn’t hit people until well after school is finished. It has been likened to Taylor Mali’s What Teachers Make but I rarely make that comparison – his piece is so much more polished than mine.
“I decided to bite my tongue, instead of his” – Mali’s passion is wonderful.
Indeed, it is honest, obvious and such a welcome point of view in the face of those who think teachers are just in fact in it for the holidays.
I hate that comment about the profession, an easy stab, you hear it so often.
The sad part is that it is true for some. It’s the whole rotten apple situation where the few tarnish the reputation of the many.
It lends itself to be performed. I have seen a few on YouTube, but do you perform your pieces regularly?
There are a few pieces I really enjoy reciting and others that I love performing. I often force my poetry upon my workmates and students, but I’ve been trying to get into the open mic scene – it’s hard because I have two children aged three and under so it restricts the times I can get away.
What is the buzz like performing live?
It’s addictive. The more I perform, the happier I am with my poems and my ability to do justice to them. James Knight @badbadpoet tweeted recently saying “There are three poems. The poem in my head, the poem I write, the poem you read.’ I would add a fourth; the poem performed. Obviously you could break that down further but the aesthetic nature of poetry lends itself to recital and performance.
Poetry is often assumed to be difficult to read. When you first read poetry, did these thoughts occur in you or was it love at first sight?
I look at the Romantics and the Metaphysical poets and understand the modern reader’s reluctance to read poetry. But, if you watch performances by Sarah Kay and Taylor Mali, there’s nothing unapproachable in their work. It’s the same for Dawe and Harwood. While they have some work that is complex, the language use in most of their poems is simple and easy to follow. It is these poets I’ve fallen in love with and whose style influences my own.
I recently attended a launch where the books fuel was Australian Icons. One of the presenters talked about our icons and language, our quintessential tongue twists and imagery. The importance of not changing for an overseas audience. Those ‘lost in translation’ moments you have fun with in A Yarn. Your poetry is full of colourful uniqueness of our own Australianisms. I get a strong feeling you write for only you?
A Yarn was probably the most fun to write. It was a chance to let my ocker self out. I’m fairly ‘Aussie’ generally but I got to heighten it on that piece. And, yes, I write for myself more than anyone else. I never initially intended on submitting anything for publishing. I honestly never thought any of my work was good enough. I read Harwood and Dawe and Eliot and while I think I have the approachability of the Australian pair, I feel I lack the true poetic voice that Eliot has but, then again, poetry (and language in general) has evolved since his time.
One recurring theme is justifying why you write poetry, how it forms and how to activate the mind locks. The Thought Process Of A Poet, Poetic Fallacy, How To Dissect A Poem. I find this a fascinating topic for a poem. It is like you are writing tools for your students, but obviously not, because it stands alone. These thoughts on understanding poetry throughout the book “the only one who can say whether it is wrong or right is me” and “what if it never gets read“. Self doubt seems to be a major obstacle to overcome when you are writing or is it a case of what is ones motivation to create poetry?
Poetry, more than any other genre of writing, is about self exploration and so it is a natural marriage between it and metafiction. As for self doubt…I’ve never really had great confidence in anything. It’s weird, I exude an aura of invincibility and people often comment on how relaxed I am, how I appear unfazed by anything. It’s all a big lie. I’m a duck; cool and calm on the surface but what you don’t see is what is truly important.
Well, you do have a love a superhero iconography Not Spandex hints of a misspent youth.
And what’s not obvious in that poem and ‘Superman‘ is my distaste for DC comics. I always leaned more towards Marvel because their heroes were fallible. Plus, I grew up with a surname that started with R so I had that whole assonant name thing going on. All I needed was some contact with some form of radiation or cosmic entity.
It’s the first thing I ask a guy when I go out on a date – DC or Marvel? Fortunately, you chose correct.
I never got Superman in particular. Why would anyone be interested in reading about a person who can’t lose. DC were close to the right formula with Batman, but he was too rich to be truly vulnerable.
Are there poems that you have written that you really like but will never let anyone else see?
There are some poems I don’t like that I won’t show anybody. What I really like I show everyone.
Tell me about your work on The Tincture Journal. How did you get involved, choosing your work for an international audience?
Like most things I’ve had success with, Tincture is just something I fell into. Word of mouth got me on their website, I submitted some newer pieces and crossed my fingers. I sent five poems and they published two. Since then I’ve been trying to put others in their vision. A friend who blogs sent some entries in as creative non-fiction and they suggested that her work reads better as a collection than as individual pieces and that she should look into publishing a book.
High praise and guidance from Tincture Editor Daniel Young.
Yeah, my friend was mighty impressed. Daniel’s active on Twitter and Facebook too, pushing the literary back into the minds of the modern couch potato.
Your softer romantic side – Emotional Weaponry, A Sign Of The Times, Seasons, My Secret Crush. As a boofy bloke, are these the most challenging pieces to write?
It’s a mood thing. These sorts of poems stand out to people I associate with because they deviate from how I present myself. I’ll refer to Lauren as ‘The Wife’ and make sexist comments and jokes on a regular basis and, as such, people don’t realise that I’ll tear up while watching the lamest movies. I don’t cry, “big boys don’t cry“, but I am touched by displays of emotion.
But you question this in Manly Men, your confusion. – “another shake of the bottle, in the lead up to another explosion“
I know. I really feel for the modern man. We are trapped in a world that promotes polar opposites as ideals of behaviour. I think there’s a lot of men who secretly (and it has to be in secret for fear of ridicule) question how they are meant to present themselves. I see it as somewhat similar to the body image debate that plagues women magazines. There appears to be a strong push to be a certain way, but there is an undercurrent that says it is wrong.
What’s the WA poetry scene like? Are you involved with any local players, groups of likeminded lyrical waxers?
I’ve really only just started exploring the poetry scene in WA. The sad thing is that I didn’t even know there was one until roughly 2 years ago. But, at that time I wasn’t heavily involved in poetry myself. I was still writing for myself and wasn’t open to the opportunities that were around me. It’s amazing what you find when you allow the world into your life. WA Poets Inc do a wonderful job of the annual poetry festival in Perth and they publish collections of WA writing. Perth Poetry Club is also an exceptional group of people. Every Saturday they have live poetry readings which includes featured guests as well as open mic slots. They are so welcoming of fresh talent it’s hard not to get swept up in their enthusiasm and praise. The first time I went with the goal of reciting they bumped a regular so that I could read.
You have selected an eclectic cross section of subject matter and style in If God Is A Poet. Humour flows throughout with great cheekines – in your Shits And Giggles chapter there are many – my fave masterpiece Mousy-Mousy Poopy On The Shelf-Shelf. A lament on nature versus nurture. Another theme you regularly pull out, thoughts on what can go wrong in a young persons life without love, care and commitment. Reflecting on self identity in a changing world. An empathy with the moulding of youth, the outside influences that affect their decisions. Parenting is a struggle, teaching is a struggle. Do you see yourself – the adolescent – in your students or has this generation become an alien life form that is hard to communicate with?
I see myself – the adolescent – in myself – the adult. I’m more reluctant to grow up than Peter Pan was. This really helps in the classroom because I can’t commit to the strict dictatorship that some people become within those four walls, despite being the complete opposite in their personal life. I am never not me. Kids relate to honesty. But the kids of today are no different to what they’ve been in the past. The real difference is the world around them. Teens have always been rebellious and reclusive, technology just gives them ways of being this way that seems alien to older generations.
What inspires or motivates your darker pieces – popular culture or inner demons?
I was a massive Stephen King fan growing up and matured into a lover of Clive Barker. The darker pieces are a throwback to this more than anything. I mean, the general theme is still present. It’s a questioning of self and place but it’s just asked in a metaphoric sense.
Micro Poetry seems to suit the poor attention spans of our hectic, blip-vert pace of life. What merits do you give this poetic artform?
I don’t think its any different to the haiku. Obviously there are going to be some poor pieces there masquerading as art but the true masters should be applauded. I marvel at some Twitter poets who are able to invoke an emotional response or create vivid imagery in 140 characters or less
Yes Twaiku at it’s finest.
I also think micro poetry might salvage what some see as a dying artform. The ability to make micro poetry public could have huge repercussions for the ‘industry’. Poems on business cards, graffitied on walls, plastered on the sides of buses, trucks and buildings. The world is a canvas and the poets might just be the artists that society is craving.
We just had a surge of poetry on the side of garbage trucks for the Sydney Writers Festival…
I saw. I thought that was awesome. We have a bridge that goes over the freeway. Under it is a huge mural that begins as a jigsaw puzzle, blends into a representation of the Aussie outback and features a haiku at its heart. I love it. I want more. I’m sick of all of these modern pieces of moulded plastic and malformed metal that are meant to be art. Give me simplicity of words, the complexity of emotion and the universal understanding that poetry can bring.
Give me Arthur Staces’s ultimate micro – Eternity…
Let’s talk about one of your new poems, Your Memory, that you have kindly given to us to highlight in our Smackdown. Guide us through the thought processes, change and growth of the piece.
A friend said he didn’t like my book. He was joking, his reasoning was that there wasn’t enough rhyme. So I decided to write something where rhyme was an integral part of the piece. It was a deliberate decision, then, to write about love – if I was adhering to the poetic stereotype of rhyming verse, then I may as well follow suit with the theme. The bee reference actually harks back to Winnie the Pooh; the theme song to the cartoon said ‘climbing a honey tree‘ and that used to annoy me no end – apple tree I get, honey tree I do not. Despite the topic, I also wanted that larrikinism and perceived immaturity that flows throughout the book to be a part of this. That’s where the duck poo comes in. There’s also a deliberate attempt to vary the pace through the physical structure of the poem. The idea here is that it keeps the readers on edge before pushing them over it with the ending.
I take a walk
down by the lake
where we once made love
under a honey tree.
The tree itself did not grow honey
it was the bees
but it was sweet and sticky
– the sex I mean.
Back to the lake
with the tree of my dreams,
is all now,
the tree is gone.
And so I sit
toes dipped in duck faeces,
slipped and stuck,
when I notice
on the other side of the lake
a tree that looks like mine.
I was in the wrong place the whole time.
I start to run
so that I can
be with your memory once more.
Thoughts of before –
a time so long ago now
my hindsight blurs.
I wipe away
a single tear
and regret the day
I ever hit you with my car.
Ron’s latest release If God Is A Poet is available on Ginninderra Press http://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/poetry.html