New Zealanders seemed to have the edge to me, more than the Australians, on being open to open form poetry.
In this captivating Cultural Icons episode, writer, editor and poet Michael Sharkey is interviewed by Denys Trussell on his work both here and in his native Australia. He discusses the trans-Tasman connection between the two countries, both literary and cultural, and has contributed to these relationships throughout his career.
Having ‘read himself rich’ from a young age, Michael is incredibly knowledgeable on Australian and New Zealand literature. He analyses their distinctions in style, such as during the ‘60s and ‘70s, New Zealand poets were drawing influence from American Beat poets and open form poetry, whilst few in Australia were looking to the USA. He makes further distinctions in their stances on political issues, for instance nuclear testing in the Pacific, and the level of engagement of the populace at the time.
His own poetry is filled with wry, witty examinations of life and culture in Australia, at times emphasising the mundane. Michael recites one of his poems from Another Fine Morning In Paradise (2012) which looks at contemporary notions of paradise – the mythologies these notions are predicated on, and how the idea of paradise has been affected by consumerism and so forth.
Michael has made immense strides in developing the relationship between Australia and New Zealand’s literary circles. Though we are neighbours, he comments on how there is ‘an invisible but impermeable wall’ between us. During the ‘80s, he edited a self-funded magazine Trans-Tasman Undercurrent, established his own publishing press Fat Possum Press, and from 1991-2001 edited a magazine titled Ulitarra, all of which aimed to increase the profile of poets in both countries. He is currently the editor of the Australian Poetry Journal.
Michael’s easy manner of speaking and astuteness makes this an absorbing episode; piquing one’s interest in the future of poetry on both sides of the Tasman with the emergence of new forms like visual, performance and experimental poetry.