Izzy Roberts-Orr and Sarah Walker are based in Melbourne. Last year they completed the project Throwdown Words, for which they each wrote a poem every day for 365 days.
How did your Throwdown Words project come about?
IRO & SW: We’ve been good friends for years now, and a large part of that friendship comes from a mutual respect for each others’ brains. We play muse, provocateur and occasionally collaborator to one another’s work – we’re generally just pretty excited about whatever the other is working on.
We were at a summer dinner party with a bunch of our friends, who have a tradition of going around the circle listing the highlights and lowlights of the year, then listing our hopes for the year ahead. Izzy was about to go overseas and had decided to do a 365 project, to write something every day for the whole year she was going to be away. She thought setting up a blog would help, forcing herself to write and improve through constant production. Sarah, a little tipsy on cider, said she wanted to write more poetry because she didn’t make time for it.
When the idea came up again a few days later, it still seemed like an excellent plan in the sober light of day and the blog was born. Our mate Bek suggested we call it ‘throwdown’, demanding a competitive exchange throughout the year. We loved the name but not the competition, so we added the subtitle ‘this is not a showdown’ to remind ourselves and anyone who might read the blog that our pieces were meant to be read together, but not against each other. The blog was a way for us to have an ongoing conversation from opposite sides of the world, even if we weren’t actually speaking to each other about our lives.
What sorts of changes did you notice throughout the year as the project developed? Did you find that your attitude to writing shifted?
IRO: I feel like I learnt that the only way to write...is to write. That sounds straightforward and probably unhelpful or obvious, but it was incredibly useful for me to just produce a bunch of stuff. It forced me to be more creative, to explore more, and to use up some 'great ideas' that weren't actually all that great. I also learnt that it’s okay to fail, publicly. That sometimes it’s necessary. You learn a lot just by putting stuff out there. One thing I found frustrating was the lack of time I had to edit my work. Editing is a massive part of the process to make something ‘finished’ or ready for the world. It’s been really satisfying going back to some of the pieces or ideas I liked from last year and shaping them into something I really want people to read. SW: The year taught me the difficult and readily forgettable lesson that waiting for inspiration is no way to create work – that sitting down and writing is the only way to make the words come. Sometimes, spending half an hour in front of the computer produced complete crap, sometimes it was gold, but it was always something. As the year went on, I stopped procrastinating as much and started just cutting the crap and writing, even – especially – when I didn't feel like doing it. I also learned to never, ever trust myself to remember any little snippets that struck me throughout the day – to always write them down, because my brain is a complete sieve.
Both of you have varied creative practices that encompass a range of artforms. How does poetry figure within this mix, and what else are you working on?
IRO: Right at the moment, I’m in the middle of a hot desk fellowship at the Wheeler Centre, which is amazing. I’m working on a collection of poetry and companion sound piece. It’s really exciting for me to be in a building dedicated to writing and ideas. I also have massive writer crush on every other hot desk fellow in my round (they happen to all be incredible women) so that feels pretty special.
Most of the other stuff I’m working on at the moment is sound-based, and often site-specific. I just finished co-producing Dear / Hello with my friend Josie Smart at RRR through the Community Radio Network segments series. We ended up featuring a number of poets and spoken word artists in that series, which was a cool crossover between arts communities.
As part of the Melbourne Fringe Uncommon Places program, I was commissioned to make the site-responsive work, How to Behave, which looks at women in public space – specifically parks. I actually interviewed Sarah for that project! My poetry and theatre practice fed into that project as I wrote some poetic monologues from the perspective of the trees in the park. SW: Because most of my work is purely visual, poetry still feels like a privilege and a pleasure, and a chance to frame the world in a way that feels novel for me. Though it's been interesting to realise that my writing is extremely visually descriptive. I told Izzy recently that when we talk about fireworks, I talk about the sparks in the sky, and she talks about the feeling of exploding. She's much more visceral ¬– I tend to turn everything into a picture show. So my creative practice has partly been about discovering how accidentally holistic my output is. I'm tinkering with podcasting at the moment while I'm overseas, and even that is proving to be very visually descriptive – I can't shake it!
As readers of poetry, where do you find new poets, and who are you into at the moment?
IRO: Some of my favourite poets at the moment are young women poets from Australia and the world. Shabby Dollhouse is a great source of new and exciting things. I’ve been on the Editorial Committee at Voiceworks for over 3 years now, and that has been a brilliant education – particularly because all of the poetry EdCommers have pretty varied tastes, backgrounds and education. A lot of Voiceworks EdCommers and alumni are also incredible poets in their own right. I read a fair amount of lit mags as well, in particular The Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings and Rabbit Poetry Journal.
Here’s a stupidly long and vaguely alphabetical list of poets I love (and I’m sure I’ve still managed to forget a bunch) : Susie AndersonRachel BellBroede CarmodyStacie CassarinoDalton DayRomy DurrantZenobia Frost Alia Gabrez Jorie Graham Spenser MadsenEmma Marie Jones Ainslee Meredith Omar MusaEileen Myles Alice Notley Dorothy Porter Emmie RaeGig RyanOmar SakrWarsan ShireStacey Teague
This interview with one of my favourite writers, Chris Kraus, has some great links to American poets in it. SW: Izzy is a constant source of education and edification, passing me a drip-feed of good new work. I've also been really enjoying discovering new people via the Melbourne spoken word scene - particularly Passionate Tongues and House of Bricks. I featured with Carmen Main at the latter a few months ago, and her work was just so searing and honest and straight-up. I was so incredibly impressed. So she's been a recent favourite.
Sarah’s poem ‘15/4/14’, as chosen by Izzy
The day we met, I reeked of blood.
Straight from the kill floor to the supermarket aisle with no time in between to change.
Not that you’d know to look at me – looking like a cricket umpire, all snowy white from top to toe.
You see the blood better that way.
And I’m standing at the deli counter, giving shit to the guy arranging the steaks, who left the roar of the cows and the hoses at my side in exchange for these Hallmark card slabs of meat, and I notice this woman.
She’s standing way too close to me, just behind my right shoulder, dark hair pulled back like she had to do it in a hurry, and she’s smelling me.
I know that way of smelling, the long, shallow inhale to make it seem like you’re not doing it.
I know it from people on the bus, trying to figure out what I stink of.
I know it from the tellers at the bank, and the laundromat patrons and the McDonalds queue in peak hour.
And it pisses me off, that sniff like a sneer, so I turn around and I look her full in the face.
And she goes totally still and stares at me and she knows I know.
And we just stand there, with our eyes bouncing off each other for a few seconds, and she doesn’t apologise like I think she’s going to, or slink away like a sad old dog.
She opens her mouth, and really quiet and firm, she says ‘You smell like my dad did.’
And we just hold it, air rippling between us.
We don’t say a word, we just turn and walk to the self serve checkout, and for once I don’t fuck it up and have to wave over an employee to help, we just put our heads down and pack our plastic bags and stride on out and we go back to her place and fuck like all we are is meat.
Izzy’s poem ‘the birthday party’ as chosen by Sarah
I kiss the dirt like it’s your forehead.
Excavate a hug from the acacia roots,
let the sun grip my shoulders and put me back
I eat bread like it’s your bones
like I could fill myself up with it
learn to run again
learn to speak
more than brine and bubbles.
The ocean keeps following me home
singing salt dirt whisper in my ears
so many faded plastic flowers.
I can’t see shit without my glasses these days
unless it’s up real close and personal
breathing moist against my cheek, you
are so far away you’re like a fog.
I don’t trust my own memory.
I always sit in the same place on buses.
I hate halloween, creeping around your birthday
like a dog done wrong,
as if I can’t see its chattering teeth
falling out from under the sheet.
Reminder that the dead don’t rise
reminder of another year missed.
I toast you like you’re still here
toast you like you’ll live forever
you could have lived forever.