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Interview

Bronwyn Lea talks about poetry and her favorite books

BRONWYN LEA continues with some favorite books of poetry...

READERSVOICE.COM: Your poem ‘Cheap Red Wine’ mentions Fleurs du Mal. Do you have two or three favorite books of poems that you could list?

BRONWYN LEA: ‘Cheap Red Wine’ is a poem that plays with the intimacy felt sometimes between readers and their favourite authors, in this case Baudelaire. The feeling that some authors-even those long dead-somehow are with us, somehow know us better than we know ourselves. That if we listen intently enough, the words will be embodied and we can converse with the author we care about. Of course, as the title suggests, a little red wine can help things along.

Because my apartment is rather small, my library and writing desk are in my bedroom. My novels are on a large bookcase at one end of the room, but my poetry books are all on shelves beside my bed — I like to be able to dip in and out of poems before sleep or upon waking.

All my poetry books mean a lot to me and for differing reasons: some are cornerstones, like Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Inferno,and Paradise Lost; some are dear to me because they’ve been written by my friends; and then there are those that have shaped me in some way, books that I read not just for inspiration but to learn how to see, how to live. Books like Robert Hass’s Sun Under Wood, Elizabeth Bishop’s Geography, Judith Wright’s Woman to Man.

RV: Your bio in The Best Australian Poetry 2003 mentions the many poets on your shelves who have written a poem entitled “The Gift” or a variation on this, like your poem “These Gifts”. I was wondering if you could give a bit of a history of your poetry reading, from, say, your teenage years until now, adding any comments you want along the way.

BL: Around the time I was writing ‘These Gifts’– as so often happens when our attention is focused on a particular word-I started to see poems entitled ‘The Gift’ everywhere. I started flipping through the poetry books, and I counted dozens of poems-by Hafiz, Malouf, Levertov, and so many more-with this title. There must be something about gratitude, about giving and receiving that inspires poetry.

My highschool English teacher (I had the same one for four years) said nothing good was written after John Donne. Needless to say, I wasn’t introduced to much contemporary poetry at school. Even so, I did manage to push my way into the nineteenth century and got away with reading Keats and Byron. Since then I’ve read fairly widely and obsessively. Bookshops are often lousy at stocking poetry titles and libraries can be limited, so I subscribe to several poetry journals to find out what’s being published and I order the books I like the sound of online.

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