You moved to Australia, how many years ago?

Fifteen - I landed in August 1993. Six AM on Saturday morning, caught a cab to my corporate apartment, which was at one end of the Harbour Bridge. I got into the room, stowed my luggage, and hunted for an open cafe. I ordered a long black and toast with Vegemite - started in straightaway with the heavy fare.

I've been in love with Sydney and Australia ever since I set foot here.

And it was a contract that took you there?

Yes - I worked for an IT services firm (you'd know them) and came here for a three-month TDY. I was here to write enhancements to the mobile phone billing/customer care system for a large telco. The enhancements were to enable billing for a new service: SMS.

Your blog has a fantastic list of things you love about Australia. The wonder and fascination with the place is still there after all this time.. And you fell in love with it never left. Tell me about that.

I'd be delighted - but it's love, so it'll get boring if I go on too long. Here are a couple of snapshots:

Flying into Sydney is spectacular; the harbour reaches into land through the Heads, and the inlets finger in among the hills. Sailboats dot the harbour, and tiled roofs dot the foreshore (well, 'carpet' is more apt, but still, they're terra cotta!). Sun glints off the water in a way that, for me, feels warm even in what passes for winter (whoa, better put on the long-sleeved shirt!).

The seafood is exotic and delectable - would you have guessed that a Balmain Bug tastes very much like lobster? The coffee is espresso, but they have their own varieties - long blacks and flat whites are usual alongside the cappuccini and lattes. Sydney's beaches are gorgeous and accessible - and people are outside all year.

People drive on the other side of the road. When you hail a cab, you sit in the front. Even the money is beautiful -- there's a poet - Banjo Patterson -- on the $10 note.

People do say "G'day". They play several codes of football.

They tell you what they think - straight up. You might argue about it, but then you finish. It's over, and you're having a beer. No worries.

It's an absolute perfect place to fall in love with a sensational redhead and bring up two hilarious redheaded kids.

Do you miss The States?

I've never missed a place in my life. I miss my family, but only when we part.

Are there particular things you miss?

I get sentimental about America as Home - Little League baseball in Ohio country towns; summer in Wyoming; 3AM diner meals; used bookstores in college towns. New England clam chowder.

But it's all still alive for me. Ironically, I feel that I have more American friends, across more of America, now than I did when I lived Stateside. *Yes, good people of AW, I'm talking to you.*

Are you an American living in Australia, or an Australian who used to live in the States?

Great question. I'm on a continuum, and I think I'm a lot less nationalistic than I used to be.

When the US and Australia face off in sport, I'm in the green-and-gold -- this is my home now. I will never cheer against the USA, though; America is my homeland.

I'm lucky enough to have it both ways. That's not hypocrisy; it's love and respect.

Your job is a rather technical one, isn’t it?

In some senses, yes - in others, no. I'm a solution designer, which requires technical background, but which involves no actual technical work; I haven't written code at work in a few years. I write a lot of documents and have a lot of meetings.

That's both a relief and a frustration; building code that works is eminently satisfying; three-hour workshops are productive, too, but it sometimes doesn't feel that way.

And then your write poetry, which seems to be a vast deal different mindset than work. Does this help the writing by being completely different than your day job?

In a way, they are a relief from one another.
I don't know that my job helps my writing; if one has to suffer for one's art, then it certainly doesn't. It does liberate me from other concerns and has enabled me to find poetry, and this community of writers and poets.

I'm not sure about the whole idea of having to suffer for art. After all, as Martini Ranch asked in the 80's, how can the laboring man find time for self-culture?

And, as one of our most august poets here - William Haskins - has said: indeed.

How do you reconcile those two things?

I like to think I'm special - that I'm more than just my job. But that's hardly a unique self-vision.

In fact, I've come to find a former colleague of mine also writes poetry and hangs with poets. As it happens, he's brilliant and an excellent fellow. That reassures me that, whatever shadows I'm chasing here, it is meet and right for me to do.

I look at Mendoza’s and can see the calculations – attention to a detailed scene, precision of word choice, specific emotion and an exact scene and then I look at Mother, Wherefor? Which seems a far stretch from logical, but has such a strong meter that the details are in the numbers. You like writing form poetry and have tried your hand at Sestinas, Villanelles, and sonnets, among others. You also write free form. Is there a style you prefer?

That's amazing that you should mention these very two poems. Perks and I were speaking just today, and she mentioned the very same two.

I have this nagging feeling that one form or approach should make itself apparent to me, that I should have a distinct style. Trouble is, I can't find it.

Actually, that's not the trouble; the trouble is that I can't be okay with it.

The thing is that different forms, or non-forms, seem to suit different topics best. Sometimes I start with the form - for example, I aspire to write a sestina - then fill in from there. There is no reason that can't work.

Other times, I start with some word or turn of phrase. 'A Boy and His Taco' was the absurd challenge I set for myself one day: write about that, why don'tcha? So I did.

To be candid, I just can't define or guide myself to a single form. It's both my wings and my millstone.

I couldn't limit myself to any particular form; I have particular admiration at the moment for the modern sonnets I've read, such as those by cummings.

Does this carry over from that attention to detail mentioned above?

Probably. If I'm going to write a poem, I'm going to ensure that it's worth reading, or as close as I can make it.

There is *always* a right word, and the reader's time and attention are too valuable to squander.

Forsaking form is no excuse for inattention to detail; it's not enough to dump words on a page. The poet owes it not just to readers, but to her own vision, to make a poem worth reading.

I think that many people write poems because they can be very short and cathartic, and because formless poetry is very much acceptable. In short, anyone can be a poet, so anyone is a poet. That gets people in, which is marvelous; but it's not enough.

Poets should want to get good at writing poems - to get better at it.

Who’s your favorite poet?

I can't name a favorite. Outside AW, there's T.S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Dylan Thomas, Dorothy Parker, Richard Brautigan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Baudelaire, and many others. Inside AW, the poets whose works I love know it - I hope.

When did you first start writing poetry?

I wrote a couple of special-occasion poems in my late twenties. I didn't write poems in earnest until a few years ago.

I dabbled in it here, then got drawn in; poetry is a marvelous art, and AW is a fine community for it. There are a number of good poets here, and there are also people who are interested in discussing poetry. I started playing along, then before long, I was a poet.

What is it about poetry that you love to read?

It's the excellence of every word in place, the rhythm of the lines, the feel of the words on the tongue. It's the surprise of discovering majesty and magic in a small tale well told.

What is it about poetry that you love to write?

The satisfaction of building something beautiful within a complex form -- ideally, so beautiful that the form is unnoticed; it feels natural.

The hidden graft of getting the logjam of words out and frenetic, but in a just-so sort of way.

The thrill at a reader finding something I hadn't realised was there.

Do you have themes you like to use consistently?

Not that I know of; I'm not that organised. I actually have a very hard time writing to a theme, which is why I didn't get an entry completed for this year's Christmas poetry contest. I often can't coax a poem to meet a theme; the theme finds me.

Give us a metaphor that describes you.

A bag of marbles. I might amount to something if I could keep myself organised, but I'm soon off in every corner. I'm terrible at keeping myself together like that.

You have far ranging taste in music. Do you have a favorite?

I love this question. The answer changes all the time, and I'll give you a different answer tomorrow, but some all-time favorites are:
- Grateful Dead
- The Smiths
- John Coltrane
- The Specials
- Lyle Lovett
- John Lee Hooker
- Devo
- The Fall
- Everything but the Girl
- Led Zeppelin
- Grace Jones
- Duke Ellington
- Claude Debussy
- LV Beethoven
- Joy Division
- Mose Allison
- Thelonious Monk

You often quote lyrics. Poetry sometimes reminds you of song lyrics, or brings back a feeling of the way a certain song makes you feel. You have even written poetry about music (I’m thinking of that fantastic Jazz piece you did, The Ancients) You seem to maybe find music the same as poetry, only using a different instrument - words vs. notes. Is music another form of poetry to you?

Great observation. It must be. Poor lyrics destroy good music for me.

Tell me about the connection you feel exists between music and poetry.

The careful use of expected and unexpected elements to make the listener feel or respond. The involvement of both technique and emotion in the performance -- in both cases, technique is essential, but without emotion it is nothing.

Favorite song?

Instrumental? Probably Monk's 'Round Midnight. Or any of Debussy's piano work; both of these composers were utter alchemists.

Lyrical? Hard to pick one, but here are some:
- Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong, Can't We Be Friends?
- Grateful Dead, Cumberland Blues
- Everything but the Girl, Laugh You Out the House
- The Smiths, This Charming Man
- John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, Lush Life (written by Billy Strayhorn)
- Cake, Comfort Eagle (fantastic example of Show, Don't Tell)
- anything by Joe Jackson
- anything written by Howard Devoto (Buzzcocks, Magazine, Luxuria)

I consider myself very lucky to have joined AW in a time when I could be patiently guided and mentored. I consider you one of those patient mentors. Always with a helpful critique, encouraging but honest. What is it that you enjoy about helping people get a grip on their potential inner-poet?

You're very kind, Trish. Thank you.

I've always derived a joy from assisting others to succeed - it's different from succeeding oneself.

Whatever I feel from writing something that's good - if I get there - is something I would hope other people can feel too. I get tremendous fulfillment from that.

Other poets always see things in ways I wouldn't have thought of, that I couldn't have done. Other people amaze me.

And the same question I asked William Haskins, what does potential look like?

A storm of coloured dots whizzing past your face. A pile of sticks and a ball of string. An obelisk with a blank plaque, and a chisel on the ground.

A baby.

Do you have a favorite word?

Vicissitudes.

I mentioned earlier, and want to talk a bit more about Mendoza’s. It starts with a boy and his taco, doesn’t it? Tell me how this poetic place came about.

It does, and the original poem started as a dare to myself. I determined to write a poem, with no idea of a topic. I blurted this twist on a cliche onto a paper, then forced myself to write to it.


It’s so real to me in reading the poems, I’m sure it exists somewhere. One of these days I’ll find it. When I do we’ll have to meet for coffee and pie and talk some more. Can you give me any clues as to where I should start looking?

I would love to. This is my Australian paradox: quite possibly, if I hadn't moved here, I never would have set off the chain of events leading to me coming to AW. But now, well, here I am and there all of you are.

I took the name for Mendoza's from a Mexican restaurant in Port Clinton, Ohio, where we used to go sometimes in summer, when I came home to visit my parents. The town is something more like I remember Cody, Wyoming.

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you wish I would have?

Hey! I asked this question of my interview subjects. Excellent.

I feel like I should have answered the question, "So where have you been for the past year and a half?" Or, "Who shot your muse?" My muse is alive and fine; it is I who am lost.

Finally, it’s the day of listening. AW is listening. Is there anything you’d like to say to them?

Yes, but it's 4:30AM, and I'm fading. If I'm not making sense, you now know the reason.

Oh, yes: Love your own words, and love others' words just as well.