Madeleine Dale is a poet from Brisbane who will have two works featured in our forthcoming 2019 Antithesis Journal. Siana Einfeld interviews Madeleine ahead of the Journal’s release.
What were you like as a child?
Exceedingly odd, by all accounts. I’m an only child, so it’s possible I was never properly socialised. I used to race earthworms down my slide. I ran an ongoing soap opera using my toy tractors. I had a large collection of animals bones we’d found in the hills above our house. In hindsight, it’s deeply unsurprising I became a poet.
Where do you go for inspiration?
I’m an absolute magpie—I’ll take whatever isn’t bolted down. Bits of movies and plays, particularly good trees, medical equipment, esoteric historical facts. I just go out into the world and gather whatever I can find, then file it all away for later.
Particularly though, I love abandoned places, ruined places: anything that’s empty of people and full of memory is like catnip for me.
Antithesis Journal’s theme for this year is ‘Devotion’. Tell us, what are you devoted to, what has this devotion cost you, and what has it given you?
Deciding that I was going to pursue writing with my whole person, rather than the perhaps more sensible route of as a hobby has probably cut me off from a lot of stable, profitable paths. But it’s brought me, if not joy, then a lot peace with myself. It’s a huge privilege to be able to chase that kind of self-actualisation, so I’ve mostly stopped worrying about what it has cost.
Your poems for Antithesis both have Biblical connotations. Can you tell us a little about that?
Both my parents were quite religious before I was born (correlation not causation, I’m sure!), so I grew up in a very Biblically literate household, but without really having an outlet for that knowledge.
There’s so much you can do with a cultural touchstone like religion, so many extra layers that can be folded into a poem with a single reference. And I really love concepts of ritual and absolution, death and resurrection, so it’s ended up being a very natural space for me.
How does it feel to put very intimate poems out into the world?
Unfortunately, it turns out that revealing I have feelings has been part of the Faustian bargain of writing. I do think that no matter what kind of art you make, it ends up showing a bit of your soul to the world. It all carries the same uncomfortable itch of being known. But I’ve been lucky to have a lot of generous writers and editors in my life, and that’s largely cured me of any reticence. Now, I probably tend the other way—I’m becoming a huge over-sharer in life and in art.
Do you have a first reader? Do you have a desired readership in mind?
My long-suffering housemate is generally forced to look over everything first. She’s known me for twenty years, so she’s pretty clued-in to my intentions, which is both a blessing and a curse.
After that, though, my desire is that the reader will ignore me and take the work for whatever they want or need it to be. I know some writers who worry their message won’t carry over, that what they’re trying to say will be lost, but I sort of hope for the opposite.
If someone can pick up a poem and find it resonates with their life and their loves, rather than mine, I’m thrilled.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
Writing has always been such a big part of my day-to-day, it’s hard to separate out what my process is! I’m always tapping away at something, taking notes, refining phrases. My house is overflowing with scraps of paper covered in scrawl.
With poems, I normally get either very interested in or very upset by something, jot the whole concept down in one sitting, and then spend anywhere between hours and months messing with it. The last thing I ever settle on is form – it’s gotten to the point where I’m resizing the document preview window just to see if Microsoft Word has any good ideas about line breaks.
How many drafts do you write for your poems?
If I’m incredibly lucky, I can get away with one and done. Typically, though, I suffer through somewhere upwards of four. Without Intention of Recovery or Reuse has drafts dating back to 2016, so it really depends!
Who are your favourite poets?
I adore Simon Armitage and Billy Collins. They both have such a magical way with the everyday, and their work is so full of heart. I’ve just recently read Alice Oswald’s brilliant Memorial, which is a shattering elegy to the dead of the Trojan war, and so I’m trying to press that on as many people as I can.
What do you do when you’re not writing poems?
At the risk of sounding incredibly morbid, I’ve recently had a haircut and I’m trying to make some Victorian-style mourning jewellery out of my ex-ponytail.
The Antithesis journal is published in Melbourne. Can you tell us a little about the writing and poetry community and culture in Brisbane?
It’s surprisingly robust! We’re very lucky to have major events like the Queensland Poetry Festival, as well as many smaller zines and journals that do a lot of community building. It can certainly be a very compact scene. On the plus side, everybody knows each other. On the downside, however, everybody knows each other.