Writing Australia’s leading poetry: An interview with Kenneth Slessor
Interviewer: Today we are hearing from the renowned poet Kenneth Slessor and his journey that has gotten him to where he is today. This man has written some of Australia’s finest poems and literature, please welcome him to join us in today’s discussion to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of his poetry. Morning Mr. Slessor how are you today?
Kenneth Slessor: Thank you for that wonderful introduction I can’t thank my readers enough for how far they have gotten me. I’m very well thank you, how are you?
Interviewer: I’m excellent, I’m sure everyone listening can’t thank you enough for your inspiration to them either. Now your career started quite early I believe, and you grew up living in rural NSW.
Kenneth Slessor: Yes that is correct. I grew up in Orange, then spent my early years in England and soon moved back to Sydney. I wrote my first piece of work when I was only 16, which was a dramatic monologue and that made an appearance in the bulletin magazine at school.
Interviewer: What a great start, I understand that later on in your life you grew fond of living in Sydney and you really enjoyed the beauty of Sydney Harbour and Manly Beach.
Kenneth Slessor: Oh yes! I love Sydney, it’s a beautiful city, and I often mention a few sentences of admiration about it into my poems.
Interviewer: I remember in one of your finest and most successful poem’s ‘Five Bells’, you had a whole Stanza on the beauty and enlightenment that you see in Sydney, even when it was hard for you to find any kind of relief from pain and frustration. So tell us what it is about these poems that make them so widely acknowledged?
Kenneth Slessor: Well I write to express my own feelings and thoughts on the life and society we live in. I’ve gotten reviews that people enjoy my work because they can relate to the grief, the angry frustrated grief with the absence of religion. Some say that my poetry helps them gain strength and resolve issues.
Interviewer: Yes, on that note it appears you are quite the modernist, in your poetry in numerous stanza’s you can see the distrust in your language when you talk of authority, society and even religion. I believe many readers got the sense of futility of existence from your work, tell us how this was portrayed.
Kenneth Slessor: I did often seem like I was rejecting realism in my poems, but I liked to combine both realism and modernism style of poetry in my work. This was conveyed through the various techniques I considered while writing and editing my poems. I believe in some of my short poems I have criticized the society and questioned the behaviour of them. This was evident in ‘South Country’, “after the whey-faced anonymity” in this sentence I was suggesting the community had no sense of originality, they were all the same and that is all unknown. Later on in this poem I wrote, “while even the dwindled hills are small and bare, as if rebellious, buried pitiful” the word “rebellious” was a hint of change of views and people having their own opinion as opposed to being told what to do.
Interviewer: Thank you for that insight. Now this is a generalization but most of your poems have a somber, mysterious and perhaps uncomfortable tone about them. I think it is correct for me to say that you foreshadow death in all of your poems. This is particularly dominant in your extremely influential poem ‘Five Bells’ about the narrator’s frustration and obsession to reconnect with his loss dear friend Joe Lynch through memory. Could you comment on this theme you have explored numerous times?
Kenneth Slessor: Well I wrote ‘Five Bells’ a few years after the loss of a splendid friend, Joe Lynch. He was a black and white artist whom I met when I was working for a magazine called punch in Melbourne in 1925. He fell off a ferry in 1927 and drowned, or at least assumed to have drowned, his body was never found. Then a few years...
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