burn your tongue

Betsy Turcot knows which one's the man.  Neither.
Betsy Turcot knows which one’s the man. Neither.

Wash out your mouth, roll with the lunches.

It’s Monday morning, and just a few more days until we find ourselves at the Metro Arts basement space for a little bit of poetry and starving off sleepfulness at Tongues of Flame. I’ll be timing my caffeine run so that I can take in the words of Betsy Turcot, who is not only a respected colleague and collaborator of mine, but a beautiful writer in her own right.

Today, she generously takes the time to answer a few things that have been on my mind.

There’s a great deal of controversy around plagiarism at the moment, but what about influence? What influences you? How do you see that shaping/improving or driving your work?

What influences me is the simple and the quiet. And the simply quiet. There’s a lot to be said for the understated, and I think poetry is perfect avenue to do that. So I’m trying to harness the quiet right now.  I’m finding born and bred Vermonters like my grandparents to be inspirational in life and in poetry at the moment. Jonathan Hadwen has always had a keen ability to capture the quiet through his poetry, which I admire.  Most recently, I took home Coral Carter’s book, “Descended From Thieves”, from the poetry festival.  I’ve been enjoying taking my time with her book and found a particular line in At the Cemetery to have an aftershock: “A mystery./Poems should begin with the mundane/and end in mystery./So I’ve been told.”  I hope to capture more of the seemingly mundane.

You recently released your first novella/collection. What appealed about self-publishing? What factors affected your decision to do this?

I attended a seminar through the Brisbane Writers Centre last year titled, Indie Publishing. There were three authors from seperate genres who spoke about their experiences self-publishing. The poet on the panelist who is a publisher himself suggested that self-publishing was the way to go for poets. The poetry market is small. Poetry books don’t need to be in bookstores. They can be in coffee shops and record stores. When you self-publish you have freedom in price setting and stocking. I also wanted a publishing avenue with a quick turn-around. Blurb, the company I used to publish ‘Hugging the Yellow Line,’ was the way to go.

The story, “Hugging the Yellow Line”, tracks a nascent lesbian relationship through the eyes of one character, how do you identify as a queer writer? Is that about your own identity or is that a way of describing the kinds of narratives/stories you share?

I identify primarly as writer and secondly as a queer writer. This means that not everything I write is queer in nature.  However, I do hope to bring a new voice to the queer literary scene, which is really quite small. I would know.  From the day I came out, I haunted book shops and libraries for queer texts.  Anything that I could take home, savor and feel connected to, I did. That is what I hope to do when I write queer content – give the queer community another voice to connect to.

You recently hosted a queer literary event for Brisbane Pride Festival – what role do you feel that art plays in terms of the queer community? Any leading queer writers who have shaped your sensibility as a writers?

There have certainly been queer writers who have shaped my sensibility as a writer. The first spoken word poet to capture my attention and college obsession was Alix Olson. In 2002, you couldn’t be gay and not love Alix Olson. My writing style and content has also been shaped by Sarah Waters, Dorothy Porter, the Indigo Girls, Tegan and Sara and Andrea Gibson, a various mix of talented queer women.

One of the common social questions to lesbian couples can be “but who’s the man”? What does this question mean to you? How do you respond? How do “men” respond to your work? Are there universals to queer work, or is it specifically targeted at a queer audience?

“But who’s the man” is a loaded question to which I normally respond with, ‘There is no man. That’s the point.’ There are no ifs ands or buts about it. There is no butch and femme. There is my partner and myself, each with our unique talents, abilities and sensibilities. I have had a great response from men who hear, read and critique my poetry.  I am involved in a critical poetry group where I value every members’ feedback.  I don’t want to alienate anyone through my writing. In writing “Hugging the Yellow Line,” I intended for it to be undoubtedly a lesbian relationship.  But the feelings of infatuation, lust, connection and love are universal. They are undeniable.

What is next for you? Where to for your goals as a writer/performer?

What is next for me?  It’s been a massive year.  I need a holiday.  I’d like the sand between my toes and snowflakes on my tongue. I am quietly writing pieces here and there that are mostly centered around family and the unique place in the world that I come from. Whether or not that will lead to a longer text is uncertain at this point.


By Eleanor Jackson

Eleanor Jackson is a Filipino Australian poet, performer, arts producer, cyclist, writer, gal about town, feminist, freewheeler, and friend.

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