David Stavanger is variously described. I’m not even going to try. I’m just going to tell you that I am looking forward to seeing him tomorrow evening at the Tongues of Flame extravaganza (read: slow boat to China shop with drinks at bar prices). 9.30pm at the Metro Arts Basement. Click here for the details.
As Ghostboy, he offers a hybrid style of poetry, performance, vaudeville and disconcert. As David, he was recently awarded the 2013 Thomas Shapcott Prize. Here he answers some questions about life in the spoken weird lane .
You have recently won the Shapcott prize, with your manuscript The Special – what is “a special” and how does that central image relate to the book as a whole?
The Special is a term coined in Mental Health teams to describe someone who basically stays on suicide watch overnight in regional hospitals that don’t have a specific Mental Health ward. I did many of these on the far South Coast of NSW in my former life as a psychologist. I never felt special when sedated patients woke up, often distressed and agitated. I often wake up the same way now. I like the word too as it is generally double edged in our culture anyway – as praise and then inverted as an insult. The whole book is about the threads between falling apart and building back up again the falling apart. The nights I did those shifts were a lot like that.
The poems within The Special, which I have had a sneaky peek at (can I admit this?), have a broad range of themes but still, within that, there is an emerging picture of something fragile but not quite broken, what period of work do they represent?
The poems represent the psychic leftovers of my former work, my own ongoing adventures with depression and joy, the never endings of two significant relationships, the rise and fall of health and family, and my absurdist take on as the small things we find in the hard place with no guides but the occasional dead dog. It’s dark but it’s willing.
How does this writing as David Stavanger, differ from the performance works you create as Ghostboy? There’s often a glib, but articulate, rejection of the “poet as artist” wankery in your Ghostboy persona, but the works in The Special have almost a solemnity about them, particularly those which look at the fragility of health, of love, or of sanity… your thoughts?
There are always crossover points. Only a few of these pieces were written with the stage in mind, most weren’t even really written for the page either. I’m not sure where they belong exactly but this seems the best home I could find. When I write for Ghostboy, I want to affront myself first, challenge the idea of being loved by an audience and ask myself what lies underneath every rock I find in my shoe. I do like to provoke the idea of poet as having something worthy to say too. It is more about dismantling than building, with a desire to land outside comfort and see if I can still walk. It takes a lot from me. When I write poetry like this, it is more about quiet exchanges, it is more intimate and direct (in some ways, not all), less declarative and more about sitting in the work than being assaulted by it. I’m still learning about my writing on the page but right now it is what I am drawn to writing. Ghostboy is the bull, this is the china shop. I need both.