Josh Donellan is an author, poet, musician, music journalist, teacher, voice actor and event manager. He was almost devoured by a tiger in the jungles of Malaysia, nearly died of a lung collapse in the Nepalese Himalayas and once fended off a pack of rabid dogs with a guitar in the mountains of India. He has an unnatural fondness for scrabble and an irrational dislike of frangipanis.
Readers are fascinated to learn the process of writing a poem. Can you tell us about your process and how long a poem takes to compose?
However old you are when you finish a poem is the amount of time required to write that poem. If you write something at the age of 67 years, 3 months and 4 days, then it’s taken you that time to gather the requisite skill, experience, frustration, joy, disappointment, and inspiration to write that poem. Currently my poems take 30-something years.
How did you get into poetry? Was it a calling?
I fell into it, much like a child falling into a well. Basically, I was playing in bands and no one else could be bothered to write lyrics so I figured I’d give it a shot. When the bands broke up, I still had all these words clamouring for attention, and they just kept going on their own. A bit like the Thing from the Addams Family.
Does geography or culture influence your poetry?
Culture, geography, topology,
Esoteric interpretations of philosophy and ontology,
Single parents who just went and won the lottery
Drunken discussions where we all converse about cosmology
That’s the fun thing about being a poet; everything is research.
Have you ever delved into other forms of writing?
So far I’ve written novels, short stories, plays, video games, podcasts, reviews, interviews, rude jokes on bathroom walls, and a few other things I can’t remember. I assume that if I try my hand at a few more forms I get some kind of free sandwich or trophy for collecting the whole set?
What would you be doing if you were not able to write poetry?
Screaming endlessly and wordlessly at the sky.
Who are your favourite poets?
Amongst the currently living my favourites are overwhelmingly people I’ve met around the local scene who I’ve come to know and love: Angela Pieta, David Stavenger, Anisa Nandaula, Kaitlyn Blythe, Luka Lesson. Then of course there’s always Warsan Shire, Saul Williams, Taylor Mali, Sarah Kay et al.
Amongst the dearly departed I’m a sucker for the classics: Blake, Yeats, Ginsberg, Plath and co.
Do you feel that the love of poetry has declined in the modern world?
I think it’s metamorphosed. When I run poetry workshops at schools I’m always stunned by how many kids say ‘I don’t like poetry’ but have song lyrics scrawled in their books. Or they say ‘I don’t like poetry, but I like what YOU did!’ Maybe a branding issue. When people think of ‘poetry’, they often call to mind something inscrutable and highbrow. I always think of it like saying to someone saying you don’t like poetry because you didn’t enjoy the stuff you read in high school is like saying you don’t like music because you’re not a huge Beethoven fan. You’ve got to find the stuff that speaks to you. Social media has been surprisingly good for this. If you can navigate your way through all the conspiracy theories and hate speech, there’s some pretty great poetry hiding in the various nooks and crannies of the internet.
STENDHAL SYNDROME: Feelings of increased heart rate, dizziness, disorientation, amnesia, hallucinations etc. in response to immense beauty present in either artistic works or the natural world.
A collection of poems, short stories, lists and rants by J.M. Donellan, 2015 Australian Poetry Slam national finalist, and one half of electronic/spoken word duo Poetry is Dead.