Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Jaya Savige
By Yong Shu Hoong
If you're trying to look beyond veteran Australian poets the likes of Les Murray and Robert Adamson, for example in search for bright young sparks in the poetry scene Down Under, Jaya Savige would be a notable name on the list.
Born in Sydney in 1978, he grew up on Bribie Island, off the coast of Queensland. Still in his 30s, he has already published two poetry collections: Latecomers (2005), which snagged the Kenneth Slessor Award and Thomas Shapcott Prize, and Surface to Air (2011), which was shortlisted for The Age Poetry Book of the Year and the West Australian Premier's Prize for Poetry.
In 2009, Savige started his PhD in English at the University of Cambridge, Christ's College, on a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. The Poetry Editor for The Australian newspaper, he currently lives in London, where he lectures at New College of the Humanities that was founded by the philosopher, A.C. Grayling. His chapbook, Maze Bright, was published earlier this year by Vagabond Press as part of its Rare Object Series.
1. What are you reading right now?
For the PhD, I'm immersed in the notebooks, drafts, typescripts, placards and page proofs for James Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegans Wake so, down the rabbit hole of the 63-volume James Joyce Archive as well as other manuscript material, transcriptions, the primary texts (of course) and mountains of criticism. Specifically, this fortnight I'm reading reproductions of three of Joyce's notebooks the first contains the earliest extant drafts of the 'Proteus' and 'Sirens' episodes in Ulysses, while the others are notes Joyce used for episode II.1 of Finnegans Wake. Critical works open on my desk right now include Tzvetan Todorov's The Poetics of Prose and Thomas Vargish's The Providential Aesthetic in Victorian Fiction.
Poetry-wise (apart from Thomas) I'm reading Wild Bees: New and Selected Poems by Martin Harrison, the Sydney-based poet and scholar who passed away in September. When I'm not reading any of the above, I'm probably reading poetry submissions for the newspaper.
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
For instance, I've been thinking a fair bit lately about the Australian writer Jack Lindsay (19001990), who moved from Brisbane to the UK in his mid-20s, had a passion for classical literature and also found himself in the bohemian bars in Fitzrovia in the 1930s alongside Thomas and Augustus John, Nina Hamnet, etc. I can identify superficially with some of Lindsay's expatriate biography and interests, but I cannot identify whatsoever with his upbringing among artists and literati, nor his animosity towards the work of Joyce and Lawrence (very different writers, of course).
With that caveat, I'll be a good sport and name a living author, David Malouf (b. 1934), because he has written the landscapes of my youth (south-east Queensland and the islands of Moreton Bay) into literature, in both poetry and prose; he has an abiding interest in classical as well as modern and contemporary literature; and he spent time living in the UK and Europe before returning to Australia (which, incidentally, Lindsay never did).
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Put another way, I think poetry is a way of encountering resistance everywhere in language. If that resistance accumulates to a point where one's writing grinds to a halt for a period, I don't necessarily think it's a negative thing. No writer's time is taken up entirely with writing; reading and thinking about poetry are just as crucial. I'd be much more worried about ever suffering serious reader's block. If I couldn't bring myself to read poetry at all for a substantial period of time, that would cause me concern.
That's my philosophical answer. Otherwise: I find that physical activity usually helps to jolt me out of mental or creative stasis; surfing's my favourite thing to do (in fact, it prompted most of my poems as a teenager), but it's rare that I can do that (living in London), so I swim often; but simply walking, preferably without purpose, has helped me with specific blocks in the past. Likewise tea, art, music and travelling on over-ground trains.
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
As for advice from a writer, how about: "Do not expect applause." (W.S. Graham, 'Johann Joachim Quantz's Five Lessons')
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
A word I've recoiled from recently is the verb "(to) shirtfront", lately transposed from the lexicon of Australian Rules Football into the discourse of political diplomacy by the current Prime Minister of Australia.
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three items: yearn, dreamspace, zone.
(Dear Ed., I can understand "yearn" and "zone"
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. How did new people that you've met and new places that you've been over the past three years help to inspire your new poetry?
The term "maze bright" was coined by developmental biologists and behavioural psychologists in the 1940s to describe laboratory rats proficient in maze navigation. (Later, in the 1980s, the term was used in HR to describe "attractive hires".) The poems don't presume to engage scientific discourse rather they transpose some of the conceptual themes of the "maze-bright" rat scenario (and of genetics and epigenetics) into various contemporary cultural keys: the collection begins, for instance, with a song for Pac-Man ('パックマン Ιtude') who figures as my generation's maze-bound Minotaur.
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?