Aspiring ConversatiONs: Kate Camp on inspiration and the work of writing

Kate Camp: heading south for Aspiring Conversations 2016

Kate Camp: heading south for Aspiring Conversations 2016

Prolific poet, essayist and much-loved reviewer on RNZ, Kate Camp is described by the NZ Book Council as being “in the front rank of New Zealand poets”. This weekend, she joins Louise Wallace and Greg O’Brien at Aspiring Conversations to discuss the role of poetry in today’s whirling world. ANNABEL WILSON spoke to her to find out about her creative process, what we need to talk about and what’s ON this autumn.

How would you describe the poetic impulse?

For me it’s like a funny feeling in the back of my head. I hear something, I see something, I read something in the New Yorker, I overhear some things on the street, I read a label of an artwork and I think – that’s given me a funny feeling. And I write that thing down… and save it for later. It’s not a grand bolt of lightning. It’s just like a little firefly that buzzes into my head.

To capture that feeling, how do you then record it?

I carry a pen and write it on the back of a receipt or whatever – my hand or my phone… When I get home I stick it in to my writing journal. I’ve now got more than 20 years worth of hardcover exercise books with random bits of paper sellotaped and glued onto the pages. Scraps of old brown paper bags and eftpos receipts. So I stick them in there and that’s the source that I go to when I have my writing time. That’s where I look for a jumping off point.

What would you  describe as your writing process?

I have a full time job, and on Wednesdays I start at midday so I’ve got my writing time on a Wednesday. For the last 15 years I’ve always had really full-on jobs but I always have my Wednesday morning as my writing time. I’m absolutely religious about using that time for writing poetry.

If we tipped out your bag, what might we find? 

You’d find it’s incredibly organised. You’d find a little purse that has in it: my headphones, band aids, chapstick, panadol – all the necessities of life all neatly contained. My wallet and my lunch. Neat and tidy.

Wow. I’m thinking I need to do an overhaul of my bag now. How would you define creativity?

Defining abstract nouns is not really part of my daily life – it’s not something I normally set out to do. I guess for me there’s a difference between creativity and artists’ practice. Everyone can be creative … things they do to express themselves and connect with people, but I do see a distinction between that creativity and someone who is creating art as an artist. There’s obviously overlap, but there is a distinction.

How do you think that distinction is formed?

It’s a combination of talent, hard work and daring.

Who are your dream dinner party guests? 

I always get to Graham Norton then I run out. I’d let him select the rest. I love him. He’s so great. I guess the reason I think of him first is because of the way he facilitates that conversation around the couch. He’d be a fantastic host.

What are you looking forward about  your return to Wanaka? 

I came down for the Autumn Arts School a while ago and ran a poetry course down there which was awesome. I’m really looking forward to coming back. It’s such a great time of year to be there.

What does ‘aspiring’ mean to you?

If you look at the way the word is made up, it’s about breathing, and it’s about inspiration as well. It’s about taking that breath in and being inspired; what you aspire to. Breathing in and breathing out – like everything in life.

What do you think we need to have more conversations about?

I’d love to hear men talking more about what we can do about violence and domestic violence in New Zealand. I’d love to hear more from guys about what they can do to help other guys get out of that cycle. I think conversations where people are looking each other in the face and talking are just really great. To some extent, I really don’t mind what the conversation is about, it’s more just the process of sitting down and talking to someone. Probably the defining characteristic of a conversation, unlike a movie or a TV programme or a website is you never know where it’s going to go. It’s just like an artwork that you’re creating together in the moment. It’s never going to be the same twice…. Plus I like to laugh a lot so conversations where people make me laugh are always high on my list.

What are you reading/watching at the moment? 

I’ve just launched a book by a mate of mine, Bill Nelson called Memorandum of Understanding. It’s a book of poetry. A lot of the themes are ones you’d think are traditional Kiwi blokey, but he puts a new spin on them.

I’ve just finished watching a Netflix series called Bloodline. It’s amazing… First episode’s a bit slow but after that give up your job because you’re just going to want to burn through it. I love my TV; I think we are living in the greatest of times for television.

What’s ON for Autumn? 

I’ll be going to Berlin for a couple of weeks, so I’ll be whipping out the spring clothes, catching up with old friends. I had the Writer’s Residency over there four years ago so I’m just going back to visit some old haunts. I love autumn. Autumn’s my favourite time of year. There’s just something about the way it smells, and the light, and the sense that winter’s closing in. I always find it to be a really creative time of the year.

What’s off?

What’s not cool is that all girls have long hair. My niece has short hair, and I’m sick of people saying to her, ‘Oh you’re in the wrong toilet… oh, you’re in the wrong team… you’re supposed to be boy’s area.’ It’s just really sad… I just feel like, come on New Zealand, let’s have a little bit of diversity in our thinking – maybe a six year old girl does know which toilet she’s supposed to be in… The gender control – do we really have to exert it right down to when you’re six years old?

To win a double pass to A still small voice – What does poetry do for us? at Aspiring Conversations, just post what wakes you up in the middle of the night to ONmag’s Facebook page. Winners announced online on Saturday, and tickets can be picked up at the Aspiring Conversations box office.

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