Share This

QWS Podcast S2E1 – Stuart Barnes

black and white photo of poet Stuart Barnes and logo for Queer Writes Podcast, Words and Nerds Podcast and Blarney Books and Art in Port Fairy
QWS Podcast S2E1 Stuart Barnes

QWS Podcast S2E1 – To listen to the podcast click on this link from Words and Nerds here or here.

In this episode Rob chats with award-winning poet, Stuart Barnes, who gives a masterclass on how to approach poetry, and reads from his new collection, Like to the Lark.

Full interview transcript below. Jo from Blarney Books and Art , reviews Iris by Fiona Kelly McGregor.

Book cover for Stuart Barne's Like to the Lark which is a poetry collection. The cover features a cloudy sky with the hint of blue sky

Stuart Barnes links


Twitter / Instagram: @StuartABarnes

Mentions in this interview

Gwen Harwood

Kim Addonizio

Like to the Lark by Stuart Barnes

The Cure, Let’s Go To Bed

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Holding the Man, by Timothy Conigrave

Stuart Barnes’ Shout Outs

Writers: Benjamin Dodds, Nigel Featherstone, Natalie Harkin, Alison Whittaker, Yvette Holt, Shastra Deo, Gavin Yuan Gao, Kate Lilley, Dan Hogan, Pam Brown, Rae White, Jill Jones, Andrew Sutherland, Willo Drummond, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Jarad Bruinstroop, Anna Jacobson, Rebecca Jessen, Zenobia Frost & Michelle Cahill
Composer: Nick Wales, his public music account on Insta is @nickwalesmusic & on Twitter is @Nick_Wales
Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay & Lesbian Poets (eds Jill Jones, Michael Farrell);
Going Postal: More than ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ (eds Quinn Eades, Son Vivienne);
Growing Up Queer in Australia (ed Benjamin Law);
100 Queer Poems: An Anthology (eds Andrew McMillan, Mary Jean Chan)
FilmsThe Sum of UsGod’s Own Country
Organisations, social media accounts, bookstores:
LGBTQ DV Awareness Foundation @lgbtq.dvfoundation (Insta), @LGBTQ_DVAF  (Twitter), ;
MARS (Men Affected by Rape & Sexual Abuse) Australia , ;
LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, @LGBTIQHealthAU (Twitter), ;
The Aids Memorial @theaidsmemorial (Twitter), @theaidsmemorial (Insta);
Queer Stories @queerstoriesaus (Insta);
Books and Broth @books_­and_broth (Insta);
Hares & Hyenas @hareshyenas (Insta), @Hares_Hyenas (Twitter), ; The Bookshop Darlinghurst @bookshopdarlo (Insta), @BookshopDarlo (Twitter),
Avid Reader Bookshop @avidreader(Insta) , @avidreader4101 (Twitter), 

QWS Podcast S2E1 – Stuart Barnes interview transcript

Please note: this interview transcript has been modified for ease of reading.

Rob: Stuart Barnes is a poet from Hobart. His first book, Glasshouses, won the 2015 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, was commended for the 2016 Anne Elder Award and shortlisted for the 2017 Mary Gilmore Award. ‘Cerberus watches Eros’ was nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prize, ‘Off-world Ghazal’ was shortlisted for the 2020 Montreal International Poetry Prize and ‘Sestina after B. Carlisle’ won the 2021/22 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize.

Welcome to the show, Stu.

Stuart: Thank you, Rob. Thank you very much for having me.

Rob: Now, on our show, we always have the same opening question which is, how has your work influenced your identity?

Stuart: Okay. I think my work and my identity are inseparable and they seed into each other. When I talk about my identity, I think back to childhood. The first thing I think of is, actually, my parents who were the vorascic readers and still are. I was very young when I started reading at five, I realized that I wanted to be a writer when I was 11. Australian poet Gwen Harwood befriended me at church. And when she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, I want to be a writer. And she said, “You are going to be a poet.” And I had no idea what that meant, <laugh>. Uh, but it resonated. And I think I might have started identifying as a poet at that moment.

Every week after church, Gwen would give me a book of poetry from the church’s op shop to take home. So I was engaging with poetry at quite a young age, and also writing things that weren’t poems, but they were pieces that, uh, you know, they weren’t written as prose, line breaks and, and sliver of text on pages. And I was sort of making my own books. And not long after that, I wrote a novella over one summer holiday. So, yes this idea of the relationship between identity and work was of there for, I wouldn’t say from the beginning, no perhaps it was – but certainly from a very early age.

Now looking back, I realize how powerful it is, deciding what and or who you are, in terms of not only your identity, but your work and knowing and doing what you want to do regarding sexuality. I identify as mostly gay, sometimes queer.

Over the years experiences of homophobia and sexual violence and shame about both have had an impact on my identity and my work. It’s taken me a very long time to identify proudly and loudly as a gay / queer man, despite having actually come out, or been outed at 17. And for many years people have known that I am gay, but to actually be able to publicly identify as, even privately identify as a gay man as well, and be comfortable and just to sort of sit with that.

So it’s also taken me a very long time to publish poems around those topics around identity and sexual violence. And for decades, I actually resisted identifying as “gay / queer poet” Stuart Barnes, and it might sound a little silly, but at some moments, I mean, I appreciate every event I’ve been a part of over the years at festivals but found that I was sometimes only asked onto queer only events. And my issue at those times wasn’t with the events. I realized it was with my discomfort at, I suppose, the label or at my not wanting to identify or be identified as, as a gay and or queer poet. I just wanted to be poet Stuart Barnes, or simply Stuart Barnes.

Regarding work and identity further, I think my earlier work was quite opaque. And my later work is quite transparent. I think that’s because I’ve been able to process trauma and because I’m a happier person. And also because I feel that there’s no sort of secrecy anymore around my identity. So therefore there doesn’t need to be any secrecy in any expression in my work. So they’re always feeding into each other – work and identity.

Some people in AusLit, and even some people in my own family don’t approve of some of the things I write about, but many people inspire me, including poet Natalie Harkin, who says, “Speak loud, speak unsettling things, and be dangerous.” And I love that quote. And everyone should read Natalie’s work. She’s absolutely brilliant and a wonderful human being, too.

It’s interesting, you know, and important for me to point out that my… the difficult experiences I’ve had, for example, of homophobia and sexual violence, writing about them, thinking about them meditating on them, it’s enabled me to cultivate the grit that I’ve needed to not only be a human being, but also to be able to write more about those experience and create poems about those experiences as opposed to simply, you know, journal entries, which, you know I have done over the years, but I’ve wanted to kind of craft something around those experiences and to try to write beautifully about those experiences, and try to try to connect with others through those experiences.

Perhaps the last thing I’d like to say about work and identity is actually a snippet of what the American poet Kim Addonizio has said about the creative process. And she says, “If you nurture it, it will expand and it will nurture you in return. It is a kind of salvation if you can truly tap into the creative process, you know, it’s there all the time, and then you probably don’t need saving.”

Rob: That’s brilliant.

Stuart: Yeah. So, I mean, Kim’s encapsulated it <laugh> really, I could have just used that quote to respond to you, to your question.

Rob: No, not at all.

Stuart: But I think it’s a wonderful way of looking at the interaction, or that inseparable of identity and work.

Rob: Thank you so much. And, we were talking before we hit record, and yeah, I just want to reiterate, thank you for sharing your stories, and the poems are beautiful.

Stuart: Thank you, Rob.

Rob: Yeah, they really, really are. And I think they need to be out there in the world 1000%. And it is something, um, particularly with gay men that isn’t really spoken about much. And what you’re doing is really important, and it means a lot to survivors out there. So, thank you very much.

Stuart: Thank you.

Rob: Now, I am going to introduce your new poetry collection, Like to the Lark. I’m going to read the blurb. So buckle in. Thanks. <laugh>. Like to the Lark is Stuart Barnes’ poetic Back to Mine, an accumulation of lifetime fascinations with music and sound, form and transformation. Beginning with an apparition of a doomed world brooding over itself and ending with a kvelling globe, this long-awaited second collection from the winner of the 2015 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize plunges—‘What a plunge!’ (‘What a lark!’)—into seas, scoots across countries and hurtles towards space. Ghazal shapeshifts into pantoum, duplex, sonnet, sestina, terminal and more plus two new forms invented by Barnes—terse-set and flashbang. As influenced by popular culture as they are by classical mythology, these poems—by turns playful, serious, tender, bold, surprising and witty—are fearless in their explorations of rape, illness, death, remembrance, ecology, love and joy. While ‘Fog / and Grief preen’ over a serodiscordant gay couple, a phoenix-like Royal Poinciana declares ‘My breath is rooted in kindness’. Forged from and framed by conversations with Nick Drake, Gwen Harwood, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare, Robert Smith and others, Barnes’ poems sparkle with vivid lyricism and wild inventiveness, and summon great care for the way they tend and transmute trauma and illuminate the resilience of human and non-human beings.

So, congratulations, Stu on your new collection. For me, I think it’s definitely a book for life, being able to dip in and out and discover new poems that resonate at a time and place in your life. And that is incredibly special, I think. And I was hoping for our listeners that we could start off with a reading from one of your poems from Like to the Lark?

Stuart: Thanks. I’d love to. So this poem is, it’s an accumulation of experiences of the Grinder app. Many of the ideas that were poured into the poem had actually been in my head for a very long time. And the poem actually came out very quickly as it is on the page. It’s also about having, over the years being called a “bad gay” many times, which is a phrase I’m still trying to understand. <laugh>. It’s about my experiences of being a bad gay in Central Queensland in Rockhampton, where I’ve lived. Uh, so I’ll, I’ll read the poem.

How To Be a Good Gay in a Small Town
for Leigh Backhouse

Install the one-star black-and-yellow app.
Gang up with John the Practised at Queens Park,
Park Avenue (don’t be quick-witted). Snap
Orion’s head off, snuff the new moon’s spark.

Don’t rant and rave (The hunts of Kodiak!)
while cramming gulping bulbs with bitter meth
or bumping K from tits in Zodiac;
don’t spell out why John mustn’t say Macbeth

inside the Pilbeam; swill your Beam and Cokes
with equal swag, get off on shots of Butch!,
high-five each other, whack the butt of jokes
(the fag who looks like Old You, squeaking Putsch!),

then stagger to the jagged light without
a glint of camp, a hint of standing out.

Rob: So good. Thank you.

Stuart: Thank you.

Rob: Certainly, and in that last line is such a, yeah – sums up a lot of experience, uh, with that whole straight acting kind of thing. Yeah. Wow.

Stuart: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. And that’s been my experience of a lot of gay guys who are born in Central Queensland and who’ve lived here their entire lives. There’s this belief that they have to act a certain way, and that if you don’t act that way, then you’re ostracized. You’re not allowed to be camp. You’re not allowed to talk about serious things like bear hunting in Kodiak for example. And yeah, there is a club here called, Zodiac, which is actually a strip club, where I know gay guys who go there to sort of maintain the illusion of being straight.

Rob: Um, oh, wow. Yeah. Sounds exhausting. Yeah.

Stuart: Yeah, yeah.

Rob: Now, Stu, for some readers approaching poetry can feel a bit like wine, in that they feel like they need assumed knowledge, before being able to partake, for example, to experience a poem. Should it always be read aloud? What is your advice for those who might be afraid to try poetry or feel like there is a barrier or exclusion based on literary experience to date?

Stuart: Yeah. Thanks, Rob. This was a really interesting question. And you know, when you first asked this question, I sort of traveled back in time to my own experiences of poetry at middle school and high school and university, which sort of brings me to my first point, which is I think high school, college, and university are regularly, either fairly or unfairly – that’s up for people to decide – blamed for ruining poetry for people. And I think perhaps it’s important to forget those experience to arrive at reading poetry with no preconceived ideas.

Rob: Right.

Stuart: In the same way that we might, if we haven’t read a review about a novel, or if we’ve only read a small blurb about the collection of short stories, we are arriving at those two things with perhaps not no preconceived ideas, but a small amount. So, you know, I’d ask readers to come to poetry with an open mind. Expanding on that, to be open minded to poetry’s language, which is very different to the language of the short story and the novel also. And also to the language of memoir, and essay and other nonfiction. Reading poetry, knowing that there’s no one interpretation and that there’s no right or wrong interpretation I think is key.

Rob: Right.

Stuart: I’ve met a number of people over the years who have said, “I don’t understand this poem,” and I’ll talk about understanding in a moment, but they’ve also said, “Oh, my interpretation of that poem is wrong, so I’m giving up.” And I will always say to those (people), there’s no right or wrong way to understand a poem, nor is there one interpretation. As I find there’s no right or wrong way to interpret song lyrics. And I’ll speak about song lyrics in a moment as well.

Rob: I was just going to ask you that.

Stuart: Yeah. Right. Jump, jump in please.

Rob: Thinking when you were saying that, I was wondering if that was because everyone obviously listens to music has their favourite song and it means something to them, which is quite deeply personal.

Stuart: Yes, yes, that’s right. I mean, and as we know, you know, one song can have a completely different personal meaning to, to another person. While, while we’re talking about songs, I actually, I’d like to mention one song in particular, and it’s a song by The Cure, who I will always talk about because I love The Cure <laugh>. The song is Let’s Go To Bed, which came out in ‘82.

Stuart: And, eight years after it was released, Robert Smith said, of its lyrics, “They are nonsense set of words to compliment what I then considered to be a hideous piece of commercial Pap.”

Rob: <laugh>. That’s brilliant.

Stuart: Which is just, you know, it’s a brilliant quote. And what Smith wanted to do, not only musically, but lyrically with Let’s Go To Bed, was he said, “Well, everybody is singing about let’s go to bed and have sex. So I’m gonna be really overt about it, but I’m also gonna make it completely nonsensical.” And I suppose my question to readers and listeners out there, and to readers of poetry, or people who might be new to poetry, is I think it’s important to think about why we revere a song that is comprised of a nonsense set of words, but we fear a poem that is perceived to be comprised of a nonsense set of words. You know, it’s astonishing how, you know, Let’s Go To Bed is one of the most well-known Cure’s, but it’s not a particularly cohesively, lyrically, and in a same way, a poem can be a “let’s go to bed.”

So, yeah, I’d encourage people to think of poems as song lyrics, and also encourage them, think of a poem as a song lyric, but also to think of a poem as something that we don’t have to understand entirely. Perhaps we can just enjoy the poems moods and feelings and textures in the same way that we enjoy a song’s lyrics, moods, and feelings, and textures. I know that songs are different because they have music, and the music, melody is an amazing thing. And with poetry, people might argue, well, there’s no melody there, but you know, poetry’s actually quite musical and poetic forms such as the sonnet and the villanelle. The sonnet in Italian is “little song”.

Rob: So should listeners, or readers, say it out loud?

Stuart: Yes, absolutely. I think, for example, when I’m writing and editing my own poetry, I read it on the page, but I also read it aloud, and it’s a wonderful way of picking up, well, first of all, any sort of errors, but also the sound and the music of the poem. And reading a poem aloud, surprisingly, enables the poem to be better understood.

Rob: So is it as you are creating the poem, like that’s what you are working with that on the page, but also that when it is spoken, it has that other resonance? Like that’s part of that dimension of that poem. Is that right?

Stuart: That’s right. Sylvia Plath said of her Ariel poems, which were, she published a collection Ariel, and she said, you know, if there’s anything these poems have in common, they’re written for the eye and the ear. And she read those poems aloud as she was writing those poems. And there are wonderful recordings of many of the aerial poems. And you hear the music in those poems. And for me, poetry and music are inseparable in the same way that work and identity are inseparable.

I think it’s really important to read a poem multiple times. And I think poems reveal their mysteries over days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years. You will get something new out of that poem, you know, this happens to me with poets I’ve been reading for decades. I’ll have an “Ah-ha,” moment. But yes, I think reading poetry aloud is really important. And it’s fun too, you know, I mean, reading poetry shouldn’t be a laborious. It should be pleasurable. It should be fun. I hope it will be, I hope it can be for people who are unfamiliar or perhaps reticent to jump into poetry.

Rob: Is it like, you know, the emotional connection is what they should be looking for? Like that’s the most important? So they’ve got a collection of poems, they scroll through, and then there might be one that that goes, “Oh, wow, you know, there’s something about this.” I don’t know, maybe they don’t know what it is, but there’s something that really resonates.

Stuart: Definitely, yes. And as you said, they may not immediately be aware of what that resonance is, or what’s caused that, that particular feeling or sensation, you know, the magical thing about poetry is that it, or any writing is that has caused that feeling or sensation. And I’d encourage readers who do experience that with that particular piece, to go back to that piece.

I’m not a fan of study and writing poetry, I didn’t particularly enjoy university. I don’t particularly enjoy studying, but I love learning and writing poetry for me, as a way of learning many, many new things. I think it’s important to come back and sort of sit with those sensations or those feelings that poem aroused. And, you know, I, I don’t think it’s important to overanalyse or even necessarily analyse, but just be aware of how that’s made you feel and be conscious of it.

And that might be a way into other poems that seem opaque as well. You know, when somebody has that sort of, connection with that poem, it might be a doorway to other poems that were previously opaque or impenetrable. Perhaps a final thought on how listeners can approach poetry. And actually this relates to your last question, is to think of poems perhaps as impressionistic, not realist. You know, I was looking at some impressionistic paintings recently, and I thought if a poem would be a painting it would probably be an impressionistic painting. That’s how I approach poetry. I look at it as a whole, but I also look at it as line by line and then at each word in the line.

So that’s, that’s another way that people can come to poetry as well. You know, there may be a line, or even, not a line, but a phrase within a line in the whole poem that makes sense or resonates. But the whole thing doesn’t, and that’s okay. I think we have a tendency to be self-critical if we don’t understand something entirely, and it’s okay to not understand something entirely. And I found with poetry, as I said before, there are some poems that are still revealing their mysteries to me decades after I first read them. I know that that happens with other readers of poetry and with other poets also.

Rob: Fantastic. So it’s not a cryptic crossword?

Stuart: <laugh>. No, no. I mean, unless you like cryptic crosswords.

I might read a poem, Rob.

Rob: Would love. I would love that, absolutely.

Stuart: Thank you, and it might also tie in with what we’re talking about here. I’ll just give a brief background to this poem. It might help readers into not only this poem, but other poems.

This poem is called At Seven Mile Beach. It was written for a friend who died of AIDS-related illnesses, and he actually gifted me Timothy Conigrave’s memoir, Holding the Man, about a year before he was diagnosed with AIDS. The particular form I’ve used to write the poem in is called a tritina. And the end words of each line are “holding”, “the”, “man”, which is the title of the Conigrave memoir. So there can be clues in poems, which can also expand understanding. So, I’ll read the poem.

At Seven Mile Beach
(With a nod to Timothy Conigrave)
I walked between you and the sea, holding
in one hand a piece of driftwood, in the
other a loop of your blue jeans. A man

studied us as if we were subhuman.
God, I idolised your never-holding
-back. Twenty-four years later you packed the

mourners in, but I couldn’t control the
bodies’ salt and water. Superhuman
holding-off was my noted season, holding

-on, holding-on yours, lithe protean man.

Rob: Thank you very much. That was one of my first favorites in the collection. And just to hear you read it, that’s incredible. Thank you.

Stuart: Thank you. Thanks.

Rob: Because I didn’t realise, so again, what we were just talking about that, that “holding the man” was within the poem, but now that I know that, that’s a great new discovery.

Stuart: Yes. And it’s fun playing with those, what are called end words as well. So the first stanza, the first set of lines in the poem, end with the words “holding the man” in the next stanza, “man” becomes (subhu)man or “subhuman”. And “holding” becomes “never-holding”. In the third stanza, “man” becomes (superhu)man. “Superhuman”. And in the last stanza, it becomes “protean man”, because this man, he was a protean man. He was capable of anything, and he was an amazing human being, (he) was very successful at anything he put his mind to.

So it’s fun playing around with language. And that can also open doors to understanding when, with reading poetry too, you know, perceiving those patterns in words or punning wordplay. It can expand the understanding of a poem.

Rob: And I heard you mention on a podcast on Upswell, your publisher’s website, where you were talking about breaking words over lines, or with-in a line, which features in Like to the Lark. So fracture and brokenness and repair, which I loved. But can you please tell our listeners more about that?

Stuart: Sure. So I’ll actually use At Seven Mile Beach as an example, because there is a word broken over the line, and it’s “never-holding-back”, “never-holding” ends one line, and then “-back” is on the other line.

So when you have that breaking over the line it invites surprise into the poem, into those lines, and you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what’s coming on the next line. I find that it’s exciting not only to, to write a poem, it’s fun to write a poem in that way, but it’s also exciting to read a poem in that way, because you can almost read two lines differently.

You read one line as it ends, but then you’re also reading the next line as it begins. And a way of adding a bit of extra surprise in there is the phrase or the word group “never-holding-back” has hyphens between “never-holding” and “holding-back”.

If you, I’m just mentioning this to sort of help with listeners and readers, a way of increasing the surprise, I suppose, is not having the hyphen at the end of the line, but having it at the beginning of the next line. So then it’s almost as if “never-holding” is the complete unit. But it’s not until you start the next line that you realize “never-holding-back” is the complete unit there. I mean, poets use this breakage not only for surprise, but for resonance, for emotional impact, for pause, reflection. Does that sort of answer?

Rob: Oh, that’s fantastic. Yeah. I certainly, for myself, I love poetry, but I don’t read it near enough. It’s like, for me, going to the theater, I always enjoy it when I’m there, but I don’t get around to going. So to actually hear that and hear you speak about the intent behind how each line is, and how you as a poet work the ends, so then the reader has that experience, I think is remarkable.

Stuart: Thank you. I mean there are also other ways. There’s another poem in the book called, Sestina: Love, where I actually break words and phrases over the line. It’s in my poem, The morning fog, which I’ll read if that’s okay. But the word that breaks over the line is “inclined”. So, the line in particular ends with “in”, and then the new line begins with hyphen “-clined”. So the phrase that leads up is even, “to rusty furrows it’s in”, so “in” could be interpreted as, you know, cool or hip or fashionable. And it’s not until you read the next line that you actually know what the word is. So the idea of fracture and breakage and repair, can occur within a word as well, which invites even greater surprise into that. Not only into that word, but the phrase and the poem building up around that.

Rob: Excellent. Would we be able to hear that poem, please?

Stuart: Yeah, sure. Thank you, Rob.

The morning fog

is sweetest at the Tropic of Capricorn,
the colour of lemon chiffon
cake, and just as delicate. It might upspring
with a ringing of hands, it might upspring
with a single step. It’s capable of taking
itself to the streets. Unblighted
by African tulip trees’ jewels, the palms
look as if they’re about to take flight.
Vehicles’ steel appeals to the atmosphere.
We, too, are aerial now. We needn’t be
momentarily. Where does it end, where
does it upspring, this enlightening
thing unfurling its whorls. Even
to rusty furrows it’s in
-clined to breathe. Subtleties
emerge as if soaked in developer, but slower.
Though we look before and after, and pine
for what is not, we alight on the I
of Horsfield’s Bushlark widening to We,
its rites of day- and night-time melody and mimicry,
and I ask you crave nothing
save the song and wing-heeled being
as brightness wheels around the mountain.

Rob: Fantastic. That’s beautiful. Thank you very, very much.

I just wanted to segue, I dunno if it is the right word, but I wanted to ask you, what is your hope for Like to the Lark being out in the world? So that’s coming out beginning of February 23 through Upswell.

Stuart: Yes. Yes. Can’t wait. Excited, slightly nervous, <laugh>. Very excited. Thank you. Well, I hope it will appeal to lovers of poetic forms. There are, I mean, the book is 99% forms, established forms and forms that I’ve invented. I also hope it will be a doorway to poetic forms for people who aren’t lovers of poetic form. I hope it will speak to and support LGBTIQA plus people who’ve experienced sexual violence and people who’ve lost loved ones to AIDS related illnesses as well. I hope it’ll resonate with readers who find beauty, joy, and wonder in the simple things such as coffee grounds or a garden, or the moon. When I was re-reading the book, and selecting some poems for the podcast, I re-read a poem the Immortal Jellyfish from the collection, and one hope is that readers will see that the smallest of things – the immortal jellyfish is around four millimeters -I hope readers will see that the smallest of things can have a powerful voice, and that the loneliest of thing, such as The 52-hertz Whale, a poem about the 52-hertz whale, which is a one of a kind whale that we know of can find company.

Lastly, I hope people find the book hopeful and enjoyable, and that they see that these poems, some of them which are about trauma, are more about transmuting that trauma than not moving through that trauma. And I hope people have fun, have as much fun reading the poems as I had writing them. I think we always want our work to – you may feel, experience this as well – we always want our work to connect and resonate with readers.

Rob: Absolutely, excellent hopes, and I’m sure it will do all of that and more. And yeah, I think it’s such a brilliant contribution. I can’t wait to see it out there in the world connecting to its readers. Like I say, for me it’s one that I’ll continually dip in and out of the rest of my life.

Stuart: Thanks, that really means a lot.

Rob: Absolutely. No, I think it’s a wonderful thing. So a question we ask all our guests is a writing question, which is around any advice or top tips for aspiring writers and poets?

Stuart: Look, this first bit of advice has probably been mentioned again and again and again, but I’m going to mention it again. And that is read, read, read, read. It’s vital if you want to be a writer. I don’t believe you can be a writer without reading, and without reading a lot more than you actually write. And reading a variety, reading poetry, fiction, nonfiction, I think that’s vital.

I think also allowing yourself to daydream, to be curious and to be adventurous, is really important. Not only in your personal life, but also in your writing. Walking is extraordinary. like Virginia Woolf, I like to have space to spread my mind out in, and the chemical reactions that happen when we walk. I mean, sometimes I can even walk from my desk to the kitchen to get a banana and the word that I’ve been trying to find for the last half hour will just fall into my head as if from nowhere. I try to walk every day and I find that it sort of switches off my conscious mind and allows that subconscious creative to really come through.

Write a lot. Write what you want to write, pay no attention to fads, know that your work will reach its readers and be patient with that except rejection. It’s a huge part of this craft. There’s a lot more rejection than there is acceptance. I don’t really like the, the language we use around writing, acceptance and rejection. And I actually talk with friends about, you know, that language as well. If we’re talking about, well not only poetry but any form, break the rules and make up your own rules. You know, a memoir doesn’t have to be written in one particular way. And we are seeing many more hybrid forms of writing and I think that’s absolutely fantastic.

Be generous. Share others’, work with friends and family and online, and share your own work also, you know, I think there’s a wonderful balance there, sharing others’ work as well as your own.

And be receptive to feedback about your work and try to develop a thick skin. I don’t think we can always have a thick skin but I think it’s a healthy thing to try to aim for.

Some other things that I think are really helpful are to be a part of the writing community and ways of doing that are joining writers groups, joining writers centers, going to readings and volunteering at festivals, volunteering as readers for journals as fictional poetry readers. And also finally connect with writers online. There are really wonderful communities. There are really wonderful people and writers such as yourself who, you know, I’ve admired for a long time and who really support the community by doing podcasts such as this. But not only, not only this, but also just through connecting with people and supporting each other’s work. And I see a lot of that in Australian and international writing, also establishing, you know, if people feel Covid safe doing so, connecting in person as well.

Rob: That is fantastic. And thank you, Stu, for all your friendship online. It’s been a couple years now, and absolutely everything you say there and for emerging writers, yeah. Building that community because it’s going to be there to support you in good times and bad – I think is so important. And thank you for your masterclass. This has been fantastic. Absolutely. I’ve learned so much. Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge and advice.

Stuart: Um, oh, well, thank you, Rob. I mean, it’s, it’s my first masterclass, actually, so, <laugh>, there you go. I hope listeners will be able to get at least one thing from it anyway.

Rob: More than one thing! No, it’s brilliant. And to, to hear you read your own work as well is truly special. So thank you.

Stuart: Thank you.

Rob: Now on the show we have a shout out question. So firstly, how can listeners connect with you on socials? And do you have any book events you wanted to mention with your book coming out? I’ll put these up on the show notes.


Wonderful. Thank you. I’m on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. I also have a website (see show notes above). There will be events for Like to the Lark, this year I’m planning one in Brisbane, one in Sydney, and one in Melbourne. And I would love to get over to Perth where Upswell Publishing is based and be able to have a launch with Terry Ann White. That would be brilliant.

Rob: Fantastic. So if we, if our listeners keep an eye on your website and on your socials, they’ll be able to see when you’re coming?

Stuart: Definitely. Nothing in place at the moment regarding dates. Trying to sort those out at the moment.

Rob: Excellent. And would you like to shout out any LGBTIQA plus artists, books, shows, organizations, social media accounts?

Stuart: I would, thank you. So I’ll start with some writers, so mostly poets, although some of these poets write other, writing other forms also; Benjamin Dodds, Nigel Featherstone, Natalie Harkin, Alison Whittaker, Yvette Holt, Shastra Deo, Gavin Yuan Gao, Kate Lilley, Dan Hogan, Pam Brown, Rae White, Jill Jones, Andrew Sutherland, Willo Drummond, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Jarad Bruinstroop, Anna Jacobson, Rebecca Jessen, Zenobia Frost and Michelle Cahill.

Composer, Nick Wales. I love Nick’s work. Some books that I would love to shout out. This one came out a number of years ago, it’s called, Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets. It was edited by Jill Jones and Michael Farrell. Going Postal: More than ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ about the Marriage Equality survey and poetic and non-poetic responses to that, edited by Quinn Eades and Son Vivienne. Growing Up Queer in Australia, edited by Benjamin Law, and most recently is 100 Queer Poems: An Anthology, edited by UK writers, Andrew McMillan, Mary Jean Chan, which encompasses poets from around the world.

There are some foundations and social media accounts, if there’s time to mention those?

Rob: Yeah, absolutely, please.

Stuart: I’d actually love to mention two films. One is the Australian Film, The Sum of Us, which I re-watched recently. And another is the British Film, God’s Own Country. They’re both beautiful films, amazing love stories, terrific scripts.

On Instagram there’s the LGBTQ Domestic Violence Awareness Foundation, MARS, which is Men Affected by Rape and Sexual Abuse Australia, which isn’t specifically for queer men, but it’s made abundantly clear that it is a resource for Gay and Bi men. There’s The AIDS Memorial, which everyday posts a photograph and a story of somebody who died of age-related illnesses. I think it’s still so important that we remember those people and those voices. There’s Queer Stories, Books and Broth, and there’s some bookstores, Hares and Hyenas in Melbourne, the Bookshop Darlinghurst and Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane, which isn’t specifically a queer bookstore, but which, you know, has had queer writers and staff working there and really gets behind and supports LGBTIQA writers.

Rob: Fantastic. I think it’s one of the best shout out question responses we’ve had so far. So, that’s wonderful, thank you. And, as I mentioned, we’ll have all of those and links in our show notes for people to discover. So, thank you, Stu.

Stuart: Thanks.

Rob: And our closing question for you, Stuart Barnes, is what is your hope for the LGBTIQA plus communities?

Stuart: Sure, thanks Rob. I hope these communities can be much kinder to each other, and I hope that non-LGBTIQA plus communities can be kinder to them. I think I’m a realist. I think some people will always cling to repugnant doctrines. Um, but my very strong hope, very, very strong hope is that LGBTIQA plus people can live and love without fear of violence or worse. I don’t believe in any God, but I do pray that that can and will change.

Rob: Beautiful. Thank you very, very much for being on the podcast and Stuart Barnes’s book, Like To The Lark, is published by Upswell and out February 2023. Thanks again Stu.

Stuart: Thank you, Rob. It’s been absolutely wonderful speaking with you.