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Latest: Human Looking, Giramondo, 2022


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Welcome to Why Write, a super short podcast that asks writers just that, why they write. Hi, I’m Noè Harsel, a writer and Chair of Writers Victoria, and I’m excited to chat to a diverse group of writers and simply ask, why write? I’m glad you’re here with me.

Today I have Andy Jackson. Andy is a poet and creative writing teacher, and was awarded the inaugural Writing the Future of Health Fellowship. He has been shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, the John Bray Poetry Award and the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry. Andy has co-edited disability-themed issues of Southerly and Australian Poetry Journal, and his latest poetry collection is Human Looking, which won the 2022 ALS Gold Medal and the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry.  

Welcome to Why Write, Andy. you are a powerful and distinguished poet with highly regarded published poetry collections that challenge and evoke strong emotions. It is my pleasure and honour to say also a patron of writers Victoria, let’s get right to the big question. The reason why we are here tell us Andy, why do you write?


Oh, I love the question. The absolute shortest answer I can possibly give would be because I can’t not write, you know, to explain that, I think for every poem that I’ve written, I think what tends to happen is some kind of pressure builds up some feeling or experience, or could be something I’ve been researching or reading or talking about with someone, it just builds up, it becomes a more and more of a pressure and a need. I don’t know whether on the spectrum, it’s like an itch or an exorcism, you know, it, sometimes it’s very minor, sometimes it’s really big. And it just has to come out in some way. And it comes out in language for me. So, you know, I thought about this so much. 

Behind all that, of course, is this sense of me being someone with a disability, someone of bodily difference, because, what happens to those of us who are differently embodied is that we, there are certain assumptions made about what our experiences are like even what our personalities are like, we can be kind of thought of as tragic or heroic, or all of those things in between. And so I think for me, I get weighed down with that sometimes. And I actually often wanted to say, ‘well, actually, no, it’s like this. It’s not what you think it is.’ Or even kind of carve out a bit of privacy to write a poem that says, ‘well, actually, I’m not going to tell you what it’s like,’ you know, I want some private space. So that’s kind of interesting, as well. 

I think some of it is, it can be a really straightforward, simple, an emotional experience that you’re just saying, ‘This is how it is.’ Like, it could be a sense of anger, or shame, or love, whatever. And you just saying it. Other times, it’s just ambivalence, you know, where you actually don’t know what you feel or what you think. And you’re trying to pack it all in, put in the ambivalence, put in the confusion, put in the paradox. And so I think that’s really the impetus of why I write, because I kind of need to say things.  So you know, all of this stuff happens because I think, yeah, you feel marginalised, you want to express what that experience is like, and you maybe want to shift the dial a little bit, in terms of readers. So I’ve spent probably, you know, of course, the ‘why write’ thing is like, well, I could just write it down and put it away. For me, the writing is also about making some kind of connection, starting some kind of conversation, making an offering to people to readers, to listeners, to audience. So that, yeah, maybe they write their own poem, or maybe they think of things a little bit differently. Yeah, that’s kind of where it comes from.

That’s beautiful. And I love what you’re saying there are about that making the connection, because you could write and put it away and there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, there’s nothing wrong with writing it and put it in a drawer and just doing it for yourself, your soul and yourself. But that drive that you have to connect with readers and audiences, I find that that fascinating, and that, what makes your poetry so beautiful, is how vulnerable and personal you are on the page. So can I ask you about that? Can I ask you about, is that something that you find has become easier or more difficult for you, as I mean, and I say this in air quotes, as you’ve grown up? I mean, it doesn’t, it doesn’t come naturally for you to explore yourself on the page?

I think, I think it does, it relates back to I think that initial impetus of this is something I need to do. And so when there’s an overwhelming need, like scratching an itch, or sneezing, whatever it is, you’re not really overthinking it, and you’re not thinking, ‘well, I can’t do this, I can’t do say that in public.’ It’s purely exploring something, it’s really essential and necessary. So I guess in a way, it does come naturally, 

I started writing poetry, through basically going to poetry readings, and open mics in Melbourne, and standing up in front of people and reading and saying my words. So on one level, it’s already intimate. It’s already a kind of encounter with people. And you’re, you’re in the same room together, you, you’re responding to the atmosphere. And there’s something really powerful about just being honest. Not for the sake of a kind of ego, or confessing or you know, being kind of, yeah, raking over coals or anything. But when you say something that’s important, and personal, at the same time, personal and political. That can be incredibly powerful. And it can be a bit of a drug, I think for, for us writers, especially for those of us who write, you know, in our private rooms, to be doing it and reading poems out loud in a room, there’s something, that immediacy is, is really potent. So, I still get nervous reading poems, especially when they’re very personal. And yeah, it does sort of shake you a bit. But I think that’s kind of what we need, we do need that connection. I often need to say things that kind of, yeah, I guess, highlight the elephant in the room.

I mean, it’s also interesting in that the courage, that to, to have those voices and explore, the self and identity, and there’s been a lot since you’ve started your own practice, there’s been a lot more voices that explore body difference and body identity. And I’m wondering how, I mean, is that something that you’ve found to be helpful and supportive for yourself, and to have, as you’re discussing it yourself, the courage in your own voice? Or the ability to speak out? Has it been something possibly even restrictive? Or confining? I’m just curious about how that works for you?

No, that’s really interesting question. I think it’s a, it’s a bit of all of that, you know, at one level, it’s just so encouraging, because I felt when I first started, it was, you know, of course, so many people are talking about their experience, and their embodiment, but not overtly talking about from a disabled perspective. Not many people were really writing in that way. Certainly not consciously doing that. So to have people coming up now, and they’re being, you know, special issues of journals that are coming out, disability themed new journals arriving online that are specifically devoted to disability poetics. And it’s, it’s an incredibly encouraging thing. It makes me really excited to see what’s going to come up in the next 5-10 years. It’s wonderful. So, it kind of spurs me to keep going. 

But it also encourages me that it’s, it’s not all up to me to write all different kinds of poetry that might incorporate all the different peoples’ experiences. There are people who can do that. So I can just keep doing whatever I want. I could, you know, write a collection that has nothing to do with embodiment them next time. It frees me up I think, to explore whatever I want, you know, not that I felt constrained before. But yeah, it’s just a really interesting thing to be part of a community. 

And I should say on that, well, I’m thinking of community Is that I’ve been working on a collaborative poetry project at the moment, which is really exciting. So getting together with about 20 other writers with illness, or disability, or neurodiversity, and writing, collaboratively. So in pairs, we would get together and write poems or essays together. So we’re working towards putting out a collection later on this year, which is really exciting. But the nature of that’s really interesting, you know, that, again, we’re writing what needs to be said, but we’re doing it together. And I think that’s just a fascinating experience. To have done it by myself for so long, it got me thinking that’s the only way to do it. But in fact, yeah, you can write with other people and it doesn’t take away your individuality. In fact, it kind of expands it on some level. So that’s yeah, that’s an exciting development.

That’s Beautiful. What an idea, and what an exciting thing for us to look forward to, to see community writing at its most beautiful form. Thank you so much, Andy, for letting us a little bit into your practice in your life.

Thank you.

Thanks for listening. We would love to hear why you write, tell me at

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