Salt Room interview: Sandra Renew

Friday, 24 February 2017

For each edition of the Salt Room in 2017, our poetry curator, Andrew Galan, is asking performers a series of questions to provide some insight into their practice and themselves, as well as a short work they would like to share. Each of these questions has been found in the interviews of well-known poets.


‘Is there anything else you would rather have done than writing poetry? Because this is something, obviously, which takes up a great deal of one’s private life, if one’s going to succeed at it. Do you ever have any lingering regrets that you didn’t do something else?’
(1962, Peter Orr to Sylvia Plath)

I have never seen writing poetry as excluding other activities, as an either/or binary. For me, poetry should be about something. So it helps to have done something, or seen something which pushes me to write. I write poetry but I’ve also worked in war-zones, trekked across the Simpson Desert, spent many hours flanning in local cafes. These activities give me ideas and perspectives and contradictions to write about. If I spent my life shut up in a room being a poet, what I would write would be purely imaginative, which could be fine, but I would rather have a life, and something to hang my imagination on.

On the other hand, having a life can restrict the time you can spend on writing as a craft. What to do….???

‘What do you think of the label “confessional poetry” and the tendency for more and more poets to work in that mode?’
(1995, Drue Heinz to Ted Hughes)

When I see the word ‘confessional’ I have a pretty bad reaction, as it takes me straight away to ideas of repressed anguish, or deep emotions that it’s better to leave buried rather than trying to describe, or revealing under pressure the darkest moments of our psyche. Poetry as therapy can make for uncomfortable and awkward public sharing, even if it is good for the poet.

However, ‘confessional’ poetry is also described as poetry of self-revelation. And in a sense, anything a poet writes reveals to the reader something important about the poet, that is the nature of writing. It shows the reader what the poet sees as important. Equally, what is not written about shows what is less important to the poet. Sylvia Plath is generally seen as a poet who put the personal ‘I’ into poetry, moving away from narration and description for their own sake. When the poet puts themselves into the poem they bring an immediacy and urgency to the words which gives the poem an energy to pass on to the reader.

‘Revelatory’ writing can reveal dissonance, dissent, fractures and contradictions in the social polity, holding up a mirror to the person or the human condition, and thereby showing us something that was, until held up, hidden.

‘What sort of things did your mother read to you?’
(1960, Richard Poirier to Robert Frost)

For bed-time reading my mother had to find something appropriate for an age-range of nine years to cover the four of us siblings. Mainly she relied on us learning to read our own choice of books from the Geelong Library where we took out a mass borrowing, with the help of the librarian, every month when we went to town for farm business. However, one book we heard from often was Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories 1908.  These included The Cat that Walked by Himself, How the Camel Got His Hump and The Butterfly That Stamped.

It wasn’t until many years later that I read the note under Kipling’s portrait in the front of the book-  Duality: Rudyard Kipling engenders an ambivalent response to his readers.

Words such as ambivalent and duality have always been my favourites because they give the possibility of fluidity and flexibility to any idea.



from the get-go

I felt sorry for him

a bloke with intention

but I was a dyke

with attitude


Sandra Renew’s poetry is informed by her many years working in war zones, in Indigenous communities and on the fringes of heterosexuality. Her poetry comments on contemporary issues and questions: war, environment, gender, climate and the planet’s health, migration, dissent, protest, human rights, freedoms. Sandra has published poems about gay and lesbian rights in social justice anthologies and international and national journals. She creates poetry as a protest form for gay and lesbian rights, and writing poetic responses to some contemporary events (such as the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida) and the historical context of gay and lesbian politics in Australia.

Sandra will be performing as part of the Salt Room alongside poets Jacqui Malins and Shane Strange, and musician Paul Heslin, at 7:30pm on Friday 3 March at the Gorman Arts Centre. The Salt Room is produced by BAD!SLAM!NOBISCUIT! with the support of the Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres. Tickets $15 full or $10 concession available online or at the door.

  • Sandra Renew