Salt Room interview: Paul Munden

Wednesday, 26 April 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 dead poets.


‘Now what about music, are there particular pieces of music which give you special comfort when you are feeling over-strained?’ (1959, John Freeman to Dame Edith Sitwell, Face to Face)

I’m particularly fond of what I’d call ‘English Pastoral’: Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings.  I’ve actually missed them, as I failed to bring the CDs when moving from North Yorkshire to Canberra!


‘What do you think about the artist being supported by the state?’ (1956, Marion Capron to Dorothy Parker, the Paris Review)

I think the state should be supportive, which is a slightly different thing.  The problem is ‘The Artist’: s/he needs to be productive, committed, socially engaged – and pretty damned good to justify such financial backing. I think it’s up to the artist to prove their worth – within a supportive environment. State-funded Arts in Education is a very different matter, an absolute no-brainer.


‘In interviews you’ve been known to rail against “the obscure and effete in poetry” – that “heavy, pretentious ‘boys’ poetry” full of semantic incoherence.’ (2007, Magdalena Ball to Dorothy Porter, Compulsive Reader)

A lot of poets do themselves no favours: there really isn’t any point in being obscure for the sake of it, and some people seem to ‘forget’ punctuation like forgetting the time and missing the train. ‘Effete’ sounds unpleasant, whereas ‘sophisticated’ sounds much more commendable. The reader’s knowledge will define these things in different ways, but I think in the end a good test is in performance. If a poet can’t communicate to the audience, then I’m not sure what the whole endeavour is about!


The world outside your own circle of friends tends to think of you as being remote eccentric forbidding and rather dangerous, now perhaps that’s a false impression and I want you to tell me face to face what sort of person you really are, now first your appearance, which everybody knows, why did you devise the very personal style of clothes that you wear so often? (1959, John Freeman to Dame Edith Sitwell, Face to Face)

Hmm. I’m not like Ian McMillan, who always reads in a Hawaiian shirt. I have always thought of the poet as a chameleon, watchful and able to adapt. But I was buying coffee in Sydney recently, and the waitress remarked on my clothes; she couldn’t quite place the style. ‘Canberra?’ I suggested, and then joked, ‘Indiana Jones?’ ‘Yes!’ she said, ‘That’s it!’


A short piece from Paul Munden:


My emotions are a give-away –
green with envy, black with rage.

My wandering eyes look loopy
but they’re speed-reading the world

and for more than the gist.
One is fixed on a beetle for lunch

while the other patrols the borders
for thieving geckos and skinks.

I’m prepared for the worst:
if a colour-zone changes on the map

then a nifty swop of battledress
steadies my goggling pulse.


Paul Munden is Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Poetry & Creative Practice) at the University of Canberra. He is General Editor of Writing in Education and Writing in Practice, both published by the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE), of which he is Director. His latest collection, The Bulmer Murder, was published by Recent Work Press this year.

Paul will be performing as part of the Salt Room alongside Emily Crocker, Brentley Frazer and Nick Delatovic, at 7:30pm on Friday 5 May at the Gorman Arts Centre. The Salt Room is presented by BAD!SLAM!NOBISCUIT! and Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres. Tickets $15 full or $10 concession available online or at the door.

  • Paul Munden