Interview by Olivia De Zilva
Dominic Symes, acclaimed South Australian poet, discusses his participation in Adelaide Writers’ Week and his journey to a creative writing PhD at the University of Adelaide.
When I meet Dominic Symes at a café on Gawler Street, he is excited to talk about his involvement in 2019’s Adelaide Writers’ Week show, Hear Me Roar! Slam and Performance Poetry at AWW, telling me that “it’s always nice to be included in a line-up full of local and international talent”. Though he is enthusiastic at the prospect of reading in front of an audience, he still holds some necessary nervousness for the event.
“…I’m a little nervous about it because I’m definitely not a slam or performance poet. However, I’m happy to be included in the line-up and I have a lot of respect for slam and performance poetry. I think I was really asked to be part of the program because of my monthly reading series NO WAVE, which encourages local and international poets to read their work in front of an audience…”
Indeed, Symes’s curation of the NO WAVE monthly poetry readings held at The Wheatsheaf Hotel in Thebarton has caused quite the ripple in the poetry scene here in South Australia. Amassing a range of different poets from various backgrounds, ages and career stages, NO WAVE has helped to promote the importance of community in the creative arts.
“40–50 people come to this poetry reading once a month…Although that might sound really small, for this [poetry] community around Australia, that can be counted as one of the bigger readings.”
And the reason NO WAVE was created?
“To encourage poets and expose them to an audience because they are naturally introverted and apprehensive about sharing their work with other people. Adelaide is an amazing place to be creative because everything here is accessible, but what we lack is the anxiety and adrenaline when you live in a bigger city and then there’s this feeling of being left behind. I think by having something like NO WAVE, it’s good to encourage people to write or perform work they’ve been holding onto.
Symes also stresses that diversity is a large part of NO WAVE, claiming that there needs to be more younger faces featured to advance the face of South Australia’s poetry community:
“…When you have a really consistent attendance it’s a really good opportunity to introduce younger people to that regular crowd. The really nice thing about poetry in Adelaide is that there’s an established set of poets who will come out to readings and to bring in younger readers or readers from more diverse backgrounds. I’m always trying to have someone young in the line-up so they can bring something different to the table…”
We get back to Writers’ Week, discussing how the festival can be beneficial to the creative community in South Australia:
“…it’s good to remind audiences that SA has as good writers as anywhere. Adelaide writers deserve the same platform as writers every else. I think our authors/writers/thinkers/intellectuals should really be considered equal to people from around the world…”
However, Symes states that there should be more involvement from the creative community to make Writers’ Week more effective for local writers.
“There should be more connections to creative organizations at Writers’ Week. It would be interesting to see the English and Creative Writing Department have an input or give a platform for students to read their work in front of an audience outside of that academic context. Why isn’t there an On Dit tent? One for Writers SA? It would just make more sense to see these people here to represent the various writers and voices we have here in South Australia.”
Of his own creative journey, Symes is reflective. His formative years at The University at Adelaide were imperative for him to realise his passion for poetry.
“…I liked studying English because it was like an Easter egg hunt. That is, the author is always giving you clues to their intentions. When you look at creative writing, this is taken into to extremes. Creative writing actually encourages writers to use appropriation and intertextuality of other works to make theirs stronger. I came from a background in song writing where this ‘borrowing’ from other people was really looked down, and for me, that was a really toxic environment for creativity. When I started writing poems, I realised that you could use fragments from others’ work without it being plagiarism, rather, it was like you were proud to show off what you’ve read. Making these references to things that have become before your own work is actually a really important skill because it shows that you’ve been reading and listening intently…”
When I ask who inspired him to pursue poetry, Symes has one answer.
“My PhD supervisor, Jill Jones. She [Jones] has been prolific in the Australian poetry scene for years and years. I hadn’t even written any poetry before I took one of Jill’s courses when I was 22. I really thought about poetry in Jill’s classes and realised that this was something I wanted to do.
And what does he like to write about? Love and feelings.
“My default position from the world is very ironically detached. However, when I write, I try to break that position to really surrender to these important and personal feelings of love, desire, anger — anything I feel at the time. I want to use these images and events to show authentic emotions because after all the memes and irony, people need to feel to be human.
[An extract from The Sleepwalkers by Dominic Symes]
wet mark from my nose on the lid
of the coffee cup disappearing
an egg & lettuce sandwich
walking someone else’s dog
I meet you half way up the stairs
like sleepwalkers we have to stop
ourselves from dreaming kissing
because who can find the right words
on a Thursday? I saw the crescent
& you saw the hole in my jeans
isn’t it impossible arguing
with someone in the shower?
recruiting the heavy air
the river drinks us up
While most poets resign to seeing their words on paper, Symes has had a colourful history with his poetry:
“I like to present work in different ways. I’ve read as part of a friend’s art exhibition in a blue cape and a mask. I’ve also had a poem beneath a sculpture in Altona in Melbourne…I’ve never seen it, only in pictures. That’s kind of strange, isn’t it?”
Dominic Symes is an award-winning poet and PhD candidate in Creative Writing at The University of Adelaide whose work has been featured in numerous local and international publications. He currently curates the NO WAVE monthly poetry readings held every first Wednesday of the month at The Wheatsheaf Hotel. For more updates on Dominic, visit his website.