Q&A with Dave Drayton

DAVE DRAYTON is an amateur banjo player, founding member of the Atterton Academy, a Kanganoulipian, and the author of E, UIO, A: a feghoot (Container), A pet per ably-faced kid (Stale Objects dePress), P(oe)Ms (Rabbit), Haiturograms (Stale Objects dePress), and Poetic Pentagons (Spacecraft Press).

Our Deputy Editor (Poetry) Zoe Kingsley interviews Dave Drayton about his poetry suite ‘Community Gardens’ for #17 THEFT.

In ‘Community Gardens’ you engage with textual traditions of cartography and palimpsest. I was hoping you could expand on the tensions at work within these traditions, especially as they relate to appropriation and representation.

‘Community Gardens’ is part of a larger project I have been working on that draws from the list of postcodes in Australia. What began as a creative challenge or conceit quickly became something with more weight when I realised that the glossary I was working with was premised on violent claims to land; naming seemed to me, then, more sinister.

Around the time I was working through this I was participating in a workshop/residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. I was in a stream under the guidance of Matt Madden, looking at the role constraint plays in the creative process, with a focus on cartooning—this experimentation opened up the work I was doing to a more visual element, actually bringing the maps into the work. At the same time I had some really fruitful conversations with JP Pluecker—an activist/artist/poet/translator—who was in the poetry stream at this residency with Tracie Morris. JP’s book Ford Over and the conversations we had about it opened up a new way of approaching the subject matter I was dealing with. In Ford Over, JP plays around with chronicles of explorers and colonial agents who travelled through the region now known as the state of Texas. 

I was wary of what I could contribute to the conversation around land ownership, and the complex history of that in this country, but realised there was value in interrogating the official documents of colonisation.

Constraint is something which features throughout your work. What is it about creative constraint that allows for creative freedom?

I think for me, it is about attention to detail and marking out an area of enquiry. The parameters that constraint provides allow you to exhaust yourself in the area marked out.

The idea for this work stemmed from a book by Paul Metcalf called Zip Odes, where he writes a poem for every U.S. state and territory, using only the zip codes in that particular area.

I found the book at Collected Works, downloaded a copy of the September 2017 Australia Post Postcode list and got to work. As much potential as there is in the 40-odd pages, these finite limitations also made it feel manageable, and presented something that felt like a compelling challenge—not just could I write a text (where on this enormous earth am I to begin?) but could I write a text/s that mimicked the control shown by Metcalf?

Once I had got a sense of the space, the area marked out, it is easier to get a sense of how you can fill it, or push at the edges.

2020 is a year of disruption and collapse of systems. How have you been going during this time?

I have been finding comfort, or attempting to, in reading (new books from Astrid Lorange, Prithvi Varatharajan, Ellena Savage… Not-so-new books from Tara June Winch and Paul Metcalf… Helen Garner’s Yellow Notebook) and an adorable and idiosyncratic cat, Gerard Way, that my partner and I just adopted. These attempts are not always successful, and there’s a pervasive undercurrent of anxiety that is not helped by disappearing jobs and indecipherable government messaging.

I am not generally given to optimism and am wary of the pandemic productivity discourse but hope what we are currently experiencing prompts some reflection on what and who we prioritise.