Q&A with Andrew Menken

A photo of contributor Andrew James Menken against a light turquoise and yellow wave-pattern background. To the left are three images of the magazine’s cover in a column. Text above the photo reads “THE SUBURBAN REVIEW magazine, issue: #21, theme: SALT”. To the right of the photo is the contributor’s name. Along the bottom of the image the magazine’s website “thesuburbanreview.com” is repeated three times.

ANDREW MENKEN lives and writes on the Central Coast of New South Wales. He is doing a PhD at the University of Newcastle and is composing a book-length collection of poems that centres around his little hometown of Budgewoi. Andrew’s work has previously been published in SWAMP and Quadrant. In his free time, Andrew is either playing guitar, swimming at the beach or challenging his mother to another game in their endless Scrabble tournament.

Our Associate Editor, Panda Wong, talks to Andrew about his poem ‘What Would Jesse Do’.

‘WHAT WOULD JESSE DO’ has these vivid images that evoke the passing of time and memory—‘rusted railings’, ‘sediment settling to the bottom of a suspended steel lake’, ‘white speckles along the footpath’—there’s a really tangible quality to your poem. How did the theme ‘SALT’ prompt these images and materiality?

To be totally honest, encountering the theme ‘SALT’ was a serendipitous experience! Because much of my poetry explores my relationship with Budgewoi and other areas of the Central Coast, water has become a thematically significant aspect of my work. The collection I’m putting together is a ‘coastal pastoral’ in which the ocean, lake and built environment all coalesce to capture life in Budgewoi. ‘WHAT WOULD JESSE DO’ was an extremely fun poem to write and I’m glad you felt the materiality of the piece! I quickly realised that the ‘SALT’ theme neatly encapsulated the impetus behind ‘WHAT WOULD JESSE DO’ and linked the various images of the poem.

I feel producing concrete images—the tangibility you mentioned—allows me to meaningfully engage with abstract concepts such as time and memory in poetry, which I’m pleased came across so vividly. I wanted the poem to be driven by a highly observational yet imaginative approach to place. Since being a part of ‘SALT’, I now read ‘WHAT WOULD JESSE DO’ and only think of chicken salt on hot chips or the salty air of our little lakeside town. 

This poem, and a book-length collection you’re working on, is set in your hometown Budgewoi—it’s clear that you have this strong and generative connection to your hometown! Can you tell us more about how this relationship influences your work?

Although I’ve lived in Budgewoi my whole life, I found it took a lot of poetic development to feel ready and comfortable to write specifically about my hometown. Like ‘WHAT WOULD JESSE DO’, many of my poems are moments or situations in which creative responses are sparked by unique encounters with the physical environment. While this collection will be a mixture of both autobiographical and pseudo-autobiographical poems, I feel that each encounter with the physical environment has demanded a different style of poetic voice. Therefore, the various features and landmarks throughout Budgewoi—such as Budgewoi Bridge, surrounding beaches, the lake, laneways, caravan parks, shops, streets, cafés—regularly reflect the idiosyncrasies of a certain state of mind or event.

I am very lucky to be able to live and write almost full-time in my hometown; and such an opportunity has helped me develop a much more intimate knowledge of Budgewoi and the Central Coast way of life! I hope my relationship with Budgewoi results in a poetry of place that advocates the primacy of the imagination while stressing the importance of sensitive poetic observation. 

What other upcoming projects or publications can we expect from you this year?

My poems ‘The Yellow Gate’ and ‘The Somnambulist’ will be published in the June edition of Quadrant. These two poems will appear in my book-length collection on Budgewoi.