Q&A with Josie/Jocelyn Deane

A photo of contributor Josie/Jocelyn Deane against a light turquoise and yellow wave-pattern background. Josie/Jocelyn is smiling, and wearing a brown beanie with rainbow cat ears and a tiny pink sparkly cowboy hat, a blue scarf and a sleeveless black top with a heart cutout. 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.

JOSIE/JOCELYN DEANE is a writer/student at the university of Melbourne. Their work has appeared in Cordite, Southerly, Australian Poetry and Overland, among others. They were shortlisted for the 2015 Marsden and Hachette prize for poetry. In 2021 they were one of the recipients of the Queensland Poetry Festival Ekphrasis award. They live on unceded Wurundjeri land.

Our Associate Editor, Claire Albrecht, talks to Josie/Jocelyn about ‘Water as Grandmother’s House’, published in #21: Salt.

I love the way you enact fluidity in your poem ‘Water as Grandmother’s House’, published in #21 SALT, by taking down the boundaries between water and terra firma. Has this always been something you’re interested in? 

I feel—as a genderfluid/non-binary femme—fluidity is always present in my work, as a kind of poetics. The way double meanings can make cracks in familiar words/linguistic constructions, or how enjambment/gaps/dashes can redirect the flow of a sentence, or make the reader aware of language’s undercurrents. To me, it offers a way into a given poem, a method of writing, to divine where different linguistic barriers become porous, and an ethic: how to bring a poem’s fluidity out, and the care it requires/demands. 

I’m also really interested in the way you use ‘selkie’ as a verb. It so effectively speaks to transition and change, and the ways we show ourselves to the world. How did you come to this particular use of language?

A lot of the poem is coming to terms with my grandmother’s effect on me, marked by the juxtaposition between concrete imagery/nouns—the cutlery, the taps, cupboards—and the fluidity I tried to emphasise, through double meanings, dashes, imagery of flow, verbs relating to water and cyclicality. On the one hand, empathising with/missing her, and feeling constrained by her rigidity and the gender markers she lived with. A selkie—especially as a verb—became a symbol of this dynamic: in the folktale, the selkie is held unwillingly in her family, while using it as a verb—as intention on my part—complicates it: the desire to be fluid, transgressing boundaries, to join my grandmother, while at the same time pushed away/held back. An imaginary space we could possibly meet. 

Do you have a project you’re working on as we move through 2021? What themes are you exploring in your writing as we reemerge (hesitantly) from isolation?

At the moment, I’m working on a series of poems based on the Russian game Pathologic 2, about a plague that strikes a small town and the medical students/folk doctors/faith healers that try to prevent an epidemic. The different forms—Pushkin sonnets, free-verse, villanelles at the moment—and how they embody different responses to disease, different conceptions of nature/ecology and what it means to survive in a time of catastrophe.