Q&A with Kerri Shying

A headshot of Kerri Shying is set against an orange-hued photograph of steel tea kettles sitting on a fire. Kerri is wearing brown glasses, a pink headscarf, and a multicoloured t-shirt printed with paintings of people and plants. Kerri is sitting in front of a multicoloured painted background and smiling. Text below the photograph reads ‘AN INTERVIEW WITH Kerri Shying’.

Kerri Shying runs a bi-monthly online disability peer writing workshop group named WU, in Newcastle, NSW. They have published three full-length collections of poetry and one chapbook, the latest being Know Your Country (Puncher & Wattman, 2021). Varuna Fellowships 2019 & 2021. New book Blursday out soon.

Our Associate Editor Lora Subotic talks to Kerri about their poem, ‘thank you for the photos’, published in #30: SPICE.

One thing that particularly stands out in your piece, ‘thank you for the photos’, is the overarching voice of furious condemnation towards unacknowledged privilege throughout an ever-ongoing pandemic. The result is a nuanced and levelled examination of the individual, the collective, responsibility, and ignorance. I would love for you to speak about the process of cultivating this rich conversation.

I’m from a background culture of commitment to community service; it’s just part of our most basic upbringing, and I have added to this a pretty rickety superstructure of politics and experience in distressed and shunned places and peoples. I learned from it that we don’t know what we never see, and the danger this sets up: the big open manhole cover of ignorance fostered by a society based on rugged individualism and privilege. Somehow when faith went out the window the concept of luck went with it. To the detriment of all. It’s a balance beam, life.

Within your piece, there is a precise structure of the poetic space and grammar that brings up implicit questions of intimacy, familiarity, and distance. What role does structure and space play into emphasis of distance and isolation? Similarly, does grammar play a role in commenting on intimacy and familiarity?

Space is tremendously important to me within a poem. I’m writing from the oral storytelling tradition I was raised in; nobody could crack you up with a story like my father or uncles and there’s a precise job that spaces do—the inhalations, the pause and run of words. I was lucky enough to spend a decade as a court monitor, hearing thousands of people give evidence as well, hearing how little structure we need inside a story to understand direction, place, emotions. I pursued the form elevensies in an effort to decolonise my English poetry formation and still have structure. It’s always about hearing the time in the work. Grammar creates my world by its absence, in favour of vernacular and speech patterns.

We are all very excited about this piece appearing in our 30th issue with the theme: SPICE. Why do you believe ‘thank you for the photos’ works so well within the issue’s theme? Can we expect more work like this from you in the future?

Haha, I was moved to submit by the title, and the fact that people call COVID-19 ‘the spicy flu’. I’m always delighted by the way words slouch into languages, and how we embrace disasters, bad luck, and shit outfits like they are scruffy cultural pets of the mongrel variety. Australian humour envisages COVID as a kind of viral pho! And yes, you likely haven’t seen the back of me.

Thank you so much for sharing your nuanced, vulnerable, and potent work with all of us. We are truly all better for it.