Q&A with Kristian Radford

A square photograph of Kristian Radford is set against a purple banner featuring insects and quotation marks in varying shades of purple. Kristian has dark hair, wears glasses and a blue shirt, and is smiling. Behind There's a cream brick wall in the background. To the right of the photograph is written: 'Itch, an interview with Kristian Radford'.

Kristian Radford lives in Melbourne and works as a teacher. He writes poetry and fiction, and his work has appeared in Meanjin, Westerly, Cordite, Australian Poetry Journal, and Best of Australian Poems 2022.

Our Associate Editor Lora Subotic talks to Kristian about his poem, ‘Evening Anecdote’, published in #29: ITCH.

Your elegant poem, ‘Evening Anecdote’, is an unguarded and visceral recounting of a guarded speaker. Do you find your practice is similarly dual in nature, a balance of public and private? What advice might you be able to impart about safeguarding these dual elements of practice?

When I was a bit younger, I spent a lot of time writing allusive, opaque poems that meant a lot in my own head but not very much to anyone else. Once I decided to open up a little more and not shy away as much from actually saying what I meant, I started to have a bit more success. I mean ‘success’ in the sense that I started writing poems that had meaning to other people, which I think is important. Still, a lot of my poetry is considerably autobiographical. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as ‘private’, per se, but I find that being honest about my thoughts, emotions, etc., no matter how idiosyncratic they may be, makes it more likely that they will seem believable or perhaps even interesting to others.

I do try to be careful to avoid being exploitative, especially of other people in my life. I don’t have an exact system of ethics worked out, but I wouldn’t ever want to write someone into a poem and not be able to show it to them. And there are big parts of my life I just can’t seem to write about. There are things I’ve tried to put into poems countless times, but the results are always obtuse or clichéd or boring. Every poem comes with its own problems; sometimes I solve them, or at least get close, but often I don’t.

The poem begins with the speaker attending a reading night. How do you think your practice is influenced by the current Australian literature scene and how do you view the impact of such influence?

I wrote ‘Evening Anecdote’ after attending a book launch at Readings in Carlton (the layout of bookcases may be recognisable to some readers). I didn’t know anyone there personally, and the only person I spoke to was someone who came up to me and thought I was someone else. I’m not at all socially connected to the literary scene. That said, I do read a lot of Australian poetry and try my best to keep up with what’s going on. There’s so much happening that this is pretty difficult though! I try to read all the journals I subscribe to and most of the books that I buy, but I’m not exactly systematic about it.

In terms of Australian influences on my writing, there are some particularly strong ones. Perhaps the most obvious is the work of Ken Bolton, whose influence is pretty widespread these days. To go back to the previous question about balancing public with private, Bolton’s work is a fascinating example in that I feel like I know so many characters in his life, not least of all Bolton himself, even though I’ve never met any of them. More significant though is the way he expresses the act of thinking through poetry, which is something I’ve always admired. In Bolton, as in life, thought, and hence poetry, is intermittently digressive, logical, illogical, repetitive, random, serious, frivolous, funny, insightful, idiotic, obscure, elliptical … I first encountered his work almost 15 years ago and it was a great help in my (still ongoing) attempts to find my own voice. Recently though, I’ve been thinking that I might need to read him a little less in order to avoid becoming completely overwhelmed by his influence, something I’ve had to do with a few other poets before.

Apart from your impressive poetry practice, you also work as a teacher. If you could share one piece of advice to your students about writing, what would you share?

I teach high school students and the main thing I tell those students wanting to become better writers is that they should read. It’s usually the answer, in some way, to any problem a writer may face. Writing is meaningless without reading, and a writer who doesn’t read is likely to be meaningless too.