Evelyn Araluen on ‘Dropbear’: First Book Club

The Kill Your Darlings Podcast
The Kill Your Darlings Podcast
Evelyn Araluen on 'Dropbear': First Book Club

Particularly after the hellish year we’ve just had, poetry makes the burden of existence a lot nicer.”

Each month we celebrate an Australian debut release of fiction or non-fiction in the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club. For March that debut is Dropbear by Evelyn Araluen, out now from the University of Queensland Press.

is an innovative mix of poetry and prose that confronts the tropes and iconography of an unreconciled nation, and interrogates the complexities of colonial and personal history. With an alternately playful, tender and mournful voice, Dropbear is a witness to the entangled present, an uncompromising provocation of history, and an embattled but redemptive hope for a decolonial future.

First Book Club host Ellen Cregan spoke with Evelyn for an online event in partnership with Yarra Libraries. Our theme song is Broke for Free’s ‘Something Elated’.

Further reading:

Read Ellen Cregan’s review of Dropbear in our March books Roundup.

Read Evelyn’s Shelf Reflection on her reading habits and the writing that inspires her.

Buy a copy of the book from Brunswick Bound.

Stream or subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Soundcloud / Google Podcasts / Spotify / Other (RSS)

Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!



Alice Cottrell: Welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. I’m KYD publisher Alice Cottrell, and today I’ll be bringing you our March First Book Club interview. Our pick this month is Dropbear by Evelyn Araluen, out now from the University of Queensland Press. Dropbear is an innovative mix of poetry and prose that confronts the tropes and iconography of an unreconciled nation, and interrogates the complexities of colonial and personal history. With an alternately playful, tender and mournful voice, Dropbear is a witness to the entangled present, an uncompromising provocation of history, and an embattled but redemptive hope for a decolonial future. First Book Club host Ellen spoke with Evelyn for an online event in partnership with Yarra Libraries. And the recording of that event is what you’ll hear next.

Ellen Cregan: Hi, everyone. I’m Ellen, I am the First Book Club host. And here tonight we have with us the lovely Evelyn, who is a poet, researcher and co-editor of Overland Literary Journal. Her widely published criticism, fiction and poetry has been awarded the Nakata Brophy Prize for Young Indigenous Writers, the Judith Wright Poetry Prize and a Wheeler Centre Next Chapter Fellowship, and a Neilma Sidney Literary Travel Fund Grant. Born and raised on Dharug country, she’s a descendant of the Bundjalung Nation. Thank you so much for joining me today, Evelyn, I’m very excited to chat to you.

Evelyn Araluen: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited.

Ellen Cregan: So the session’s going to… (Crosstalk.)

Evelyn Araluen: My dog Mirri’s also incredibly excited too, just… (Crosstalk.)

Ellen Cregan: Hello puppy! (Laughs.) So the session’s going to run, we’re going to, Evelyn and I are going to have a little chat for about 30 minutes, and as Meaghan mentioned, there’ll be time for questions after that. So if you have any questions at all, just pop them in the chat and I’ll read them out when we get to that stage. And we’re just going to start with a reading. So Evelyn, go ahead with that one if you’re ready.

Evelyn Araluen: Yes, okay. My apologies, guys, I’m still learning where everything is in the book, and I just wanted to begin by also paying my respects and acknowledgement to the Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation. I’m very lucky to be a guest here on their country, and I’m incredibly grateful for their ongoing custodianship and care for this place. It’s kept me safe, it’s kept my dog safe, and so it’s a very, it’s a very powerful thing to be a guest on such beautiful country, and I hope that I’m doing my part here respectfully. So I’m going to read this poem, ‘Dropbear Poetics’, and Mirri’s getting herself comfortable for that.

——Tiddalik say
I’m such great thirst
I will drain the land
and drag my big fat belly
across the empty sea

——Bunyip say
I’m gonna gobble you up
if you step waters where I sleep
and with wet claws I will snatch
your spine and ankles——to fill them
————with stain and stench

——what the Mopoke say
don’t need saying
if you grown up under his eyes

now here’s the part
you write Black Snake down
for a dilly of national flair
——true god you don’t know how wild I’m gonna be
——to every fucking postmod blinky bill
——tryna crack open my country
——mining in metaphors
——for that place you felt felt you
————somewhere in
————the royal national

Waagan says use heart
but I am rage and dreaming
at the gloss-green palm fronds
of this gentry aesthetantique
——all this potplanting in our sovereignty
——a garden for you to swallow speak our blood

if you’re taking that talk
you gotta scrape it from my schoolhouse walls
filter gollywog ashtray snugglepot kitsch
into your pastoral deconstruct
——fill four’n twenty pies
——with artisan magpies
——if you sever their heads
——you can wear them to the doof

I say rage and dreaming
for making liar the lyrebird
for making mimetic
the power——Baiami gave
when Ribbon’s mischief swallowed first life
——ochre dust
——creation breath
——ancestor song

we aren’t here
——to hear you poem
you do wrong————you get wrong
you get
gobbled up

And I’m going to read another poem from the collection, which is actually kind of a found poem, a lot of the lines actually come from, well, they’re adaptations of lines from May Gibbs’s Snugglepot & Cuddlepie books, and a couple of other from her Bib and Bub series, and general assorted writings. And it’s called ‘Mrs Kookaburra Addresses the Natives’.

Humans! Please be kind
——to all Bush Creatures™️
——and don’t pull flowers up by the roots.
And please be gentle
to Little Ragged Blossom
of blessed tender heart
loved beloved by Bush and its Folk
a wee speck of blushing babe
——of lovely important sadness©

We mustn’t forget Little Obelia! Held in guard
by athousands of rainbow fish
——and a charming seaweed estate.
She is a shiny white pearl burst open
near the pleasant size of Little Ragged Blossom
who goes off to visit her in the sea.

Humans! You remember how on the killing
——of the wicked Mrs Snake
——The Bush™️ became joyful, and
——rich Mr Pilly, the father of Lilly Pilly the actress
—— gave a dinner party at the Gum Inn?
Such festive spirits we were in and against
as Snugglepot and Cuddlepie held corroboree
for the native bears at White City®
——————(which the evil wicked Banksia Men
——————call Korijekup
——————a foul old word we don’t say here).

Humans, now tell me:
——Do you really think all the bad Banksia Men
——were deadibones when they went to the bottom
——of the sea in the great fight with Mr Lizard and Mr
——Eagle and Cuddlepie?

——Not deadibones, not a bit!
For it was just last Cheap Tuesday
at Lilly Pilly’s Picture Palace
that the nasty dark and dry cones
burst terrible into the room.
Snatching up Nittersing and Narnywos and Jindyworobak
perhaps in revenge of Mrs Snake
or her aunt and mother-in-law and three cousins.
And surely would have gobbled them whole
were it not for Mr Lizard and brave and strong Nuttybub!

How blessed we are
in This Delightful Bush™️
—— which lends its dappled light
——to our important tales
——so that we might share with our little nuts
How frightened we were
of those straggly, godless fiends.
————What fun it was
————to see their eyes plucked out
————by those fearsome redtail crooks
————that they called
——the foul old world
——we don’t say here.

Ellen Cregan: Thank you so much, Evelyn. That was excellent. And those, I asked you to read those two poems because they were just, I mean, there were a lot of poems in this collection that really stuck with me, and I reread a few times, but those two in particular I just thought were so clever, and I didn’t realise the found element of that, sort of, May Gibbs one. But now I totally see it, because it’s such a, you know, it’s such a mimicable voice…

Evelyn Araluen: Yeah.

Ellen Cregan: That May Gibbs voice, that kind of terrible 20th century Australiana thing.

Evelyn Araluen: And it’s, if I’d written it as, like, a direct poem, like with my own, all of my own references and things, it would have been way too obvious. But there are really phrases, like, you have White City and the there really is a scene in which the native bears hold corroboree. So there’s all kinds of just really weird stuff that would definitely not, wouldn’t make it past a sensitivity reader these days. (Laughs.)

Ellen Cregan: Absolutely. So can you give us, for those of us who haven’t read the book, can you maybe summarise it, and what it talks about, and how it talks about that?

Evelyn Araluen: Yeah, so Dropbear is a collection of poetry, personal essay and a little bit of prose, um, prose style writing—generally constellating around my relationship with place and country, both as an Aboriginal person, but also as a person who is growing up in a distinctively textual and literary world. So it’s a reflection on the different books that my parents raised me with, and it’s important to note that the books that they, you know, that I learnt to read with, they’re all active choices, because my parents didn’t inherit any books from their family. So I interviewed mum and dad a lot, I talked to a lot of older Aboriginal people as well about some of the representations that they…they were having to work through as they were raising Aboriginal children in a settler-colonial world. And some of the poems are satirical, they’re trying to be cheeky about the general phenomenon of misrepresentation, appropriation and exploitation of Aboriginal land and bodies, but there’s also a lot of painfully sincere discussion around family, rage, political rage, and the legacies that some of these texts and representations have had on a lot of contemporary and, and young Aboriginal people, now trying to work out their own voice and trying to understand how they relate to a fundamentally hostile environment.

Ellen Cregan: Great summary. That’s, yeah, that’s a really tricky thing for people, I can imagine that’s a really tricky thing for people coming of age now and sort of looking back through, especially the early childhood when there aren’t these great books that kids have now that have maybe a better representation of culture, and of things like that, and how you can—yeah, maybe the nostalgia factor would, like, it just seems so difficult.

Evelyn Araluen: Yeah. And I think that, like, it’s like a really beautiful thing to be able to raise, um, raise Aboriginal kids with so many beautiful and amazing Aboriginal stories. But it’s not, you know, I was also raised with a really strong level of critical thinking because of how my parents were trying to unpack those representations with us. So they were the ones who were always saying, like, yeah, Banksia men are racist, and this and that is problematic. And so that’s something that, I feel like that must have been so disorientating for them because that’s an added sort of parental responsibility that you don’t necessarily, you don’t necessarily always understand. But it was it was a very powerful thing, and ultimately, and I hope it’s represented in the book, but ultimately, I’m incredibly grateful for them for the efforts that they did make to, to explain that world to us.

Ellen Cregan: And that’s such a gift that they gave you that that’s such a special thing to grow up with, that critical thinking, and especially, as you say, in a world that is essentially hostile. And so, yeah, I think that’s really wonderful.

Evelyn Araluen: I’m very lucky.

Ellen Cregan: Yeah. So, the poems in this collection, we just read a couple, and as you say, they take a lot of different forms. So we do have some prose poems, we have lots of formal experimentation and it, it does vary throughout, which makes for very fun reading. How did you decide on the form and style you use in your work, and how you kind of lay it out next to each other?

Evelyn Araluen: Nobody ever told me how to write a poem. I am still trying to get that explanation. So when I was developing this collection as, like, an actual body of work, as opposed to like a sort of a handful of of poems, ‘Dropbear Poetics’ is the very first poem that I wrote that, like, shaped the conceptual framework of this book. But I was like, you know, I was doing a mentorship with Tony Birch, and he’s an amazing poet, and I love his poetry, and I remember, like, the first meeting that I had with him, I was like, ‘hey, so how do you write a poem?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t know, they never told me either.’ So it was, I still really do feel like I am kind of just floating with my technique and style. But I’m enormously influenced by the incredible, incredible First Nations poets, not just here, but also globally. And they really strongly shaped the work that I developed around these ideas. But there was a really active research process for a couple of months, that involved me going through a lot of archival material, a lot of really old books, and then that turned into… So some are response poems, some are really explicitly attempts for me to kind of engage with canonical texts and things, so some of them, you know, like the poem, like ‘Mrs Kookaburra Addresses the Natives’, I do kind of consider that almost like a found poem. And then others, like there’s some, there’s a couple of, like, two very long sequenced prose poems, ‘The Last Endeavour’ and ‘The Last Bush Ballad’, which are just, basically those were my dumpings of just brain matter from reading and consuming all this stuff. So I was initially quite worried that there was so much stylistic variation across the poems, and I remember when I was having early conversations with publishers, I thought that that would be like a hindrance, I thought that I would have to kind of stick to one style or form, and then maybe some of the other pieces would then just have to be, like, published online or something like that. But I think texts like Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork really set, like, a new precedent for how a poetry book can look, particularly when it’s thematised and it’s attempting to kind of like, its coherence comes from, like, a political or social or cultural assertion as opposed to a stylistic conversation. So I don’t think I would have been able to publish it as it is a couple of years ago. But like, you know, my work is always just following the Blak women that have paved the way before me, so know, I’m just grateful that it’s in that conversation, this incredible writers trying to push those dialogues forward.

Ellen Cregan: Totally, and Alison Whittaker’s a remarkable writer, that’s a really excellent book, Blakwork.

Evelyn Araluen: Oh, she’s terrifying. You know, she’s…(Ellen laughs) She’s one month, she’s one month younger than me. And I remember when I found that out I was just like…

Ellen Cregan: (Laughs.) That never feels good, does it.

Evelyn Araluen: ‘Oh, but you’re so good, you’re so… ‘ yeah, I had a crisis, I had a breakdown when I found that…

Ellen Cregan: But so are you, you’re also great.

Evelyn Araluen: Argh… (Ellen laughs.) Yeah, but there’s, there’s like, the work that you do and that, like, you’re always doing, like trying to catch up to the people that have inspired you.

Ellen Cregan: Absolutely.

Evelyn Araluen: Yeah, she’s just been doing really incredible shit—I shouldn’t swear, but she’s been doing amazing stuff for a long time. So very grateful for her and for a lot of other Blak women in this space, for really making the work that I do possible.

Ellen Cregan: Definitely. And I think one of the things that you do gain when you have a collection like this where there is so much form to sort of move through, is you’re able to—I’m, this is me speaking as a reader—I felt like you drew me through all these different emotional responses to poems, and you were able to, there was so much restraint in some, and then others, like in the prose poems you mentioned that you, that you said you were kind of just reacting and putting all of your thoughts into this quite long, almost like narrative poem—that really, I really felt like very situated in that poem, like I was really in that world and it was kind of just, you know, I was able to be fully immersed. And a poem like that is so special. But also is a poem that is very, you know, beautiful and ornate and maybe a bit more restrained, and a bit more of a, of a sort of snapshot. And I think that’s one of my favourite things about this collection, is that you kind of get drawn through all these different worlds in this beautiful way.

Evelyn Araluen: Thank you, I, particularly for some of those ones where I do know that there is, like, a level of intensity, and you always worry that people are just going to pass over those, and those are going to be the ones that, like, you’ll get like a very small handful of people who will take the time to go through them. And that’s not to say like, oh, I think these poems deserve more time than I would otherwise expect from a reader, and in that kind of entitled way, but some of those prose poems are informed by, like, a very rich and detailed archival history. And it, I was absolutely in just like a completely different mindset, a very immersive mindset when I, like, I would have to basically lock off all distractions and just pour myself through books and journals and all kinds of stuff. So I know that they’re, they’re an intense thing to read as well as, you know, as to write. So I’m just so grateful that people have actually had the patience, for the collection. A few people have said that they read it in one sitting, and I feel really sorry for them because I wouldn’t, I don’t know if I would do that. (Laughs.) That should probably be a warning on the front. But yeah, the support from people has actually been, like, such an encouraging thing about, not just about, like, my own ambitions for this book, but also like, yeah, like, what a poetry collection can be in Australia, now and in the future, I think, it’s like going in some really promising directions.

Ellen Cregan: Absolutely. And this is, I didn’t quite read it in one sitting, but I came close. But it’s a really gripping book. And you don’t often, like, I would never say that about a poetry collection, or maybe one or two that I’ve read in the past, that it really holds onto you and you really want to, you know, it’s a page turner, which is not a term we often use for poetry. So I think it’s, yeah, I can totally understand where those one-sitting people came from.

Evelyn Araluen: I just feel really sad for them. I’m like, wow, that’s probably not a good mental health experience. Apologies to anyone that I’ve caused unnecessary distress to.

Ellen Cregan: (Laughs.) So how did you bring the collection together? Did you write everything as one sort of project or did you bring, curate things in from previous works?

Evelyn Araluen: Um, Yeah, more and more I found myself stripping back previous pieces. For some reasons, sometimes I just didn’t they didn’t work with the overall intentions of the project. And then I’d say there’s like a handful of poems that I didn’t necessarily write them with a really clear notion about where they fit into the collection. So there’s, there’s like one, you know, one called ‘Hold’ that was really just a, very much, like, the cathartic kind of like, you have to write that poem about your first love, that kind of thing. And that, that doesn’t enter so much into the broader conversation of the work. And then there’s a few that I wrote for different commissions and projects over the years, that I, you know, like when I had, I had this sort of process of studying other collections. I found myself really valuing poems that allowed a reader to kind of take like a little bit of a break from the emotional or intellectual intensity of, of a collection. And they just kind of like, or there are like places where you can like, you know, you can, it’s almost like you can rest for that, that time with a poem. And so I did actively choose to keep in things that were not necessarily as thematically linked, but a lot of it was, you know, I, I had, like, a really good support network of writers and people to be talking about this project with over a period of, like, a couple of years. So I knew that I wanted…I knew that I wanted an overall kind of narrative that I ended up expanding a little bit. So there’s sections that begin with a car trip out of the Hawkesbury, and I wanted it to kind of end on a trip back into the Hawkesbury, but I did a research trip to the UK just before the pandemic, and there really were, just like, that was a transformative experience for me—not one that I necessarily liked, and I know that’s the most privileged and entitled thing to say, that I didn’t like my first travel experience. It’s very obnoxious, but I found it a bit traumatising in certain ways. And there was no place to fit that into the convenient narrative, or the sort of, the conceit of this drive in and out of my home. So that, you know, that just became a part of, like, this broader, more ongoing project of the work, which was trying to also negotiate a pandemic and, you know, like a national ecological crisis, which is also a global crisis. So Ellen van Neerven was my editor, and was amazing, and had just amazing insights about the structuring of the book. And also Felicity Dunning, at UQP, who then kind of had the unfortunate nitty gritty job of finding all of my typos, working with her at such, like, a direct level—like, I was, I thought we had the order, I thought we had all of that. But when, when, you know, somebody turns around and says, ‘hey, you can have this version of the poem, but you’ve got one line that’s going to have to go on to the next page’, that actually created, like, a really interesting and enjoyable challenge to have to renegotiate some of those pieces to fit certain constraints. So I actually—like I, you know, looking back on it now, like, I feel like I enjoyed most aspects of the project. I didn’t, I know for a fact that I didn’t. And my memory is lying to me. And I found it pretty torturous, and I’m, I don’t understand people who just pump out bodies of work constantly. But, you know, that’s the benefit of support networks, that’s the benefit of really encouraging and inspiring people around you. So, yeah, it was a strange process, one that I expected that I would be, every time I looked at it, I would have constant changes and edits that I wanted to make, and I’d always be rewriting this book in my head. There was one poem that I couldn’t get finished, to get into the collection, and I’ve made my bed—you know, I’ve made peace with that. And then I, you know, every word is where it’s meant to be, really, I think.

Ellen Cregan: That would be tough. And I can imagine because, you know, this is a really, this is a really emotional body of work. And as you said, particularly the poems that…that are reflecting on that time you did spend in England and, and the sort of things that you were visiting there and what you saw and what you were reflecting on, that would be a super emotionally taxing thing to write about, because you do, you know, there’s so much of you in this book—we’ve never met, but I feel like, a connection to this. It’s so…

Evelyn Araluen: Oh yeah, yeah. Anyone who reads this is a bestie now. (Ellen laughs.) You’re either my best friend or you’re my greatest enemy.

Ellen Cregan: Yep, I hope I’m not your greatest enemy. (Laughs.)

Evelyn Araluen: It’s the neighbours’ dog, don’t worry, you’re fine.

Ellen Cregan: (Laughs.) So just to go back to community, in the acknowledgements section of this book, there’s a very lovely, long list of you thanking some First Nations elders that you were working with, and whose words you were sort of reflecting on, and writers, of course, that you worked with, and editors. Can you talk a little bit about what it means to be supported by this writing community, as somebody working in this industry?

Evelyn Araluen: Yeah, so really, the, honest thing is that, like, I can kind of just pinpoint down the moment that, that, was just the most significant shift in my career and in my, you know, work as a writer, and that was, I got shortlisted for the Nakata Brophy Prize in like 2016 or something like that. And it was like, it was literally the first poem I’d ever written, and I wrote it in my TAFE Bundjalung class, and it was like a kind of experiment that, you know, my my teacher encouraged. So, you know, that, that, didn’t expect it to go anywhere. But when I was shortlisted, Ellen van Neerven found me on Facebook and was like, ‘Sis, this is so exciting’, you know, ‘congratulations, this is really encouraging’. And I was terrified, and I couldn’t respond to them for weeks, because I was just like, oh, my God, what do, what do I do with myself? So I, yeah, I kind of just panic. And Ellen, who is, is just like one of the loveliest and most generous people in the world. So my career has been, like, all of the great and amazing things about it have been because of the great and amazing Blak writers. It’s really not a competitive space at all, and I assumed that there would be some kind of idea of like literature and publishing as deeply competitive, and really like the only times I’ve ever seen any of that hostility is when we’re all just frantic and exhausted, because we just don’t have enough funding to go around. It’s literally like everybody wants to embrace everybody else’s work and support everybody else’s work, but the funding situation and in the broader humanities does create, like, a terrible strain. So, you know, it’s been wonderful. Like I, I had, like, you know, beautiful networks of, of elders and community that got me to be the kind of person that could have the voice that, if I was supported in a writing career, I’d have interesting things to say. But yeah, I really do think that it was no institution, it was no organisation, it was literally just the naked honesty and care and sincerity coming from people who, in a careerist sense, would have no need to encourage me, but just because of that love of literature and that love of other mob in the space, you know, made such a profound and lasting difference on my way forward as a writer. So, you know, there’s a lot of people I thank in the acknowledgements, it’s pretty long. But there’s…

Ellen Cregan: It’s beautiful!

Evelyn Araluen: There’s more still, there’s always more, there’s always more behind them, you know, the people that encouraged and inspired them, it’s like a really beautiful chain of, chain of of storytellers and everyone involved at every level—the publishers, the booksellers, the writers, the reviewers. It’s all wonderful, you know. Such a such a beautiful thing to do with our lives. It makes it just, I think, like, particularly after the hellish year that we’ve all had, it makes the burden of existence a lot nicer.

Ellen Cregan: And there is a lot of there truly is a lot of love in the literary space, in the Australian literary space, and particularly in the First Nations literary space, it’s just, we’re so lucky to have so many incredible First Nations writers who are getting, who are getting a platform now. And that, to me, is one of the shining lights of the future of Australian literature, as you said, like, what a collection of poetry can do on these kind of themes. I don’t think a lot of other countries have that, the way that we do now. And, of course, things can improve. But it is a really positive thing, I think.

Evelyn Araluen: Yeah, yeah, and I think we should be really happy and positive about, about the transformations that have occurred in the industry, always grateful for the people who pushed for those, and then, yeah, just constantly building for even more and more inclusivity, more, more experimentation, more innovation, like all of that in the future.

Ellen Cregan: Absolutely. And it does feel like at the moment it’s, it’s a lot of authors who are consciously building that platform for the next people to come along. There’s no, there’s no holding on to power in this quite horrible, you know, petty way. It’s very much, as you said before, with Alison, like you’re trying to catch up to the people who came before you, but the people who came before you are leaving something there for you, to sort of be launched from, which is really nice.

Evelyn Araluen: Yeah. Well, I think that’s, that is, like, that is itself, like, an Aboriginal method, that you’re always honouring the people who came before you, making room for the people who are coming next, and you know that in that kind of structure, you’ll be looked after. And you don’t need to, you don’t need to, you don’t need to necessarily constantly insist on putting yourself forward in that kind of structure when you can trust those relations. So that’s why, like, there is like a really active attempt throughout the collection to be talking to my parents, to be talking to elders and reflecting on what they have to teach about these stories and representations. So that what I say about them is is always shaped by that respect that I have for the fact that, you know, like there’s one of the latest, later poems/essay bits where I say that, like, they chose these books, that they chose them because they wanted to tell us something about the country that we lived in, they wanted us to have images that we had some connection to, and they chose them because they wanted us to be able to read. And so what I hope in terms of what I can give to those who are to come next, is like, clearing away a little bit of the debris that gets in the way of the ways in which we earnestly love and engage with our country and culture and identity and representations. Because when we unpack a bit of that, and we have, like, some of that deconstruction work occurring, it does just leave a bit more room for people to just unironically, you know, love something, engage with something and create stories about that. So, yeah, you know, that’s my attempt to kind of engage in that structure of, of caring and responsibility in the collection.

Ellen Cregan: Totally. Yeah, I think that definitely comes through in these poems. So I want to just go a little bit to the side and talk about the way that you write history. So I’d say these poems, there’s definitely a non-fiction history element to several of them. How do you approach writing history in this, in a poetic format?

Evelyn Araluen: Yeah, I think it’s it’s important to have a kind of acknowledgement around the literariness of historical writing in Australia, and the historical archive that we do have. This is actually work that my dad does a lot of research around. But if you look at like the journals of like Cook and Watkin Tench and all of these these early writers who shaped, in such an explicit way, shaped not just like a kind of an aesthetic characterisation of Australia, but also like, a political and cultural ideology that would go on to influence policy, that would influence the development of an Australian national culture. You do have to acknowledge that there is just, like, such a bizarrely poetic literary stamp on all of that. And reading things like the journals of, you know, Phillip and Mitchell and stuff, I’m constantly struck by…the, sort of, the poeticism of that language. And so attempting to kind of chart some kind of literary history that aligns with invasion and settlement and dispossession and displacement was kind of a way of me trying to spell out some kind of psychonarrative of the way that Australia was responded to and conceived of. So we have early, from a really, really early period, we have this registering of the Australian landscape as something Gothic, something barren and unyielding to human labour. And that is a characterisation that I think has had a number of political and social implications. So my attempt in this book is to, basically just to haunt the same thing back, like to try to explore how you can fight poeticism with poeticism. So there is, it’s like, I wouldn’t say that understanding it or, like, seeing it spelt out is necessary for how the collection is read. But there is a conversation between the two quite long archival prose poems, ‘The Last Endeavour’ and ‘The Last Bush Ballad’ where you have this, like, seal, that was the the secret orders that was actually, I believe it was given to Phillip, it wasn’t given to Cook. And I kind of wrote it as a sort of a, like a fluidity between every one of those, you know, major explorer figures. And the the secret orders were about how the natives should be treated, and for my own shits and giggles and as a way of registering the actual kind of cultural impact of that, I turned it into, I turned those orders into, like, literally like a box of ghosts that came out. And so in the last poem of the collection, you have this, this kind of bizarre genesis, a mutation of what those ghosts, what has occurred to them after living on stolen land for two hundred and something years. So it kind of makes sense in my own weird twisted little head. And like I’ve, you know, I read a lot of history for this, but I have also taught Australian and Indigenous history for a while at the University of Sydney. And when you realise just how literary it all is and how unreliable so much of it is, there’s no, you don’t have to respect any kind of factual, factual integrity, because it’s not there. So making read poems out of it, you might as well do that. You know, people made horrendous and violent genocidal policies out of it, they made tea-towels out of it. Like, there’s nothing holy about Australian history, it’s all just haunted, basically.

Ellen Cregan: Yeah, absolutely. And those early accounts are so, you know…there’s so much ugliness to them, but it is in this really strange, strangely beautiful way that they’ve been written out, and the fact that so much has been attached to them—as you say, as factual, is really surprising because it’s, you know, it’s it’s just not. Even in the way that it’s presented, it doesn’t, it doesn’t read like non-fiction.

Evelyn Araluen: No, no. And I think a healthy level of cynicism—like, I would like people to have problems with this book, because they’re like, ‘oh, you’re misrepresenting history’. I’d love that. I would love people to go back and have, and see how much of this is responding to, you know, specific literary journals, like literary accounts in journals and things. And it’s, it is absolutely intended to provoke that kind of, that kind of response, and hopefully that gaze will be turned on the archive at some stage.

Ellen Cregan: And I think poetry, and especially these poems, it has that potential to get into that, that sort of uncomfortable space where you can be a little bit subjective, and you can, you know, as I was saying before, you really put me in that scene in that long prose poem, like I was there when I was writing. And you can’t do that with, the way that non-fiction is now, or it’s so dry and so, you know, proving the sources in the footnotes—not that I don’t love a footnote in a poem, I do love that. But, yeah, it lets you get into that sort of liminal space between reality and what the poet is perceiving now. (Crosstalk.)

Evelyn Araluen: I think we should be doing more of that. I think that is, it’s a better way, like it’s a more honest way of thinking about how people actually engage with history. People don’t remember a timeline, but they remember an experience, or they remember an idea, or an association. And I think that should be a part of that praxis but we’re all like, I think a bit scarred from the impact of, you know, the black armband culture wars and all of that. So we’re all so nervous about being, ever being perceived as getting the history wrong or not doing enough with our sources. And my response to that is just a very plain and simple fuck it, we’re at the end of the world anyway. (Ellen laughs.) Who cares about that?

Ellen Cregan: Yep. Write poetry while you still can. (Laughs.) I’m going to move on to some audience questions now, because we’ve just been chatting away for quite a long time. So I’m going to start with one from Joanna. ‘Evelyn, thanks for your readings and your Dropbear. Just wondering how strict you are with collage—pre-existing text only, or a combo of your words and found words?’

Evelyn Araluen: Very good question, and also hello Joanna, so lovely to have you here, love all of your work. Joanna is very, very incredible and you should definitely look up some of the stuff that she has been doing about storytelling, particularly for people who are incarcerated. So there is a really, yeah, I’d say that in terms of like direct quotation in this book, there’s probably like five or six sentences, not even not even complete lines, that are themselves, like, direct intentional quotations. And we had a conversation, the publishers and I had a conversation, and we did make a really conscious effort to indicate where all of those have been cited. But the majority of the ways in which I kind of, like, using intertext—the majority of the way in which I used intertextuality throughout the collection is really very much attempting to ironise or to make apparent certain things, some issues or elements that were not always apparent in those contexts. So I do have to create, like, my own variations, and things. Certain, certain texts, like, I don’t, I’ve kind of like made gestures to or quotations of, assuming that there was like a really broad kind of familiarity with some of those lines, and then I panicked, worrying that people don’t know that, you know, like there’s a line in one of the poems, ‘Don’t say Reconciliation Action Plan, say fuck the police’, which is a quotation, or it’s like a reference to a really famous Sean Bonney poem, ‘ACAB Lullaby’. And so I never want people to think that I’m attempting to plagiarise or anything like that. That’s, that’s definitely not something that’s going on. But I’d say that there are like, I would have read, like, specifically for this collection, including children’s books, I probably would have read about 60 different books. So there’s a lot of that research in there. But yeah, I could pick out on any page, even if it’s a page which is almost completely my own words and there’s no even references to anything else, I could, I could unpack where everything’s come from and where everything’s been, what sparked that particular thought or notion, and nobody will ever ask me to do that because it will take forever. But I’m pretty, I’m pretty meticulous around direct plagiarism, but I have a lot of fun messing around with things. So like there’s a poem called ‘Fern Up Your Own Gully’. A lot of that’s jokes about the trailer for the Fern Gully film. And you can find, you can find all of that stuff on YouTube, which is a weird trip once you teach your YouTube algorithm that kind of Australiana old stuff. So I don’t recommend it, but it can be fun. So, yeah, the very complex answer to that is, I can assure everyone that there’s no plagiarism in the book, but every page is informed by, like, a lot of reading and my own weird contemplations of that rating. So, yeah.

Ellen Cregan: And as a, as my reading experience, you also kind of play collage with, um, with phrases and like, phrases in the cultural kind of moment that we’re having, so ‘Acknowledgement of Cuntery,’ I love that poem so much. But you’re really, you are using that collage, that’s collage or found word approach with, with, you know, the, that sort of cultural appropriation, and those empty pre-meeting acknowledgement of countries that we’ve all sat through. I just love that so much and the way that you, you take these things that we’re all so familiar with because they just repeat so much in our lives, and you made it into something really impactful. I thought that was great.

Evelyn Araluen: Thank you.

Ellen Cregan: Another question. ‘Congrats on your book launch Evelyn, can you please advise what age Dropbear is for? I’ve put it on the request list of my local library to read it to myself as an adult, but I’m also interested in the nieces and nephews reading it at some stage too, but at the right stage.’

Evelyn Araluen: That is actually a really great question and one that I had to work out myself just last week, I was just up in the Gold Coast for the StoryFest Children’s Literature Festival, which was a really cool experience. And I was initially, like, incredibly panicked and confused because I never really intended this book to be read by anyone that much younger than me. I didn’t think this book was going to be read by that many people at all. So I’m kind of adjusting my expectations just as we go along. But I had some really incredible conversations with young people when I was there through that festival. And, you know, kids who are about like 13, 14. And I discussed my work and I discussed the general kind of phenomenon of this book, really just being about trying to find languages, however complex, to talk about something that you love, however problematic. And they got it. And I was really paranoid that it would be overwhelming, and the style would be ostracising and that they would feel very excluded or alienated from a work like this, particularly as it was throwing quite a lot of anger and rage at them for something that they’re only, like, now slowly starting to understand, what their, what their relation to those issues might be. But I had a lot of young people, like, telling me that they were very excited to be reading it, and like, sitting in the library when I was in there going through it. So I’d say that, like, I would encourage if people want to share this book with young people, I would encourage that to be as part of a conversation. There are some poems that can absolutely be read for quite young audiences—I’ve had… (Inaudible) I’ve had a couple of poems taught to (Inaudible) students, but, yeah, it’s, it’s kind of intended for a, it’s intended for whoever feels ready to have that conversation, and sometimes a bit of support around that would be, would be a good thing. So, yeah, get it for the nieces and nephews if you’re feeling like you’d like to talk to them about it, I suppose.

Ellen Cregan: I think we’ve got time for one more question from the chat, and Meaghan has anticipated one of my questions. Thank you, Meaghan. ‘Evelyn, you’ve mentioned some wonderful writers and pieces of writing that have influenced or inspired you. Are there any other writers or pieces of writing you’ve enjoyed recently that you’d like to recommend? After everyone’s read your book, or course.’

Evelyn Araluen: Ah, yes. Thank you for that. Ah, yeah. So just off the top of my head, the two books that I’m reading at the moment, Adam Thompson’s Born Into This. And Adam and I did the Next Chapter alongside each other, and I love his storytelling, I love his short stories. So I’ve been really enjoying reading that, particularly when I saw, like, the early development of that work. And another one, and I swear, I’m not just trying to sell UQP, but I’m incredibly excited that just how Driftpile Cree Nation poet and essayist Billy-Ray Belcourt has been published in Australia for the first time. And so I think at this stage it’s just his latest essay collection, which I’ve now forgotten the name of… it might be This Wound is a World or something like that. That’s one of the titles of his books. But it’s a really stunning collection of essays. And I have, I have really loved, I’ve loved reading that recently. But yeah, I also like, it’s a good—so far it’s already, like, a really strong year for poetry. Ella O’Keefe and Elena Gomez have both just released beautiful new collections. So I’m enjoying those too. So I think we’re going to have a really good poetry year. But we’ll, we’re just at the start of it, so we’ll sort of see how, see how that goes. But yeah, definitely check out Adam’s book and check out Billy’s if I can ever work out its title, and I’m really sorry because I loved that book. So, sorry.

Ellen Cregan: I think it’s very fair to have a moment of appreciation for UQP right now as well, because they are publishing some truly wonderful books at the moment—of course, yours, but even the past couple of years they’ve been really publishing some excellent and important work, Tony Birch’s book, all of that stuff.

Evelyn Araluen: Yeah, and he’s got another two, like, I think another two coming out this year, because he’s insane, apparently, and can just pump those out. (Ellen laughs.) So I’m very, I’m also really excited to read those pretty soon.

Ellen Cregan: And that’s poetry, isn’t it, Tony’s?

Evelyn Araluen: One’s poetry and believe one is another novel. So that’ll be exciting.

Ellen Cregan: Brilliant—well that’s something to look forward to for all of us.

Evelyn Araluen: Yeah.

Ellen Cregan: I’m going to ask you one more question, and it’s going to be a big question just to wrap up. Just, just for fun. Why not. What’s your favourite thing about writing poetry?

Evelyn Araluen: I think…I do, and I know I keep harping on about community and shit, and it kind of probably comes off as like a false modesty. But honestly, I do really feel like what I love about writing poetry is reading other people’s poetry and having conversations with other poets, going to launches and events and these conversations and engagements. And it might just be because a poem and even a collection of poetry, it’s something that you can wrap your head around and kind of enter into, into feelings and dialogues with. It’s like, if I if I was hanging around with a bunch of novelists, I feel like we’d be talking about character and plot and these big, big things. But with poetry, in the poetry community, like, we spend so much time just talking about language, and talking about concepts, and the tiny ways that we’ve tried to break things apart or understand things a little bit better with our own work. And that, that is really precious for me, and I love that. And then, like, maybe the kind of the secondary answer to that, I’ve become quite comfortable with writing about things that I really struggle to be vulnerable about in any other context. So I’m actually like, you know, I don’t know if people would necessarily think this, but I am really bad at expressing how much I care about the people in my life. I like, you know, my boyfriend tells me he loves me and I’m just like, ‘that’s nice! I need to leave, I have an appointment somewhere’. But then I’ll just go and, like, write him like ten poems and then just like send him a Google Drive folder and be like, ‘you can look at it if you want’. So poetry, like a hundred percent gives me a space to access feelings and emotions that I am just like, I always try to be just way too stone cold in real life. So if I didn’t have that, I would probably have to go to even more therapy. So I like that is, generally speaking, a more affordable way of doing a mental health care plan, that’s my third answer.

Ellen Cregan: (Laughs.) I love that, three beautiful answers, but so wholesome and pure, that that’s how you express your love. I love that. That’s really nice. And I think a beautiful way to end this conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, I could talk to you for many more hours. Alas, not today, but yeah, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and the audience’s questions. Thank you to the audience for your questions, they were excellent. And I hope everyone has a lovely night. And thank you again, Evelyn.

Evelyn Araluen: Thank you!

Alice Cottrell: That was the March First Book Club edition of the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. thanks to Yarra Libraries for hosting this online event. We’ll be back soon, but while you’re waiting you should drop in on the KYD website for new commentary, criticism, memoir, interviews and reviews.

If you are in a position to, please consider supporting KYD by becoming a member. you’ll receive exclusive access to members-only content as well as heaps of great perks and discounts, while also supporting independent Australian publishing. Thanks for joining us, see you next time!