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“I’ve never really left poetry, I think if I did it would shift my entire being”, Luke Davies says, reflecting on his life and writing with the reissue of his first collection of poetry, Four Plots for Magnets.

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Luke Davies’ name is commonly associated with his best known work Candy, the cult novel and film adaptation for which he co-wrote the screenplay. His various other achievements include five collections of poetry and two later novels. He also writes regular film reviews for The Monthly and now lives in Los Angeles, where he writes and edits screenplays.

Davies has made time in his hectic Sydney Writers’ Festival schedule to chat to me about his work. He perhaps has more events than any other writer at the festival. “If not most, equal most”, he says. As mentioned, among his key appearances Davies is launching the reissue his first collection of poetry Four Plots for Magnets at the festival. This collection was first published when he was just 20 years old and still studying at the University of Sydney. In its original form it was a booklet of thirteen poems, but the reissue also includes 53 previously unpublished poems written around the same time, as well as a foreword by Davies and an afterword by the original publisher, S. K. Kelen.

It has been a rainy day, but when we sit down to talk the sun has finally come out. We find space at an outside table at the Sebel Hotel, overlooking the harbour, where the calm of late afternoon sunshine meets his contemplative air.

What’s it like looking back on your first collection, when you’ve done so much since?

Well the weird thing, or the beautiful thing, because it’s both weird and beautiful, is that I’ve been spending a lot of time looking back on this stuff. Stuff that I haven’t looked at in 30 years. It’s horrifying, because a lot of it’s really bad, or unfinished, and because I work things harder now; more self-monitoring and self-editorialising. Pretty much every single poem has a bad line in it, something that’s unmusical or clunky, but on the other hand they just are what they are, and they are extremely youthful. So yeah, the positive thing is not only that these are okay, but that I was on this journey already. So now that I have a career there is a sense of delayed validation; that I was on this same path already.

If you’re on the same path, are there the same reasons for writing? The same inspirations?

Well, yeah. It’s not like I’ve taken big right-angled turns at any point. It feels like there’s a weird continuity in everything that happens. It’s like I knew at thirteen that I was a writer. I see the thread of the kind of poet I was planning to become, or wanted to become. And the concerns, sort of like, what do you write about – love, death, and existence, in various forms. Steve Kelen, the original publisher, wrote in the afterword, that these poems are ‘invocations’, he said they were ‘unabashedly romantic’. [Laughs]. I don’t know if I agree with that. But already at nineteen I was obsessed with the metaphysical poets – John Donne, Andrew Marvell. Someone once said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re an ecstatic poet’, and I like that. Giving yourself labels, that’s kinda dumb, but recognising these patterns that go back to 13 years old is a completely amazing feeling. And the reissue puts it all in my face. It’s a bittersweet feeling.

How did you get published when you were twenty?

Well, it was as close to self-publishing as you can get. Steve Kelen was about four years older than me, and had three books published and I was so impressed. Essentially, he chose the poems and got the ISBN, and I typeset the book and went to printers and everything. But the original reason was that I was a little poetry-head when I was 14, 15, 16. I was the scared little kid up the back of readings. It’s not like I was even meeting anyone. But when I started at Sydney Uni I started meeting people like Steve Kelen.

Now that you’ve been looking back to the start of your career with the reissue, what are you looking forward to next?

Well, there’s such a bunch of next things. I have a long overdue novel with my publishers. And it’s sort of turned into an overdue couple of novels. But I haven’t dived back in because for the past few years it’s been a stream of ‘pay the rent’ jobs – film reviews, and my reputation’s building as a guy who can fix films. You know, like spot the problems in a script and work out how to fix it, and also carry it out. I’ve never been a money chaser, but I want to live comfortably. And I want to do the things that will allow me to write poetry. I never got into the world of academia, which would have been one path for a person like me. I kind of took a bigger risk and went to LA. And I’m obsessed with film; I’m kind of like an Asperger’s-like cinephile. Not entirely. But film makes me very happy. So the idea of writing them and making them is an aim, a dream of mine, and that sort of seems to be beginning to happen.

Is making films still linked to this idea of making money?

There’s an element of it. But it’s the best compromise possible. Working in film is a million times better than anything I can think of. I’ve been lucky, since those bad times, the Candy years, I’ve never written anything that has been hard or painful to write. But I’ve never really left poetry, I think if I left it then that would shift my entire being, I can’t even really imagine it. You know, it’s like they say, if you’re a poet when you’re 20 it’s because you’re 20, and if you’re a poet when you’re 50 it’s because you’re a poet.

You’ve been a poet for a long time. What do you think of the Australian poetry scene at the moment?

Yeah, there’s kind of a poetry renaissance going on here. There are all these kids, wow that sounds so condescending, there are all these young people who I feel are revitalising the scene. The transition that’s happened with the internet in the last 15 years has meant that there are whole new ways of connecting poetry with people. It’s the younger age group that are naturals with the technology who can create a world were poetry can happen in physical spaces, and also in this world beyond that, this completely connected virtual world. It makes it less of an obscure specialised thing that’s only advertised on telegraph poles, and it also means that there is a lot more crap out there. It used to be self-selective because it was really hard to get your work read; you had to be persistent if you were really a poet. But all that stuff sorts itself out in the end.


Four Plots for Magnets is published by the Sydney based poetry imprint Pitt Street Poetry.

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