Saturday, October 17, 2015

Interview with poet SARAH MCKELLAR by Dave Wolff

Interview with poet SARAH MCKELLAR

I wanted to begin this interview by asking how long you have been writing poems. What made you interested in expressing yourself through that medium and was there anyone who inspired you as your writing progressed?
I have been writing poetry starting as a teenager. It began as typical “angsty teenager” poetry but became a medium in which I could properly express myself despite not fitting into conventional means and morals. I felt it was the one place that I was truly free to express myself. As I began writing my inspirations were essentially typical. I enjoyed and appreciated Baudelaire, but the original French rather than the English translation which really did fail to explain the poetic beauty of the words and the meaning behind it. I also appreciated a number of classical works which above all, would be Shakespeare. He expresses himself in ways that our society lacks the means and verbal grace today. Despite the fact that I do swear like a trooper if annoyed! As I got older and more confident I chose, as a matter of personal preference, to really research and understand the Asatru works which I still identify and read as a source of knowledge and the morals are something I choose unconditionally to live my life by.

How much angst did you have that needed to be released through your poems when you started? How much of this angst was worked out of your system before your work began to grow?
My angst primarily came from a number of sources, two of which were being a teenager and bored shitless, but yes, it was considerable and took me until my late twenties to get away from. I began writing poetry at age 14 and found that, despite everything else, it became a matter of being able to express myself than a matter of whether it was approved of or not. These words were truth, a value which is important whether it be based on outsider's personal truths or not. If it's the truth to yourself, you have no reason to be apologetic, nor apologize for your opinions but bear in mind you are always responsible for your actions. In my eyes, true mastery does not come from what other people perceive as acceptable but the raw emotion and the pure feeling behind subjects which inspires to not only strive to work better and improve, but develop as people. I firmly do not believe that we can ever stop learning, whether the sources come from something as purely honest as a child's words or as learned as those who have gone before us. I found black metal, writing and Asatru more constructive resources rather than simply seeking other pursuits which did not interest me. Being a rather emotional and emotive person by nature, I find I do write better under stress as I can express what I feel needs to be said correctly. Especially when I don't agree with a judgment in our current legal system.

Were you studying Baudelaire and Shakespeare as part of a college curriculum or was this something you did on your own time?
Baudelaire and Shakespeare was something I chose to study in my own time. I have been always drawn to Shakespeare, and his mastery of the language is something I enjoy purely from a literary point of view, not to mention being a hopeless literary romantic at the best of times. It was not part of my college curriculum; I chose to start reading Shakespeare and Baudelaire as a teenager, and simply it continued from there, quite simply for the pure enjoyment of a true wordsmith. Admittedly, it was studied as part of our high school curriculum and got to enjoy to indulge my favourite literary past-time. I found escapism in the language and resonance and quite essentially- went from there in terms of writing.

Do you speak both French and English? In what way does Baudelaire’s original French printing show the poetics lost in the English translation?
I would like to claim to speak French but am admittedly very rusty in verbal language. But as a rule, I understand written language and verbal communication by others. This comes from a lack of native speakers to communicate with, as I do believe that if you should choose to speak a language, do so, but learn the exact terms without risk of insult to the native speakers, as well as truly being able to grasp the meaning and context of what you are saying! I just find that the poetry of the language is lost in the English translation. As French seems to be naturally more expressive and the linguistic descriptions more apt, this is lost in English as we do seem to lack the descriptive nature of the language required in translation. I will admit to finding it soundly lacking and not really capturing the entire picture and descriptiveness of the language used. I understand a number of languages but do not speak them as understandably as I consider it rude not to be able to conduct yourself in the language correctly-, choose not to speak them rather than risk offence. However I have had many years of fun confusing people with my "Franglish" as an ex chef and barmaid- guaranteed way to get people to leave you alone as well as useful for swearing at FOH when they bring in incorrect orders.

Which of Shakespeare’s plays are the most well-written and tell the story most vividly? How would you describe his means of self-expression in said plays?
I cannot really pick a favourite as such, because each play and poem: whether co-written or otherwise: genuinely does have its merit, weaknesses and strengths. They all are worth merit and are part of literary history. I believe every play represents a culturally important shot of the current attitude of the time, which could prove invaluable in understanding the mentality as well as literary attitudes and restrictions of the time. This proves invaluable when researching history and looking at cultural context- Shakespeare’s work, among many others are a valuable tool in many ways not only as a literary appreciation- but in a way of connecting us to the past, whether it be good or bad.

Describe in more detail the Asatru works you have been researching. How do you generally identify with these writings?
I have to admit this is my absolute favourite question of the interview as Asatru has gotten a remarkably bad rap lately. I would first recommend reading all, and ALL of the sagas. This gives you a solid background in the values and things to respect if you are serious about Asatru- and will above all help you identify with our values. From then on I would recommend finding (if you are involved with a heathen house) someone more senior to teach you. I had the benefit of someone teaching me while I was younger and found it absolutely invaluable. As a solitary practitioner myself, for close to 12 years now, I would recommend Diana L. Paxton’s writings; after all, we all need to know how to write our own rituals. I identify with the writings very strongly as it is something I firmly believe- however do not make the assumption I am "folkish" as I'm not racist- everyone annoys me equally! For runework and seidr, I would recommend "At the Well of Wyrd" by Edred Thorsson (which I stumbled upon in an antique book store) or the easier to track down "Runes: Theory and Practice" by Galina Krasskova. I also read historical accounts, fiction (which admittedly I normally pick holes in), and watch documentaries and TV shows to keep my knowledge intact. After all, Asatru was explained to myself by my first mentor as "The Religion with homework"- he then proceeded to dump every single saga in my lap and tell me to read them. You can never have enough knowledge was an important lesson I gained through this.

At what antique book store did you come across Thorsson’s "At the Well of Wyrd" and what made you decide to pick it up?
I found Thorsson's "At the Well of Wyrd" at a second-hand bookstore/antique store in Southport in QLD. I was always drawn to it due to the beautiful antiques in the windows. I couldn't resist and walked in, and after spending a lot of time wandering around looking at numerous books and looking at the antiques, they asked if I needed any help. Obviously, I got pointed in the right direction and found a few absolute gems which are still part of my valued book collection. "At the Well of Wyrd" was one of them and when I put it on the counter along with a few others, the owner immediately identified with me. From then on, I was always welcome to come in and talk about the new second hand books they have had brought in.

What is the name of that antique book store and how long has it been around? What other rare treasures can be found there?
It was located at 162 Scarborough St, Southport. However, that information may be incorrect now; unfortunately new owners took over it, so I may not be able to supply you with the correct name. I found numerous second edition books published in their primary language as well as a few books including the old version of the "Gastronomique" in its original form, essential for any keen chef/ cook.

At what point did you decide it would be acceptable to express yourself through your writing? Do you still have copies of the poems you were writing in your early teens?
I began expressing myself through poetry at the age of 14; it was simply easier to write than express in writing and not speak for fear of expressing inappropriate language towards those that chose to be deliberately antagonistic. I still have copies of the poetry I wrote in my early teens, but I don't really feel the need to go near them or read them- it's a time and a place I'd prefer not to revisit! However, I do still have copies of the poetry I wrote in later teenage years while living in the country. I began to take photographs and started writing nature inspired poetry. Despite what many people believe about Outback Australia, the scenery is absolutely beautiful and despite the bad reputation due to the apparent crime rate, Bourke is one of my favourite places in Australia. I hold many fond memories of being there; some of my dearest friends are from there but have since moved closer.

Was writing nature inspired poems the next step forward in your development? How would you capture scenery in your work?
Without a doubt. Nature has always inspired and calmed me, which was a huge step forward in my development. It was very much a vital part. I've always been highly appreciative of nature, to the point where I was able to be distracted by it. This normally happened mid-conversation, which was not really appreciated by the other party. I simply wrote about how the colours and the scenery made me feel. Taking photographs helped because they captured, in an admittedly slightly mediocre way as I am not that great at photography, the total sensory overload and the beauty would inspire me to write. If I need to feel re-inspired, I simply travel to a place that is filled with nature and look at the scenery which calms and recharges me. I then feel ready to write again. Either that or my puppy takes me for a "drag". We have come to the conclusion, until very recently; he walks me, I don't walk him!

What parts of nature were most of your poems inspired by?
It can be as simple as the sun shining in a way through the clouds that I like, down to the verdant shades of green expressed on the lawn due to the rain. Nature is beautiful and inspirational in every aspect. I do find however that I draw particular inspiration through the clouds and storms in particular. There happens to be something so unconditional about nature that fails words.

In your high school class where you studied their work, were there open discussions on the writings of Shakespeare and Baudelaire in between readings? How much input did you usually have into them?
There were definitely open discussions on Shakespeare, but Baudelaire wasn't studied at all. Baudelaire's work was something I enjoyed and read purely because I simply enjoyed and appreciated it, both poetry and essays. I found Baudelaire's connection to Wagner quite interesting. I found this out in later years and chose to do more research on it in the form of researching his essay "Richard Wagner et Tannhauser a Paris". In concerns to Shakespeare, I was not so much vocal in discussions but preferred to express myself through writing essays. I always did have a fair bit to say. I normally listened to everyone, took everything in and sat up the back taking notes. And then said something inflammatory or deliberately insensitive; it was too easy to get a reaction out of people who took themselves too seriously, not to mention entertaining! I particularly enjoyed abstract analysis of Shakespeare's work and analyzing the historical, literary and cultural contexts of the time; it's quite enjoyable to be able to be open to issues from a different context and think outside morals and current values of society.

What connections did you see between Baudelaire and Wagner when researching “Richard Wagner et Tannhauser a Paris”?
The connections I see primarily between Baudelaire and Wagner would that be Baudelaire identifies with Wagner on a personal level. Essentially, the devotion that would inspire Baudelaire, being self-taught and having no formal musical training, is rather inspirational. Baudelaire, in my opinion, identified Wagner as a musical inspiration and muse, if you would consider it. In his opening paragraph, Baudelaire asks for forgiveness of his lack of musical knowledge and further on acknowledges Wagner as "a man of genius" (please forgive my clumsy interpretation, with all due respect). Baudelaire appears to identify with Wagner as someone who is an "outsider"; as Baudelaire writes in his essay and would like to show his support for a fellow artist he feels is being ostracized due to Wagner's essential refusal to conform to the social contexts of the time, which at that point were very much being dominated by the upper class and rich. Baudelaire essentially seems to identify to Wagner as a fellow tortured and misunderstood artist- which naturally, he was himself. The entire essay is displayed at: I am not entirely comfortable elaborating on this due to primarily my lack of linguistic and translation skills; I believe it may diminish Baudelaire's words and reasons behind identifying with Wagner and would obviously like to respond properly with a correct and more accurate translation.

Do you see that people who are ostracized for refusing to conform turn out to have worthwhile things to say?
Not necessarily, it happens to be simply a matter of perception. Some of the wisest advice I have ever received came from a shearer in the middle of outback Australia. I believe it came in the form of "Stop being a cunt" (I assure you, it was warranted, although harsh as it sounds). Everyone has their own wisdom in their own way, and it's important to accept that. From all paths of knowledge come different truths and perceptions. There are people who have walked different paths to you, and if you ever doubt personal criticism; consider looking inside yourself for the reason you're really objecting to it. If it is simply because they are a horrible person, cut them out of your life. The gods give us strength and conviction for a reason.

So you would say you were inflammatory in class because you wanted people to think more about what they were reading?
I was inflammatory primarily because I was a little arse-hole and bored to boot. I desperately wanted to leave school and become a chef, which at that stage wasn't approved of. However, I think I just enjoyed stirring people up and then debating what they said while inflaming the entire class. It became a dare from classmates who wanted to see how long I could keep someone debating/arguing with me. I did close to no work, and spent the entire time of the class up the back being quiet, drawing, reading, or listening to see if I could inflame someone. At that stage, I didn't understand what it was like to work for something that you love, and being incredibly bored makes it easy to find other ways of amusing yourself. I had not broken that habit and still find it intensely amusing, especially when dealing with family, until naturally, being in my mid-twenties, I learnt the meaning of respect and holding my tongue. Which at times, is still very tempting when I speak to some people. As I have become older, I do value intelligent conversation and have a more firm appreciation of the arts in general.

Do you find it’s better to debate something intelligently and logically than being inflammatory for its own sake?
When it comes to being inflammatory, it's warranted in certain situations. I personally believe the best attitude to inflammatory people is remaining calm, their adrenalin will wear out long before your patience will. If you state the truth of the situation intelligently and concisely, it is by far a better option than absolutely losing it. Which I have been guilty of in the past; my temper was like an untamed beast. So yes, I do believe debating something intelligently and concisely is the preferred manner. If someone personally attacks you, you really are best to walk away and think about what they said. After all, everyone has their tolerance limit. If you feel the need to attack back, hold back and consider their motives. Then ignore them; after all, inflammatory people simply wish to inspire an inflammatory reaction. If they continue, plot and understand their motives before you consider your next action. However, a sharp wit can be mightier than a sharp sword, especially considering our current cultural context when murder is illegal!

What poems written by Baudelaire have made the deepest impressions on you? Has he had an influence on your poem writing?
My personal favourites are "La Muse Malade" and "Une Charogne"- Baudelaire's "Fleurs du Mal" is essential reading for anyone who wishes to write with such finesse and poetic description. I particularly relate to "La Muse Malade" after attempting to work with a case of writer's block recently due to personal circumstances. Baudelaire has most certainly been a source of inspiration and someone whom I would like to one day be able to express myself as beautifully linguistically, so instead of an influence, I consider him to be an inspiration. It must have been unbelievably inspiring living in a culture so alive and vibrant, not to mention so in touch with artistic creativity.

In what ways does reading Shakespeare help you personally connect with the past?
Having a very vivid memory, I can simply imagine what the times would have been like- and doing a lot of reading on the context of Shakespeare's time does help to understand his writings further, which I would recommend for anyone. It helps me connect with the past simply by reading his works to understand exactly how the belief structure would have been at the time, not to mention the sheer enjoyment of reading his works. It's pure literary escapism at its finest.

When did you start listening to 90s black metal? Were you listening to more bands from Norway or Sweden? What spoke to you about those bands and the genre in general?
I began listening to 90's black metal when I was approximately 15. From then on, I obviously got to know their influences and began listening to them as well. One of the first black metal albums I bought was "In The Nightside Eclipse" by Emperor, and from then on was absolutely obsessed with black metal. I eventually began listening to everything I was able to get my hands on, went to gigs and felt very much at home with black metal due to the sheer musicianship and to be quite frank it made me happy and calm. I absolutely adore what some people would consider chaotic music, but it resonates and inspires me. I didn't really have a preference, but initially I did listen to more Norwegian black metal. Obviously! It was far more kvlt. But thankfully as you get older you learn to be not so elitist and appreciate a broader spectrum.

It seems that the second wave of black metal came along when it was most needed, since it broke the mold of what extreme metal was expected to sound like and evolved into several different incarnations. How liberating do you think it has become now?
I believe that every musical movement requires change in order to develop, whether it be essential or otherwise. In the black metal scene, there will always be elitists who will accept nothing but the original raw black metal and will take their influences and attempt to replicate it, whilst putting their own interpretation on it. However, I do believe that every genre of black metal has its place and time for certain people who will choose to identify with it. Isn't that what creativity is about? It shouldn't be constructed by traditional forms, musical structure and not to mention, personal interpretation. After all, we are never really able to replicate exactly our influences as we all will have our different interpretations. I am trying to be diplomatic as there are some scenes of black metal I blatantly refuse to support due to my personal belief structure.

What subgenres of black metal do you refuse to support? And what do you think of black metal bands from different countries that incorporate native/traditional music into the genre?
I refuse to support suicidal black metal on principle. Suicide rips apart lives and there are so many misconceptions about suicide and mental health in general. I understand people who identify with it, but however, consider everyone who loves you before making that final decision. It may be a joke for some people but may be a heartbreaking reality for others. The fact is, most people who commit suicide are not weak as is the misconception; they have simply tried to be strong for too long. I don't find it funny or a joking matter in the slightest; whilst I still respect the musician's integrity: don't expect me to support you personally.

How would you describe the bad rap Asatru has received in recent years?
I think the main bad rap that Asatru and Asatruar have gotten simply come from the mis-education and misrepresentation of our faith due to the level of association with the Nazi movement and structure of belief. While there will always be that "Folkish" line of belief in Asatru, it's important to acknowledge the fact that not all of our houses and kindreds are essentially race-exclusive. While it is important to respect the beliefs of our "Folkish" brothers and sisters, it does not mean we all have to agree on this point. After all, respect is one of the nine noble virtues, which as Asatruar we should all aspire to. Any Asatruar worth their salt will tell you this. Adding to the fact that naturally we're not Christian, which is rather irritating that we're confined to a certain spectrum of belief when in reality religious acceptance should be a right in any reasonable society. Being Heathen in a dominant Christian society certainly has its challenges, particularly when we're portrayed as people who are unlawful, evil and satanic, and by that logic will absolutely steal your children to sacrifice to Satan. None of which is true naturally.

The satanic panic of the 80s and 90s seems to be dwindling, due to a greater number of people speaking in defense of religions that previously were condemned unchallenged by Christians not as informed as others. Today some Christians claim their freedom of religion is being violated because it is harder to indoctrinate people with their beliefs.

While I find it hard to contain my initial and admittedly rather childish reaction towards the minority of uneducated Christians claiming that their freedom of religion is being violated, I simply consider it a reaction to an issue that should be naturally expected. Admittedly with Christianity induced primarily by force, I do understand why they believe their rights are being violated as Christians are unable to no longer induce their religion by force. However, was this reaction not expected eventually despite their years of forcing their beliefs onto the unwilling? The religious arrogance and intolerance they perceive to be happening to the minority of Christians does not surprise me in the slightest. People cannot hold their true natures and beliefs back forever, despite what society has chosen to accept as "the done thing”, Christianity is not right for everyone. I personally never identified with Christianity even as a small child and despite pressure I had to remain true to myself. There is no point in stating your faith in something you will never identify with. You are better to remain true to your personal beliefs than a half- believing Christian. However, that does not give us the right to not have respect for true believers of other religions. They truly believe in their religion, and one of the Noble Virtues as a Heathen is Respect after all. I still will maintain the right to laugh at religious bigots and dismiss them for what they are; no one should have to put up with their conflicted issues. Heathen, Paganist, Wiccan, Satanic or otherwise, we all have our place.

What have you studied on the history of Asatru that differs from misconceptions of that belief system?
I can only speak for myself as a solitary practitioner. I do believe that the common misconception that the most common misconception is that all heathens are Nazis or unlawful. Having read; when my linguistic skills were better, and attempted to translate "Mein Kampf", it's not something I can personally identify on. I was unable to identify despite speaking to numerous Neo-Nazi groups since, I cannot understand the concept in the slightest. After all, one of our Noble Virtues is Respect; should we not be able to identify our brothers and sisters as true heathens despite their race? In reality, I don't believe It matters a bit to our Asa; you are either faithful or you are not. Unfortunately due to numerous sources, racism was rife in the Viking age and has continued in the form of the other school of Asatru which I cannot say I agree with or understand in the slightest. Race should never come into religion; we all have our own ideas and perceptions, and if people learnt to see with their heart and not their eyes, it would not cause so much conflict, which is a considerable problem.

Where do you plan to take your poetry in the near future, in terms of expanding your influences and improving your verse?
I plan on simply writing for pleasure and a creative means to express myself. If people happen to enjoy it, I will obviously be pleased and appreciative of the time that they have taken to read it. I've come up with a strategy recently, essentially to learn to write in all different styles, study everything that a certain author writes and then attempt to mimic it. I found numerous authors rather challenging, admittedly! It's not to attempt plagiarism, but simply to learn and more thoroughly appreciate more genres. But hopefully in time, I will be able to expand as a writer, and better learn to be more versatile.

Would you eventually like to see your work published in book form so people can read it on a larger scale?
Quite frankly, that has never really interested me. I simply write because I enjoy to do so and it makes me happy. If enough people are interested, I would be prepared to publish my work, but being a very solitary creature by nature (essentially a hermit!) I don't crave the attention but am very appreciative of the time that people take to work hard on doing so. And to be frank, there are far more talented people out there who deserve more recognition. One of my friends is one of them; she has tirelessly worked to hone her craft, and obviously it's a skill that I do respect. Dedication is an excellent trait in a person, and something to be respected.

Sarah McKellar on Facebook

-Dave Wolff

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