Jarad Bruinstroop is our special guest this week at Spilled Ink. Jarad is an award-winning writer based in Meanjin (Brisbane). His debut poetry collection, Reliefs, won the 2022 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, with the judges calling it, ‘generous, composed, and full of heart’.
Jarad and Jasmine had a chat about the recent release of Reliefs in August 2023 and his writing career to date.
Congratulations on the release of Reliefs! I’ll start with the big question: when do you find the time to write?
Thank you very much! Ha, that is the million-dollar question for writers, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s the $18 000 a year question.
Honestly, I arrange my whole life around it. I only work part-time so that I have time to write. It means being pretty frugal. It’s definitely not for everyone but it’s what I need to do. I’m a very slow writer and I need all the time I can get. It’s also my favourite thing to do, so I’m happy to spend my time that way.
During my PhD, a scholarship bought me a lot of writing time and that’s one of the great boons of higher degrees for writers. I’m in awe of writers who write around full-time work and other responsibilities like parenting, etc, but that just ain’t me. Every few years I say I’m going to chuck it in for something that pays the bills, but I haven’t yet.
Were there any particular habits that helped you write Reliefs?
I think the most helpful thing I did was develop a writing routine that makes writing pleasurable. It also acts as a Pavlovian and almost ceremonial cue – something that signals: ‘this is writing time and it’s important’. I always get the diffuser going (I use the ‘mindfulness’ oil blend from Perfect Potion) and meditate for thirty minutes before writing (again, not for everyone).
I always write in the same place: the world’s most comfortable chair – a giant recliner that I can ensconce myself – in my study where I can shut the door.
Also, the chair has massive, flat arms where I stack great perilous towers of books that inevitably come crashing down on me. I don’t like to get out of my chair once I’m in it.
What was your inspiration behind the poems in Reliefs?
Reliefs is a mix of ekphrastic poems (poems that respond to other works of art) and confessional poems. What unites the two is an interest in Queer resilience and the Queer body.
The ekphrases, which were at the centre of my PhD, focus on the art and lives of gay male artists over the twentieth century prior to the AIDS crisis.
The more confessional poems draw, in part, on my experience of being a gay man growing up in the shadow of the AIDS crisis and the institutional homophobia of the 80s and 90s.
Beyond that, individual poems pick up on themes of physical and mental health, environmental catastrophe, and popular and Queer culture.
Is the finished book what you imagined when you started it?
Noooooo, lol. It’s both completely different and, I think, better than I imagined. The book I started writing, waaay back, was a multimodal collage-poem extravaganza. Some of the poems had been put through a shredder and then glued to the page. It was a whole other thing that I didn’t really have the chops to pull off at the time. It was probably experimentation for experimentation’s sake. I’m very glad things worked out as they did.
As the winner of both the 2022 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and the 2023 Val Vallis Award, what has your experience with winning awards been like?
It’s been pretty great, honestly. Literary prizes are by their nature unpredictable (I entered the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize three or four years in a row before I had any success) and there are always many worthy entrants.
I was extremely fortunate to win two awards in the space of a year and don’t expect I’ll win another one for a long time, if at all.
Of course, I dream of a time when literature is better funded in Australia and less money is concentrated in awards (I’m hopeful the new National Cultural Policy might contribute to this) but, in the meantime, I’m very grateful to have been chosen.
How important do you think it is for emerging writers to have a social media presence?
I’m sorry to say that I think it’s pretty important for all writers, though I’m very impressed by and envious of those who opt out.
For emerging writers, social media is often their only online presence, so I think it’s worth having something, even if it’s just an Insta or Twitter account (I will not be calling it ‘X’) with your bio and a post each time you publish something.
Perhaps it’s particularly important for poets who tend to get less attention than other writers and usually have to do a fair bit of self-promotion. I wouldn’t be on there if I wasn’t a writer, but I have made some really lovely connections with other writers and their work online, so there is a community to be found.
If you’re feeling unsure, you can always follow me – I follow back!
I understand that you’re also the 2022 University of Queensland Fryer Library Creative Writing Fellow! How has that affected your writing practice and career?
That fellowship was an extraordinary opportunity. The money bought me months of writing time which helped me feel confident enough to branch into fiction, so it had a very direct impact on my practice.
I was also able to access the Fryer Library special collections, which was a dream, and undertake a mentorship with Matthew Condon, which was extremely valuable as you can imagine.
The fellowship isn’t running this year, but it might be back in a new form in the future, so keep an eye out. Social media can also help writers find opportunities like this fellowship.
As a Creative Writing Fellow, I believe you’re working on a ‘poet’s novella’ that combines queer and wartime themes. It sounds intriguing! How is the project going?
Fantastic – I’m loving it. It’s turned into the most unruly novella suite about Queer people living in wartime Brisbane that experiments with form and does all kinds of weird stuff.
What are two of your favourite books – the one you wish you had written, and the one you read for comfort?
I wish I had written Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. It begins, ‘He came after Homer and before Gertrude Stein, a difficult interval for a poet.’ Can you believe that? For some reason, Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K is my comfort read. I could probably take that to therapy, but I won’t.
Interviewer: Jasmine Lewers is an emerging writer in Brisbane who studies creative writing at QUT. She is passionate about gender theory, domestic noir, and the violin. She is currently working on a murder mystery novel that combines all three.
Editors: Suzy Darlington