Working with Words: Lorna Munro

Lorna Munro is a dynamic Wiradjuri/Gamilaroi artist/ educator working with visual arts, poetry, performance, radio, film, television, theatre and set design. Known for her cutting-edge poetry, she has been described as ‘a poet to watch’. She has worked on projects for Word Travels, the Redroom Company, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and is a professional program designer.

Lorna will be one of the speakers at this Saturday’s Next Wave Breakfast Club. We spoke to her about creating something from nothing, recharging your creative batteries at every chance you get, and why her poetry has been praised as ‘like a punch to the face’.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

A poem called ‘Fire Starter. … My Life’s Teacher’ in the University of Sydney’s Southerly Journal. Then A Handful of Sand: Words to the Frontline, an anthology collected and edited by Uncle Lionel Fogarty and Ally Cobbey Eckermann.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is creating something from nothing. A blank page with words written on it becomes a performance piece or can even lead to publishing and get your work out there for others to relate to and connect with. The possibilities are endless.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The worst part of my job is getting up in the middle of the night and writing. I hate and love this at the same time, you know just before sleep all the great ideas flood through or even trying to write while walking the busy city streets of Sydney, something I always tell myself not to do, yet I find myself doing all the time.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

The most significant moment in my writing career was one of the first times I had performed a poem in another country. There were many people translating what I was saying in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic and I remember thinking that people would not understand what I was saying in this poem. After I finished I had asked a friend from Brazil what he had thought of my performance and he said that he could understand what I was saying even speaking in another language because he could read the emotion that was there.

I read something, a quote by Maya Angelou, shortly after that and I share it in every workshop I facilitate, she says ‘I’ve learnt that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel’ … Ah the power of poetry!

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

The best advice I have had on writing was real simple yet profound and this was to just keep writing. Romaine Moreton once told me to go home when I had asked for advice about writing in a public forum, lol goodways, but she said to find home and keep recharging those creative batteries every chance you get and I do.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

I was in Ireland in November last year and I had the privilege of performing at the Red Barn Gallery in Belfast, along with my deadly Tiddas (from Tiddas Take Back Collective). We cleansed the space before doing so. After the performance a young woman about my age came up to me and said that my poetry was like a punch to the face and then she thanked me for ‘punching [her] in the face’.

This was brilliant for me because sometimes I feel like I’ve been punched in the face one too many times by this colonial society and the many historical injustices against my people for the betterment of a nation living here in Australia and I was surprised that someone had felt that.

My poetry often reflects on many issues relevant to my life and community and is a way for me to channel frustration and other destructive emotions and I was touched that someone from a totally different historical and cultural context could feel what I was saying.

If you weren’t making your living by working with words, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for poetry. Probably working in administration or something meh like that.

There’s much debate on whether writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I think that skills can be shared. Yeah I don’t think anyone can teach you to write because as writers we are trying to express something, tell a story or have a yarn as I like to say. Pain cannot be measured and perspectives cannot be taught as a paint-by-numbers guide to writing and so experiences and human interaction are key.

When I facilitate poetry workshops I like to say that I am passing on knowledge that was passed on to me, which is all you can do really, is pass on advice that was productive.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Just keep writing, no matter what time it is. Capture that creativity while it’s there.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I get given a lot of books by many different people. If someone was to give me a present, nine times out of ten it will be a book. I have inherited books, bought books at garage sales, found them on streets, stole them from libraries. Yes, I have sourced my books from everywhere!

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

If I could go to dinner with a fictional character it would be William Shakespeare’s Puck and we would talk about where he sources his organically grown ingredients and herbs and how he uses an ancient economy based on bartering and trade. He would tell me about all the wicked tricks he has played on people and all of the dumb things famous people have done because of him and we would laugh and test out some of his potions on ourselves. LOL.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

The book that has had the most impact on my life would have to be the first book I ever read from cover to cover, which was The Autobiography of Malcolm X; I was eight. It made me cry, it made me laugh, it made me think. Reading this at a young age astounded me: the uncompromising voice, the strength and integrity that I was reading about inspired and pushed me into public speaking and writing in primary school.

Debating team supplemented with poetry all at once was like learning how to breathe fire. I guess I mastered these skills early on, which has given me an advantage when performing, speaking or writing and so, as they say, the rest is history.

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