'Fast Five' Interview with Kathy Parker

Wildlings today we've got a bite-sized chat between Managing Editor Amanda McLeod and Featured Artist Kathy Parker - they're talking poetry as catharsis, literacy magic, and the art of the spoken word performance.

Amanda McLeod: Your collection The Unravelled Heart explores some really intense moments. How did you balance the catharsis of writing it with knowing that information would be out in the world?

Kathy Parker: The Unravelled Heart was not something I set out to do intentionally, as such. Poetry had become an outlet and a means of healing for me, but it was never something I considered myself to be – a poet. Then I began to publish my poems online, and had an outpouring of response from women who could relate to my words, and found healing inside of them. Over a number of months I had countless messages from both men and women asking if I had a book they could purchase, so I decided to put together this collection and send it out into the world. It was difficult to write of such intense things; I felt vulnerable and exposed at times, but also found a sense of freedom in no longer being shackled to the shame of my past. And I think knowing the profound effect my words had in the healing of others helped to be able to put aside my own fears and find peace in knowing whatever negative reactions came from sharing so much of my own journey would be overridden with the positive outcome of helping others on their journey.

AM: You have a background in literacy instruction (a topic close to my heart). How do we inspire an intrinsic love of reading and writing for their own sake in our results-driven society


I think technology, for all its positives, has become the biggest roadblock our society has come up against in regard to fostering a love of reading and writing; not just in our school-aged children, but even the tendency we have to scroll through a news feed at night as opposed to picking up a book – which I can be just as guilty of at times. It really does have to start early; the years between 0-5 are so foundational and it’s there we can form a lifetime love of literature – reading to our children from birth, telling stories, teaching them basic literacy skills and playing games that consolidate their learning. Teachers can only do so much with the time and resources they have and when we rely on the education system alone to inspire a love of reading and writing we’re doing our children an injustice. It really does start with us; rekindling that passion in our own lives and passing it down through the generations.

AM: You're a talented spoken word poet, and you mention in your guest post the struggle with not having as much 'on the page' to show for your writing. When you're creating a spoken word piece, how do you know you're on the right track? What's the clue that the magic is happening?

KP: Everyone is likely to be different in the way they create a spoken word piece but for me, because they’re usually 2-3 minute pieces, I find it easiest to draft an outline to begin with, kind of a bare bones first draft, and then fill it in section by section. I usually shift sections around and often something I think belongs in the middle stands out as THE finishing line so it gets moved around – it’s a lot of trial and error and the only way I really know if it’s working is to read it aloud as I go. Like all poems there needs to be a balance of imagery, metaphor and music; not necessarily rhyme but cadence. It’s something your ear becomes better trained for the more you listen to spoken word performances – you can just kind of hear the magic as it finally begins to fall into place and you just know.

AM: Can you give us your best tips for a successful spoken word performance?

KP: Don’t forget your lines and go completely blank in an important heat for a national competition!! (may or may not have happened to me last year in the Australian Poetry Slam competition). But seriously, there are so many factors that come together to make a successful performance. There’s obviously the technical side of things – memorising lines and delivering them confidently, fluently and with the right measure. But I actually think it’s more important to connect with the audience, which I feel comes from authenticity in both words and delivery. Some people are brilliant performers who can perform flamboyantly with lots of movement and gesture and pull it off perfectly. Others only need to stand before the mic and deliver through word and emotion and are able to bring the house down from that alone. It’s important to find who you are as a performer and perform to your strengths, and within that, knowing who you are as a storyteller I feel is just as important. The best version of yourself as a performer will come when you stand on stage honouring your own voice and truth. 

AM: Finally, what's coming up in the writing world of Kathy Parker?

KP: This year has been a lot of spoken word performances and poetry slams, which I find takes a lot out of me; there’s a monumental amount of work that goes into not just writing 2-3 minute pieces, but memorising and performing 15-20 minute sets of them, and due to my remote location, every performance involves hours of travelling also, which is wearing in itself. So I’ll be taking the next few months a little easier and hopefully setting some performance dates for later in the year and early next year, but catching my breath in the meantime. I’d like to get back to writing and putting together a second poetry collection, I have so many poems started that I’m keen to finish and bring together in the one place. And also alongside my usual freelancing, which can often be more fast-moving than I’d like due to the turnaround of current news cycles, I’d like to work on some bigger feature articles that have been on my mind lately; ones that offer insight and reflection into relevant and important issues in our society.