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10 Questions for Andy Jackson and Gaele Sobott

a sloth-slow strength stretches like lines of longitude / sighing
    through my lingering life and other lives before / oh above
    and parallel to mine   gently curving  /  a fierce kink in
     meridians of knowledge  /  systems fixated on fixes
—from "how do we protect the mutant from annihilation by the 'normal'," Volume 64, Issue 4 (Winter 2022)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
Andy Jackson: It's hard to remember what my earliest pieces of writing were. But I will always remember the first time I explicitly spoke about my bodily difference in a poem, and read it out in public. The opening lines, “I have a hunch / that curvature / can be aperture . . .” came to me in a rush, as if one step ahead of where I was at. It was terrifying and exciting to speak these words—they told me that what culture thinks is “less than” can actually be a source of insight. I'm still grappling with the implications of that, in my writing and in my life.

Gaele Sobott: I wrote poems and short stories when I was at school in Australia, some for the school magazine, that kind of thing. I left school and we moved to Botswana in the late seventies. The first short stories I published were in the South African magazine, Staffrider. "The Hill" was about a young couple’s encounter with Kgale Hill just outside of Gaborone (Botswana), it’s known as Lovers’ Hill, Lentswe la Baratani. Everyone knew that you weren’t to point at the hill or climb it. There were variations but basically the local narrative was that two young lovers were denied permission to marry, they climbed the hill and disappeared. "Hide Them Under The Bed" was about the 1985 attack by South African Apartheid forces on Gaborone. I saw them murder our neighbours, two women, shooting into their house, throwing grenades, then blowing the place up with a limpet mine. I hid my daughters under the bed, one was a baby, the other a toddler. As news of the twelve people the South African forces killed became known, I heard that soldiers had bayoneted a young man who was hiding under a bed. I revisited these traumatic events recently and wrote another short story in remembrance of the two young Batswana women who were killed, Gladys Kelope Kesupile and Eugenica Kakale Kobole.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
AJ: Chronologically, the poets who have influenced me most strongly would be Sylvia Plath, Gregory Orr, Judith Wright, Adrienne Rich, Martin Harrison, Robert Adamson, Jane Hirshfield, Jeet Thayil and M NourbeSe Philip. Since I'm currently writing essays, I have to say I also love the poetic thinking and form of Anne Boyer's The Undying, Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby and Sarah Sentilles' Draw Your Weapons.

GS: From the age of about twenty five to thirty five, I mainly read women writers.  I devoured the diaries of Anais Nin that were in the University of Botswana library, huge, heavy books that I had to read in the library. There are so many writers and poets who have influenced the way I write now. Bessie Head, Anna Kavan, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Ursula le Guin, Octavia Butler, Adrienne Rich, Jean Binta Breeze, Grace Nichols, Lorna Goodison and Louise Bernice Halfe are some that come to mind. Spillover and The Tangled Tree by David Quammen have had a definite impact on my writing. As a child I read heaps of fairy tales and traditional tales from around the world. Those stories formed a base related to oral storytelling that continues to inform my writing.  It’s a never-ending process. Writers like Nnedi Okorafor and Rivers Solomon influence me.

What other professions have you worked in?
GS: When I was nineteen, twenty, I worked sorting mail in the post office for a few years, factory work at various times, retail, office admin and bookkeeping in a wide range of situations. I taught at tertiary and community level for about fifteen years. Other than that no professions as such. I founded and still run a small disabled arts organisation. I’m winding it down now. In between looking after children and earning money to survive, I’ve always written.

AJ: I've worked in the Australian federal public service in call centres and doing admin, been a proofreader at a legal publisher, worked in libraries (public and medical), and about twenty years ago I co-managed a cafe and venue in inner Melbourne called Good Morning Captain. It was tiny, a sinkhole for money, and it lasted only three years, but people still remember it fondly. These days, I teach creative writing, mentor other poets, write reviews, an unpredictable but fortunate patchwork.

What did you want to be when you were young?
AJ: When I was really young, I wasn't thinking about being anything; I was just getting by, reading, recovering from surgeries, daydreaming. I did well enough in Year 12 to get into University, and after a year I transferred into Law, but there was no work when I graduated. That was, I suppose, when I was first handed the two-edged sword of precarious income. I realised slowly, gradually, I was a poet and there was no getting away from it.

GS: I wanted to be an archeologist. I imagined scratching artifacts from the earth that told stories of how previous humans existed.

What inspired you to write this piece?
GS: This is a hard question to answer definitively. As a conversation, the poem is inspired by the space between us, the overlap where our concerns resonate and are amplified. It's shaped most by the insidious nature and continual presence of eugenics in society, and by a desire to find a voice for our agency. We began by deciding to write a double helix, to indicate our collaboration and our genetics—it was a form that both constrained and liberated our phrases.

AJ: This is a harder question than I imagined it would be. From my perspective, it's profoundly intuitive. I couldn't say what particularly inspired it, but it is shaped by a visceral aversion to all the forms eugenics takes, and by a desire to find hope without denial. The poem is essentially a conversation, a collaboration between myself and Gaele Sobott, so really it's inspired by the space between us.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
AJ: I have always, or at least since my body began to appear atypical, felt like I don't belong. Place is always a little bit out of reach, belonging a kind of horizon or mirage. This in itself is an influence. So, yes, wherever I am influences me; the anticipation of being stared at, the fatigue of moving around. Also, anywhere I can swim, but especially Golden Point Reservoir on a summer morning, the still water, the musk ducks, mindful exertion, the vast blue sky. Knots in unfinished poems sometimes come loose there.

GS: Semi-arid lands in Australia and southern Africa have always had a place in my psyche. The city of Gaborone in Botswana and various villages like Kanye and Serowe remain with me when I write. The Australian bush influences me and as far as urban spaces go, the western suburbs of Sydney seem to osmose into my writing.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
GS: Yes, sometimes I become obsessed with a piece of music and the mindset or emotion it creates informs my writing. There was a time I was going through deep grief after a friend died and I was listening to ‘Ivry’ by Soundwalk Collective and Patti Smith over and over again. It pulsed its way into a few poems I wrote during that period. I also played dark dub quite a bit. Still do. That helps me get in the mood, and imagine surreal situations. Other times, I just need quiet.

It’s too late now but if I were to come back in another life, I’d like it to be as a jazz and blues singer. I may be wrong about this, but I think I remember Meshell Ndegecello describing Sarah Vaughan’s voice as being as voluptuous as a juicy pear. I’d like to sing with a voice as voluptuous as a juicy pear.

AJ: I love the angular unconscious collaboration of music while writing. It's a delicate balance, finding music that embodies the atmosphere and emotion I'm writing from or towards, but also that doesn't distract me with lyrics. I find myself listening to artists like Richard Skelton, Johann Johannsson, Rothko, Julia Kent, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Brambles, Rachel's, and Harold Budd.

I did play bass guitar in my 20s (perhaps the easiest instrument to be at least competent in), and I love how music can reach depths of the body that words can't. Not that I'm about to diversify. There's plenty of music in language, and its limitations are part of its appeal.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My children who zoom in when the meaning is unclear, my friend, Sharmilla Beezmohun in London, who is an editor, promoter and writer and has been assisting me for over thirty years now, and the wonderful women at Loom Arts and Management, especially Elsie Mellor and Hannah Reekie. Also, Andy Jackson was the first to read a lot of my poems. I only started seriously writing poetry in 2019, Andy accompanied me at the beginning of my poetry journey. Something I am very grateful for.

AJ: My partner, who is also a writer and an artist. Her mind goes straight to the heart, and to the problems in the work I often brush over.

What are you working on currently?
GS: I have started a collection of surreal narrative poems where the action takes place at night.

AJ: The poem by Gaele and I, “How do we protect the mutant from annihilation by the 'normal'?”, is part of a collaborative writing project I've been steering, under the Writing the Future of Health Fellowship. Writers with experience of disability, neurodiversity and chronic pain have come together to create poems and essays—diagnosing the current systems, and imagining therapeutic futures.

I've also just begun a book of essays, with the working title of Hunches: Thinking Through a Body.

What are you reading right now?
AJ: In the world of poetry, I'm slowly wandering through the breathtaking anthology The Ending Hasn't Happened Yet, edited by Hannah Soyer (which I was lucky enough to be a part of), and the fierce and sensitive Clean by Western Australian poet Scott-Patrick Mitchell. In prose, I'm looking forward to starting How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell (it's about time!).

GS: I just finished The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey and reread The Famished Road by Ben Okri. The two books I’ve got lined up to read next are Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah and The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. I’m also reading poems by Jake Skeets from his collection, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers.


ANDY JACKSON is a poet, creative writing teacher, and the inaugural Writing the Future of Health Fellow. The poem “how do we protect the mutant from annihilation by the ‘normal’” was written in collaboration with Gaele Sobott as part of this fellowship. He has co-edited disability-themed issues of Southerly and Australian Poetry Journal, and his latest poetry collection is Human Looking, which won the 2022 ALS Gold Medal.

GAELE SOBOTT is a writer who lives on Dharug land, western Sydney. Her publications include Colour Me Blue and My Longest Round. Gaele received a 2020 fellowship from the City of Sydney to create internationally award-winning animated poems. She was shortlisted for the 2021 Queensland Poetry Awards Older Poets Mentorship and received a 2021 Varuna Writers Space fellowship. She is the founding director of Outlandish Arts.


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