Josephine Rowe, a 'responsive' interview

LM ~ My first notes after I read East of Here, Close to Water – unedited:

‘You. He. She.

All the characters so close to memories – sensitive to the way they press upon the present.

Glimpses of a moment, rich – here and there. Empathy for a person – a man ‘howling on his doorstep’, a dancer, a woman waiting.

Sad vivid remembrances – relationships, lovers, emotions.

A little surprising magical element sparkling in the ordinary…

Changes, shifts, overtakings, missings, moving on and never moving.’

JR ~ I do seem to have an aversion to writing in the first person. And to naming my characters. Nameless characters are easier to relate to. I also try not to specify gender, when I can get away with it, as in Supposing. Writing in the second person feels much more natural to me than writing in the first person.

I’m big on little things. On finding beauty in the ordinary. On finding beauty in sadness.

A man came up to me after a reading last week to tell me that my writing made him sad. And I agree with the poet Sean Whelan – that sadness is a gift – but for some reason I still apologised.

He said, ‘No, no. It was beautiful. Thank you.’

I don’t think sadness can exist independently of hopefulness. Without hope there is only defeatism, which is not the same. If you’ve fully given up then there’s no room for sadness.

I think most of the stories in East of Here are very hopeful.

LM ~ ‘Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act’ – Leonard Cohen

JR ~ But we’re still acting, right? Only we’ve forgotten that we’re acting.

LM ~

JR ~ All of the fancy-dress parties which I’ve attended dressed as Rita Hayworth have ended badly. Especially the one whose theme was 1987, where I was dressed as Rita Hayworth on Prozac at her own funeral. That one ended particularly badly. Not surprising though, really.

LM ~ Self-publishing.

JR ~ Thank you, insomnia. For some reason I have more faith in myself at 3 in the morning. Call it delirium, if you want to. One particular 3 in the morning, I realised that self-publishing was in fact a valid form of publication.

Independently produced music and film are fairly well regarded, if not celebrated, whereas people tend to be skeptical of independently produced literature. I have to admit that I was initially among the skeptical, but it retrospect it seems ridiculous.

I do feel the need for validation – all art is a means of communication, and the only way of knowing whether you’ve communicated something effectively is for people to tell you, Yes, I understand this. Yes, this has moved me; I’ve taken something from it. And somebody willing to publish and essentially invest in your work is a confirmation of that. But several of the stories and poems that went into East of Here and Asynchrony had already been published, so I felt I already had that validation.

The main aspect of self-publishing which won me over was creative control – I knew exactly what I wanted these books to be in terms of length, content and appearance, and that a publisher would have little reason to see eye to eye with me, as it meant expensive paper stock and unusually short manuscripts. A bit of a gamble, and I’m not very well known.

I’m very happy with how the first two books have turned out, and how well they’ve been received. My friend John Skibinski very generously drew beautiful, intricate pencil illustrations for both East of Here and Asynchrony, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he does for the third book. I’m very much looking forward to finishing the third book. Maybe after this one I’ll approach a publisher.

LM ~ A clock.

JR ~ There are three clocks in my house and all are stopped – the grandfather at 9:49, the wall at 2:53, and the little square one on the mantelpiece at 7:41. I’m not sure what can be read into all that. I also seem to accumulate broken telephones. I suppose I’m a collector of things which have lost their purpose. At least their original purpose.

When something no longer has a function, can we call it art?

LM ~

JR ~ It’s unfortunate that my one and only party trick is seasonal. From February to October I’m a very boring person. But from November through to January! I am also much faster than most of these fine people.

LM ~ Not-dates.

JR ~ Suggested viewing for a not-date:


Requiem for a Dream

The Ordeal/Calvaire

The Cook the Thief His Wife and Her Lover

No Country for Old Men

Waltz with Bashir


Pretty much any war-related film will suffice, so long as it isn’t directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Avoid anything directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Or Jeunet & Caro, for that matter – somebody will inevitably invite somebody inside for coffee or to meet their pet cat or to check out their broken telephone collection, and there’ll be no going back from there.

LM ~ Overland @ 19.

JR ~ The first piece of writing I had published. But if poems were children, then that particular piece would be the daughter who leaves home at sixteen and calls now and then from a payphone in Far North Queensland asking to borrow money for rent on a house she won’t give the address to, and while she doesn’t really feel like mine anymore, I still feel that I’m responsible for her wellbeing so I say sure, sweetheart, what are your account details again?

LM ~ Being referred to as a ‘poet’.

JR ~ Hey – you’re that poet, aren’t you?

I’m sorry, it’s just that it always sounds like such an accusation. It also makes me feel like a bit of a fraud, as I’ve written next to no poetry recently. Poetic fiction, maybe, but not much in the way of poetry. The last poem I wrote looked like this:


I am sorry that

we have nothing beautiful

to say anymore.

Call me a poet once I have departed the City of Despondent Haiku.

LM ~ St Kilda.

JR ~ Jerry’s Milkbar (which is technically Elwood, but only just). The Astor Theatre. The greenhouse in the Blessington Street gardens. The fish in the greenhouse in the Blessington Street gardens. The man who walks his alpaca along Acland Street. My little house. My little cat. A bottle of wine with a friend at the end of the pier in the middle of the night at the beginning of summer when it’s too hot to sleep.

And of course, the fits in my stairwell. The people sleeping in my stairwell. Cars slowing down for me on Carlisle and Grey Streets even though I’d have to say my style of dress is grandma-chic. All the lunatics on the 96 tram. Not one pub I could really call my local.

St Kilda is a sort of self-imposed exile. I think that if I lived in Brunswick or Fitzroy I’d never get anything done. There are just so many people to drink tea and procrastinate with over there.

LM ~ ‘You’d look out towards the wash of the city lights and think of how you used to dream of nights like this, of men like him, and you’d wonder what was missing, what had fallen away between the now and the then’ (from your ‘Outdoor Furniture Green’).

JR ~ ‘I know not anything more pleasant, or more instructive, than to compare experience with expectation, or to register from time to time the difference between idea and reality. It is by this kind of observation that we grow daily less liable to be disappointed.’

– Samuel Johnson

Josephine’s work available is from Readings. See also her website, and here is one of her stories ‘The Dancer’. If you enjoy this interview format, see also the ‘responsive’ with Nam Le.

Update, 2011: read Elizabeth Bryer’s review of Josephine’s book How a Moth Becomes a Boat (Hunter Publishers).

5 thoughts on “Josephine Rowe, a 'responsive' interview

  1. I liked the Nam Le ‘responsive’ ‘view, the style/format is fresh. A couple of parts:
    ‘Nameless characters are easier to relate to.’ The freedom the writer gives to the reader is what I love. How writers can isolate or bring a character out through this technique.

    ‘Rita Hayworth on Prozac at her own funeral. That one ended particularly badly…’ I had more than a giggle at this!
    Nice work LM!

  2. Pingback: Smells, Snugglepot, Springsteen Vibes, Sleepers and Stuff - LiteraryMinded

  3. Pingback: Launchfest « Thuy Linh Nguyen

  4. Pingback: Guest review: Elizabeth Bryer on Josephine Rowe’s How a Moth Becomes a Boat – LiteraryMinded

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s