As part of NAIDOC Week 2020, we're celebrating books and words by indigenous writers. We were lucky enough to sit down (online) with Worimi poet Ryan Prehn, who spoke to us about discovering how poetry gives him a structure to express himself.
You are a man of many author bios! Can you write one for us to introduce yourself?
With pleasure! My name is Ryan Prehn. I am a writer that writes and a poet that, uh, poets. I am a proud Worimi Aboriginal living on Wurundjeri Country, but I grew up on palawa Country (Tasmania).
Some of my works have appeared in print or online for Cordite, Australian Poetry Journal, Red Room Poetry, Overland, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Guwayu: for all times (anthology).
What do the words ‘connection’ and ‘story’ mean to you?
Most words have multiple definitions and almost endless meanings. ‘Connection’ to me is any single thread that runs between two junctions (like a spiderweb; or the imagined lines between plots of stars in the night sky, making constellations). Some connections are known of and might be very important. Others, though, are undiscovered, and the fun here is in finding or making them yourself. ‘Story’, then, is the weave you make as you plot the stars. You can start a story nowhere and with nothing, and as long as you don’t let go of the person you are telling your story to, you can take them anywhere and show them everything.
What have you learnt about yourself as a writer?
I actually always find writing difficult. For a long time, I thought I was just a lazy creative, but as the years have passed, I have recognised a couple of things about myself as a writer:
What led you to poetry as your chosen form of storytelling?
It took me a decade of writing prose and avoiding poetry to realise I was a poet trying to stretch his poeticisms into paragraphs. Having not read much poetry that spoke to me, I had a somewhat limited view of what poetry was and could be. I dabbled in songwriting as a teenager but never thought of this as poetry.
About five years ago, Lionel Fogarty gave a lecture and a reading that I attended at the University of Melbourne, which completely smashed the lens through which I viewed poetry. Shortly after, a friend lent me a copy of ‘A Coney Island of the Mind’ by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I was intoxicated by the newly discovered possibilities in which dense meaning could be prescribed by only a few words.
I haven’t given up on prose, but I can’t seem to step away from poetry even when I try.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
How can you choose just one! This itself is a great trial. Ethical dilemmas always arise in this question, so just this once let’s no worry about ethics!
I would choose the power of persuasion. It is no secret that there are many factors threatening our continued existence on planet Earth. With the power of persuasion, I would push the leaders of all nations to curb global warming, stop the persecution of all peoples and their cultures, halt the destruction of precious ecosystems, and make ice cream free.
Do you have any advice for young, aspiring writers?
Never stop writing and never stop reading. Don’t be afraid to share your work and ask for feedback, but in the end, you are the weaver, and you decide which dream is best and why.
Sometimes I find it helpful to imagine the person I am writing for. This can be a real person, or an amalgamation of many different people. It helps to get out of your own head for a little bit and see what you have written from a different perspective.
And lastly, never be afraid to be unorthodox: it is a powerful thing, to see the line, step over it, and fall into a world of endless potential.
Read some of Ryan's award-winning poetry here. Or visit this link to discover NAIDOC celebrations near you!
Where young writers (and some older ones) write.