Phil is that rare poet who writes from the heart, and reading him is akin to sitting in on toast, eggs and coffee with good friends at a diner on High Street in Melbourne, debating politics and solving all the world's ills in one sitting. His poems are whiskey-throated but polished, squinty-eyed yet empathetic, and in the end are about family and friends, love and history nurtured in and by the wide, wide skies of Australia.
Phill has never cared much about seeking publication, being content with posting a few poems here and there online and making lifelong fans and friends in the process. He should be published, however. His wonderful variety of works would make a fine contribution, indeed, to the world of poetry and poetry lovers.
Interview With The Poet: Phillip Barker
JVB. Music must be the purest and highest form of language. I mean, even the highest form of art....it isn't ABOUT anything, but can make us FEEL to an astounding degree. Does poetry feel like music to you? How does music inform your writing?
PB. I don't know that I believe in music as the "highest form" of art... That moment of purity comes at the moment of creation - that "eureka" moment...and I've had it in all forms of art. Where music is interesting is in ensemble - that's where the real magic can happen. All the other arts are essentially masturbatory self-directed endeavours. Sitting around with four or five people and making something beautiful is... unexplainable.
Poetry does feel like music in its rhythms and textures. The creative processes I developed and applied to music over nearly forty years all get applied to my writing. Songwriting is a whole 'nother thing though. I haven't really done that for quite a while. Just went a bit stale on it really. I still write tunes - just don't put lyrics over them anymore.
The main way music informs my writing is "history" I think. The allusions creep in. Since I was about thirteen things have naturally grouped themselves around the tracks I was obsessed with at the time. LSD = Leon Russell and Pink Floyd... First sex was King Crimson and Frank Zappa. My greatest love was classical music played by the band of the Leningrad Kirov ballet company... you see it? Music creeps in the back door and sets up chains of association that other art forms don't manage.
Ahh - I do consider music to be the most "spiritual" of the arts. It's easier to touch someone's spirit with sound than any other way. The number of times I've set up in a really cold room and watched people that really didn't want to be at the venue - facing a long night with musicians they'd never heard of - and then absolutely "hooked" them with the slide and a solid backbeat!
JVB. Who are some of your favorite poets?
PB. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is the first poet I remember thinking was "good". I was 14 or 15 - dodging school at least one day a week and getting drunk on rum on the beach, writing and living the final stanza. John Keats - because of his rhythms and themes. I came across an album of Troubadour Chansons, Vidas and Razos by the Clemencic Consort a while back and was astounded at the resonances that Keats acquired from those writers.I went back to High School to graduate when I was 26 and one of the highlights of the year was performing "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" to the class in a mock folk / troubadour style. And finally - the Master - John Donne. His wit, passion and humour still astound me after twenty five years of having him as a companion. I Love his control of language. Andrew Marvel comes close to the "Metaphysicians" guernsey. "To His Coy Mistress" is my favourite piece of English literature. Especially the closing half a dozen lines, but Donne seems to me to have been both more consistent and was much more prolific.
That's the old stuff. Here are three modern writers that have been a major influence on me: Peter Gabriel. His early writing with Genesis - particularly "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" really showed me that there was something to this writing lark. Great humour - great control - and chilling in his portrayal of life in early seventies Britain and on into the world. Bob Dylan because - well - because he's Bob. I often go to Dylan.com and scroll down for a while and read wherever I land. And just going to his site shows you how phenomenally prolific he is. The third "modern" slot I'll leave open because that gets filled on the basis of current whim. Tom Waits is there a lot - Jon Hendricks _ Van Morrison...
JVB. I find you incredibly funny in conversation. Is this a way of overcoming sadness and terror, or is it just joy itself? I find your poetry more serious, however, and I think I do that as well. So is poetry more a conversation with ourselves?
PB. I'd go for pure joy. Conversation is something I really love. The sadness and terror come out in non-communication. I do that a bit.
Poetry to me is all kinds of different things. Sometimes it's an incredibly deep conversation with the self. Other times it might be postcards, just little pictures or portraits of things and people I've "enjoyed". I guess - thinking about it - poetry gives me a chance to express things that are hard to get across in a conversation, so in that way it's a more serious enterprise.
As an aside - nearly everything I write grows out of conversations I've had or wanted to have with people.
JVB. Is accessibility something you strive for in writing? Or is it more fun to challenge the reader?
PB. I don't aim at an audience - not in music, art or writing. I've never been one for that. I write and play what I'm thinking and if people catch on to it - that's great. If they don't, they'll grab the next one. It is fun to challenge the reader, but that's not my aim either. It's more a desire to share a dialogue - or a tune - or an image.
If we, as artists in any medium, start writing for an audience - we might as well be writing jingles for carbonated sweet water or slave labour produced running shoes. I'm a great believer in writing from the heart. It keeps me poor, but I can live with that. I don't think I could if I was writing to sell another can of beverage... or purely and simply to make a "hit".
JVB. What percentage of your poems are in the voice of another person? Do you resist personal expression?
PB. Nearly everything I write is in the first person voice at first. Either about me - or observed by me, but I change the perspective early in the process. I have so many personalities in here though - that no matter what changes I make the narrative voice mine.
I definitely don't resist personal expression. Everything I write and play is a "personal expression". But I do go out of my way to make it something "more"…to show WHY I'm making that expression. I know in most cases I prefer to read things that aren't full of "I, me, me, mine" to quote Harrison.
JVB. Do you feel a poem is a record of a discovery to you? I find that it is for me a lot.
PB. Poems are definitely a record of discovery. It can be discovery at a lot of different levels. Musically a piece can be a discovery of a spiritual space - or it can be a working through of a technique or lesson learned. Writing's the same. I'd never tackled a haiku or the "short" forms of poetry - except for Pixilatious Child and She Dances In the Dark. Working out the techniques for the Haiku form generated some really nice pieces for me. Sonnets were the same.
One of the things I like best about your writing is that it's invariably up in my face. I love anything that has edge... that's where people make progress within themselves…in that space between the dream and the real.
JVB. Thanks, Phill. What marks a poet as a "beginning poet" rather than an "accomplished" one?
PB. I'm not really sure that I'm qualified to judge that. I just know that to me - "beginning poetry" sounds like an extended Hallmark greeting Card - while "accomplished work" sets off long chains of association, with a few "Oh fuck!'s thrown in along the way. A beginning poet simply plays with words - an accomplished one screws with the ideas behind the words.
I guess it boils down to "intensity". If I read things that aren't intense I'm left feeling empty.
JVB. A great deal of my poetry is self-referential. Do you think it is overdone in our time? Is it a phase?
PB. I think self-referential bad poetry has been a bit of a curse since people first started talking to each other. It ain't a new thing.
But, that being said - self-referential poetry can be a high point of the art. Your things - while being self-referential, reach for wider themes - moving from the purely "self-centred" to the universal.
JVB. Thanks, Phill! Most times, when I write a poem, I try to cut the fluff and ensure that it is "meaningful". In fact, everything I write, prose or poetry, every photo I take, must be infused with meaning and not just tossed out for the sake of posting something. Do you find yourself doing this? I see many layers of meaning in your work...sometimes way over my own head!
PB. I think I've answered that up above but... John Lennon taught me that if you just throw a bunch of loosely related images and phrases together a "meaning" will emerge. Sometimes I catch a "meaning" and edit to bring it out - others I don't - but love the words and images so leave them for others to explain to me.
"Meaningful" is too transient for me... Something can have incredible beauty and impact without actually meaning a damned thing.
JVB. Thanks, Phil, a lot of food for thought. Continued success with your writing and music. You have a lot of fans out here!
Readers, you'll find Phillip Barker's uniquely stimulating poetry and writing HERE,
HERE and HERE. And HERE. And HERE. Music is HERE.
--Jo VonBargen 2013