Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Peter Bakowski

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Peter Bakowski

Melbourne-based poet, Peter Bakowski, fell in love with the map of the world at the age of six. In 1983 he wrote his first poem while staying at a friend’s farmhouse in Waco, Texas, in response to receiving a “Dear John” letter from a Melbourne girl. As a result of that fateful letter, Peter ended up travelling for seven years, caught a freight train across Montana, lived in a cave on a Mexican island and ate gazelle cooked in stale blood with road builders in the Central Africa Republic. Peter has been writer-in-residence in Rome, Paris, Macau, Suzhou (China), Battery Point, Tasmania; Greenmount, Western Australia and at the Broken Hill Writers Festival. His poems continue to appear in literary magazines worldwide and have been translated into Arabic, Bahasa-Indonesian, Bengali, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and Polish. In February 2015, Editions Doucey of Paris, published a bilingual edition of his Selected Poems, entitled “Le cœur à trois heures du matin.” Peter’s aim as a poet is to write as clearly as possible and no matter how many books he writes in his lifetime, they’ll all be about what it’s like to be a human being.


The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I wrote my first poem in 1983 at a record collector friend’s farmhouse in Waco, Texas, after receiving a Dear John letter from a Melbourne girl. At the time I thought I’d be away from Australia for six weeks but ended up travelling for 7 years.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I sniffed around for plain-speaking poets. It was the poetry of Charles Bukowski which showed me you could write about the urban, the domestic, your city, your neighbourhood, your blues in plain, direct, conversational language.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I gravitated to 20th century poets. Any earlier I found too romantic, not down-to-earth and gritty enough.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Part of gathering material for regular poems is daily “nourishment” – daily reading, daily walking, observing and daily thinking about people, life, identity and imagining characters and scenarios, pivotal moments in a real or fictitious life.

5. What motivates you to write?

I’m trying to express myself, to reveal the individual, real or fictitious, in the camera frame of a poem. I’m also very interested in the refreshing image and wordplay.

6. What is your work ethic?

I feel that being a creative person is a 24 hours a day activity – observing, pondering, experiencing, digesting, filtering, sculpting and painting for the mind’s eye of the reader and listener. I constantly tour Australia and present my poetry in Europe annually.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Charles Bukowski, Ted Kooser and Raymond Carver and Billy Collins are my plain-speaking poetry heroes. Clarity is my big thing. I’m trying to communicate and reveal in each poem.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I continue to admire Ted Kooser, Charles Simic and Billy Collins because they continue, they have persevered, remained curious about life, death, dogs and cats and imagined lives in houses and apartments they walk by in their real and imaginative strolling.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Writing is my means of expression, my camera, the arena in which I reveal the overlooked or what otherwise may pass out of memory.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

By daily reading, by spending thousands of hours testing and trialling words on paper, saying them out loud, sculpting them into pieces of writing where no word is superfluous, then send your writing to reputable magazines – that’s the reality test, to see if your writing has meaning to others beyond your computer screen or notepad.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’m working on my eighth poetry collection which will largely comprise of portrait poems of real and imagined individuals.

12. What inspired “Wardrobe of Selves”?

I’ve always had a strong interest in writing portrait poems of real
and imagined people. In “Wardrobe of Selves” there are researched
portrait poems of Man Ray and also Willem de Kooning. There are also
portrait poems of fictitious musicians. Via a variety of portraits of
individuals I wish to reveal a spectrum of responses to pivotal
moments in a person’s life – love, betrayal, anger, creativity, loss,
grief, the philosophical shrug. I’ve titled my seventh poetry
collection, “Wardrobe of Selves” – to address via poems the different
costume one may wear or remove when moving through public and private
situations. I feel each of us can draw upon more than one self as a
form of defence, self-protection or even self-delusion. I read an
interview with Bob Dylan in which he stated “Each morning when I get
up I don’t know what self I’m going to be.”

13. You use a lot of second person narratives as opposed to first person. How deliberate is this?

I have a long and continuing interest in writing portrait poems of
real and fictitious individuals. The second person narrative allows me
to reveal perhaps the self-delusion in a portrayed individual, allows
me to reveal the individual in most cases without judgement as if the
reader is watching and listening to a character in a play. I remain
wary of the first person “I,I,I, me, me, me” poem which can invite
self-pity. Of course I sometimes write a poem in the first person if I
want the individual portrayed to reveal some honest self-examination.
Ultimately I’m writing about what it’s like to be a human being so I
want any “voice” or portrayal to be credible, for the individual
portrayed to resonate with the reader/listener.

14. In “At my Craft” you say “illuminate the overlooked” when arranging poems for a collection. As this collection is a gathering of portraits could this refer to the people portrayed?

I present two types of portrait poems. Researched poems of real individuals. Then I also create portrait poems of fictitious individuals. In all my portraiture poems I am illuminating THE INDIVIDUAL and a variety of individuals to show a spectrum of responses to pivotal moments in a life. I’m also trying to illuminate the secret self. As with painterly creators of portraits I’m seeking to reveal the essence of an individual – what makes them tick. Portrait poems of individuals are the way I continue to address my life’s work as a poet -to write about what it’s like to be a human being.

15. You like to play with aphorisms in your poetry that is not portraiture.

An avid, daily reader since age 8, I’m a collector of aphorisms,
epigrams, maxims and proverbs and as a poet dabbling in humour,
surrealism, the philosophical, I try and come up with my own aphorisms
and proverbs for the 21st century. I remain attracted to
honing/refining world views and moments. Being concise makes sense to
me in this modern world, where realistically some people’s attention
span is as long as a tweet.


Some selves are secret, take themselves to the grave—their
Existence exposed in a diary, a bundle of letters—angers and
Loves, visions and regrets—not torn in half, not rewritten.
Versions of ourselves, face half in shadow under a hat brim,
Elude conclusive portraiture. Brush the lint from your cautious
Shoulders. Your true self may be in the vicinity awaiting your arrival.

From the poem “A Wardrobe of Selves”

This clever mnemonic poem acts as an introduction to the whole collection, balancing light and dark, hidden and revealed.


Peter: All my writing life I’ve undertaken portrait poems wherein I explore
duality, for example the creative and destructive within an
individual, the tug-of-war our thoughts and emotions engage in,
beneath our skin.
Our modern age is arguably obsessed with identity, the me generation,
the selfie, the cult of celebrity and gender fluidity. We read that so
and so has “reinvented” themselves, David Bowie, was an astounding
example. In an interview I read, Bob Dylan said, “When I wake up, I
don’t know what self I’m going to be that day.” Sometimes a friend may
say to us “You’re not yourself today.” One ultimately hopes the self
can be supple rather than inflexible. “Our true self” is arguably a
self we like or feel comfortable in owning.
I continue, via portrait poems, to try and reveal, like a painter, the
essence of the individual portrayed.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.