90s sitcoms, rough sex, and lorde as a fan: meet new zealand poet hera lindsay bird
With the release of her debut collection of work, the young Kiwi is bringing poetry into the modern world — one ‘Friends’ reference at a time.
Photography Russell Kleyn
Poetry used to be a young person's game. A few centuries ago it was where one expressed frenzied desires, before you know, we could just Snapchat them to each other. But in recent decades, it's decreasingly been seen as a millennial pursuit. After all, when TFW memes are a primary form of emotional connection, it can be hard to stand out with sensitive observations in iambic pentameter.
Perhaps that's why Hera Lindsay Bird's breakthrough poem Keats is Dead so Fuck me From Behind appeared as such an unlikely, but undeniably fitting, connection between two worlds. Published earlier this year, it subsequently blew up on Twitter (no small feat for a poem) and introduced readers to a writer who could muse naturally and refreshingly on sex, love, relationships, frustration and Monica from Friends.
Since then Hera's released her first self titled book of work and navigated the fantasy scenario of counting Lorde as first a fan and later an IRL friend. We chatted to her about why it pays to not take things too seriously.
You have this great ability to engage with classism while remaining self aware about it. How conscious is that, are you trying to play with the notion of what it is to be a poet?
Poetry is a bizarre art form because it's still remains so stubbornly elitist despite haemorrhaging public interest. Everything about poetry makes me want to not like poetry except poetry itself, which I'm still drawn to despite all of its conspicuous consumption and out-dated velvet curtains. I can't resist teasing it a little, but I'm also complicit, like buying an expensive orchestra ticket just to throw Tic Tacs at the conductor.
You play with the notions of a poet being a old white man, do you feel constrained by those cultural assumptions?
Ah, the old white men of poetry. Most of my poetic lineage comes from The New York School of poets who were mostly men, usually white and eventually old, though the vast majority had the saving grace of being, at the very least, homosexual.
In poetry I rarely feel constrained by lineage, but it's true I'm read in a certain context. People rarely talk about my work without talking about my gender, age, sexuality or brand of lipstick, but because those things are such an explicit and intentional part of my work I rarely mind. I don't want to be read outside of context.
From your point of view, how does your age impact the way people speak about your work?
Well, even though my age is on the internet, I'm not sure people actually know how old I am. I'm turning 30 at the end of next year, so maybe then people will stop calling me a young poet. I don't mind people mentioning my age, but I'm aware it happens in a wider cultural context where people are fetishised for their youth, that doesn't help anyone artistically. I think there's a real pressure to publish young. I resisted putting this book out for years because I didn't feel like the work was ready. Usually when people say that, they mean they had to emotionally mature as an artist. I felt like I had to allow myself time to emotionally immature.
How do you mean?
Poetry is important to me, but that doesn't necessitate it being serious. I tried for years to write in a more sombre, elegant way, but my heart was never in it. It's not that the writing doesn't mean a lot to me, it's just that when I try and write serious literary prose, I feel simultaneously very smug and outrageously bored, which is a fatal combination. I also don't want to get too evangelical about poetry. Not everyone has the same perverse, out-dated fetish as me, and it's good to remind myself of that.
When writing about something like Friends, is it because you're moved by it or because you want to show it's possible to make a poem out of it?
There are a number of factors involved, very few of which I explicitly thought about before writing it. I wouldn't say I was especially moved by Friends, but I enjoy watching it and I think those cultural commonalities are just as generative and interesting as like, wild geese in the winter or whatever everyone else used to write about before sitcoms happened.
"Poet" feels like the kind of title that can't exist as a job anymore, how has it been getting traction in this world?
I don't know that it ever existed as a job, I think it's more that Byron's parents were loaded and he had to do something with his life besides sulking in Greece. I try to never think of poetry as a career, mostly because poetry is about the least profitable artistic medium imaginable, but also because it's just contrary to the way I work, which is slowly and recklessly. I've been incredibly lucky with the attention I've had, and I'd love to be able to take my work to overseas festivals or to do residencies, but I don't want to start counting my own books.
For where you're standing, how has poetry itself evolved?
From what I can tell, mainstream western poetry has gone:
- Very long poem about ships.
- More very long poems about ships.
- Don't even get me started on livestock.
- A crazy naked woman tried to drag me into a lake for sinister magical reasons.
- This jar is very important but I'm obviously not going to insult you by explaining why.
- Spring reminds me of Ancient Greece and also my own death.
- I hate being at war.
- tElephoNE burning Spider ^$6 gas
- By the way, did I mention I live in New York?
Text Wendy Syfret
Photography Russell Kleyn