Interview with J. C. Sturm: 2
RP: It's a strange sounding prognosis.
JCS: Well, I just about lived on the beach you see, and I loved it down there at Pukerua Bay. But we moved to Palmerston, and after that of course I went to the ordinary school again. And I don't remember writing anything except for school exercises for years, probably not until I went to varsity in Otago.
RP: So when you were doing your academic studies you were using that discipline?
JCS: I can't say I was using much in the way of discipline (Laughs). I'm not very good at it. I've never been a disciplined writer. I've always been what you might call a part-time writer. There's a phrase they use for artists who go out and paint pictures in the weekend, I think they call them Sunday artists – I was a bit like that. But anyway, when I was down there various family things happened. I wrote to my mother when her brother died, then somebody else died and I wrote a poem. Then I thought I'll give it a crack and see if I can get anything published in the student weekly rag. So I tried and I did get one published and oh the thrill of it! Oh goodness me, to see it in print.
RP: That was your first published piece of work? In a student magazine?
JCS: I haven't got a copy of that. But in the meantime I found all this rubbish I'd written when I was 11, and it was so appallingly awful and morbid it was sick writing, shapeless, sick writing. So I burnt the lot. Put it in the fireplace and said goodbye to it.
Then there was a bloke down at Otago and he wrote under the initials of JKB (James Keir Baxter), had quite a lot of stuff published. I thought, he's not bad, I quite like his stuff. Every year they had an annual poetry competition for their annual literary magazine called Review. I thought, I'll give it a crack, so I wrote a poem and quite a long one. But this JKB, he won it. And I was a bit pipped. I thought, blow this bloke, but I came second so I was really quite pleased with that.
That was pretty good for a part-time writer. Then after that I got caught up in the usual varsity exams and I was hard-pressed because I was doing subjects which I'd never done before and I wasn't any good at anyway. So that was the end of that.
But in the meantime, through a friend of mine who was literary-minded – which I wasn't – she said “Come along to a meeting this Saturday. This bloke JKB is speaking.” I said, “Aw, I don't know about that.” But she said, “Come on. We can always walk out if we don't like it.” So I went along, and saw JKB, and I thought goodness me, what a dopey bloke! He was really dopey; he looked as though he was half asleep. The only thing was he had a beautiful voice. And he read poetry like nobody else.
Then later on I met Dopey through another friend of mine and it was a very sort of comfortable feeling. The upshot of it was that I got to know Dopey and he started dating me. He introduced me to poets that I'd never heard of. And he seemed to know Dylan Thomas off by heart. So quite a lot of our dates would consist of me walking beside Dopey while he recited poetry at the top of his voice. I learned a lot from that. The main thing I learned was that I wasn't a poet, not what I'd call a poet.
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