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Michele Seminara

Michele Seminara is an Australian poet, writer and editor with an impressive resume, one that includes being twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and having two published poetry collections. At Woven Threads we were drawn to Michele’s work because of the ways that it speaks to the complexity of the human experience. Her poems expose the dark corners of the mundane and make us focus on things we would not normally notice. Michele’s reflections on womanhood are especially poignant and reflect many of the themes that we explore in our documentaries.

Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Michele about her poetry.

Please introduce yourself and what you do


I’m a poet, editor and writer. And I’m a mum of three kids - two teenagers and one adult.

I read your poem “True Crime” a few days ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I found it so evocative because it perfectly captured the nature of the true crime genre - it is fact represented in the format of fiction. Your language inspires an emotional response that might not otherwise be possible in a news story or court report. How do you find that storytelling and fiction can be vessels for communicating important truths?

I find it fascinating that it’s primarily women who are obsessed with true crime. We’re often the victims of crime so I think that’s where our fascination comes from; we imaginatively insert ourselves into the story — what would we do? 

I find that storytelling is the most powerful way of communicating subjective truths — the truths of people’s lives, their experiences. I always feel that if you’re going to change someone’s perception about an issue — such as refugees, or Indigenous or women’s rights — you can lecture them all day but that only encourages people to put their walls up. As a Buddhist, I believe real change happens inside people’s hearts, from actually connecting with each other and listening to each other’s stories. When your story resonates with someone their walls go down and you don’t need to push your opinion or version of the truth on them, they naturally just share in it. That’s how change happens, and that’s what Woven Threads does so beautifully. 


It’s such an interesting path to walk, to offer up something personal and vulnerable, and people can just take it or leave it

I agree. I started writing poetry around ten years ago when my family was experiencing tough times. A close family member had some mental health issues, and everything was going a bit pear shaped. The need to express and process intense experiences is often the catalyst to reach for poetry; that’s why people trundle out poems at funerals or even in times of intense joy, such as at weddings. When there’s high emotion, longer forms of narrative expression don’t necessarily match it. Also, in times of despair, people often don't have the attention span and bandwidth to focus on extended pieces of prose. They need a form of expression that resonates with their raw emotion. I often think about this in terms of women who are in traumatic situations, who don’t have time to sit down and read a whole novel, but a poem — you can reach out and grasp it like a lifeline, even memorise it, and carry it around inside you for solace. That’s why I started writing poetry, because at a certain stage in my life I didn’t have the time and attention span needed to express myself in longer forms, and because I needed something that would speak to the intensity of emotion I was experiencing. So poetry was perfect. It’s a written form that travels purely from one person’s heart into another person’s heart, and that’s why it’s such a powerful connector. 


I guess it’s also a lot more interpretive and malleable than prose, because you don’t need the syntax and grammar.

That’s right. I have a friend, Alise Blayney, who’s a peer support worker and helped found a movement called Mad Poetry. She does a lot of work around poetry and mental illness, teaching creative writing courses to people experiencing mental health issues. When you’re in that state of mind, a piece of writing that’s well-plotted and crafted and linear doesn’t necessarily reflect the often-tumultuous inner state. So, poetry is a form that can resonate with people going through more chaotic stages of life or who are experiencing intense emotions. And you’re right, poetry is also more interpretive. A poem doesn’t just mean one thing; each person takes something different out of it that rings true for them, that makes them feel less alone.


Yeah absolutely. On a different note, belonging to a marginalised group, such as being a woman, can often feel innately political. Do you view your work as being political? Do you think that it is important for all storytelling to be didactic or communicate a message?

I wouldn’t say that I feel like a political writer. My inspiration or urge to write usually come from personal experience. But I suppose that any time you enter a public discourse, such as when you publish your work, it can become political. I think about some of the writers and poets that I really admire who are quite political, for example, Audre Lorde. There’s an amazing quote where she talks about how poetry is the best artistic form for women because you don’t need a lot of money or time to do it, you can write poetry anywhere, in between doing other work or caring for family. She was talking particularly here about marginalised women in low socioeconomic brackets who don’t necessarily have a lot of resources. I think that’s such a great insight, even though it may seem counter-intuitive: people often view poetry as an elitist artistic form but she’s saying no, it’s actually an egalitarian form because it’s something people who don’t have much in terms of time or resources can practice and access. 

I also love other poets whose work is more inadvertently political, such as Sharon Olds. She’s in her 80s now but she didn’t start publishing until she was nearly 40, which is quite common for women writers, since they’re often busy bringing up kids or because it simply takes time to build up one’s confidence. One of Old’s more recent books, Ode to the Clitoris, is an unashamed ode to women’s body parts and experiences! She’s now considered an incredible writer, but when she first started publishing she recounts sending her poems into literary journals and having them sent back with dismissive notes saying things like, ‘I think these are better suited to a women’s magazine’. So, although she wasn’t writing her poems from an overtly political standpoint, her work became political because she wrote from her experience as a woman and a mother and dared to put domestic subject matter — hitherto belittled — into the literary sphere. Similarly, I don’t see myself as a political writer but sometimes your work becomes that just by virtue of who you are and what you write. 


I guess that arcs back to what you were saying about how it comes from your heart and then you give it up to the world and then anyone can put their agenda onto it. Lastly, at Woven Threads we are really interested in how the arts can make a social impact, especially within the Australian landscape, which is an often-contested space. I know that one of your most recent publications, Suburban Fantasy, explores the darker experiences of being a woman. What is it about poetry that draws you to it, and what does it feel like to talk about such personal topics in a public medium?

I always struggle with that because my poetry is quite personal. Never-the-less, I remain a ‘better out than in’ kind of poet. When I’m writing a poem, I’m fearless, I don’t worry about how it will be perceived. But of course, when it draws closer to publishing something in a book or journal, you do start getting nervous. It can make you feel a bit vulnerable, but your first duty is to the poem, to its integrity. So I always urge myself to be brave and put the work out there. And I invariably find that when I speak to people who have read it, they’re grateful someone else had the courage to share the thoughts and feelings they feared were just their own. Poetry can make you feel less alone, and the connection it creates bolsters both reader and writer. But always, when dealing with personal subject matter, there’s that intersection of what’s your story to tell and what’s someone else’s story to tell, and you have to try and balance that up if you’re writing about family or relationships — which most poets do. doing. So you have to be careful. Ultimately, however, if what you’ve written is of any value, it separates itself from you and becomes about the human condition. It becomes about everybody. You’re just voicing part of a universal story. 


Writing is often considered such a solitary job, but it’s not because you’re connecting with so many people with your writing.

That’s true — more so now with the internet — but even if only via handwriting or in print, writers have always connected with people they’ve never met, even across time and oceans. It’s incredible to consider that when you read a poem from a hundred years ago, you’re making a connection with that author and taking a little bit of their mind and heart into yours — and that has the potential to change the way you think and feel, and, in turn, to affect all the people you interact with. It’s a web of connection through thought and word. It’s amazing. 
I’ve had a very personal experience of this. For nearly ten years, I’ve worked with a writer called Mohammad Ali Maleki. He’s a refugee who now lives in Brisbane, but when we first met, he was living in detention on Nauru. He reached out to me on Facebook and said ‘I’m trying to write poetry. I’ve got a friend who helps me translate my poems from Farsi into English, but I need help’. We became friends and I started editing his poems. We published a book of his work, and he is now being asked to appear at writers’ festivals and share his poems more widely. It’s wonderful to see. For him, poetry has been lifesaving, a way of expressing and processing traumatic experiences. It’s been a way to heal whilst connecting with other people, as well being a powerful political statement. When people hear Mohammad’s work, regardless of their political views about refugees, their hearts just melt. Poetry is such a powerful way of connecting.


To find out more about our conversation head to our blog.

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