When I first moved to the Southern Highlands of NSW in 2009, celebrated poet Jennifer Compton (who I'd met through the Broadway Poetry Prize 2004; she was a judge, I was a runner-up) suggested I look up Peter Lach-Newinsky, who was living in Bundanoon. Jennifer had lived in Wingello in the Southern Highlands and knew Peter. I followed Jennifer's advice - Peter and I hooked up for tea in the Primula Cafe, Bundanoon. Since then, Peter and I have been good friends. I've searched - without success - for Little Bitterns on his twenty acre property, tasted many types of his heritage apples, discussed all things poetry with him and laughed a lot. Peter has provided me with perspective when the slings and arrows of poetic success have battered me. Peter is many things: husband, father, grandfather, farmer, naturalist, activist, thinker, eccentric, comic, rebel. To be with Peter is to be with a man who is fully aware of the world around him, thrilled to be fully alive.
Peter has published several chapbooks with Picaro Press. He has won the Vera Newsom Poetry Prize and the Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize (2009 and 2010). His latest full-length collection, Cut a Long Story Short, was recently put out by Puncher & Wattman in Sydney. Peter's reading at the launch for Cut... was electric.
Peter was born in Germany and came to Australia with his German mother and Russian father.
What was there before poetry?
Before poetry there was the poetry of the Void then the poetry of the Big Bang then a lot of noise/silence as the universe revved up. Then poetry again.
Tell me about your earlier life in Germany.
Well Germany is great technology so they’ve got Autobahns everywhere that allow you to experience the pleasure of having a Mercedes sitting on your tail bumper at 180 ks and a semi-trailer right in front of you while the car radio comes on automatically to tell you where the 30k-long traffic jams are so that everyone can try and avoid them and thus create another traffic jam. Deep in German woods I still heard traffic noise from freeways. There’s postcard Germany and there’s depressing Germany, like everywhere else. The people are different and the same. They also had a radical youth and student movement in the 60s and 70s which I found was where the energy was, where it was at, at the time. I was in my 20s and 30s, so I was into energy. I kept reading English, writing English poems for myself, teaching English in English in order to keep the English neurons connecting inside a German head. They do great philosophy in Germany. They also invented Aldi. News broadsheets didn’t have personal stories or photos but only solid print: people tend to be more serious. Here, I sometimes miss that, although humour is essential in remaining sane.
Describe your writing process.
Um, lotsa ways. Maybe early morning pen on paper, maybe editing old poems on computer, maybe none of the above. Anything can trigger this weird activity. I have no set routine or methods, except I usually come inside when it’s too hot to work outside on the farm and sit at the computer and write away for a few hours at something or other (poems, essays, blogs). I have books strewn all over the place which I’m using or intended to or intend to, dog-eared, marked, awaiting processing/quoting... Often I’m working on several things at once, or just drop them for long periods or never finish them. Sometimes I can’t stand reading poetry (like eating cake all the time), prefer prose, novels, non-fiction, science.
What has kept you in Bundanoon for so many years?
The farm. The commitment to place and growing roots there. Maintaining the trees I have planted. Why would I go elsewhere? I no longer need to find paid work. I’ve had to move too much in my life. There’s a spiritual and ecological limit to modern nomadics. Moving, you just take your boring old self along again anyway. Although even just travelling can be nice, it is much overrated. Like most places, Bundanoon is a very special place. Suburbanisation, aka development, is the usual danger.
What troubles you?
The survival of civilisation, humanity, great sections of our plant and animal cousins, a livable planet. The continuation of capitalism, imperialism, nationalism and mainstream majority obedience and voluntary slavery. The survival of books, solitude, concentrated reading and knowledge in the deep sense in a world of totalised screens, info overload and so-called social media.
What brings you great happiness?
The farm and all its beings, trees, some animals, the ocean, books of all kinds, some music, some art, a few poems, some writing, most little kids but especially my two grandsons.
Which of your chapbooks are you most proud of?
Chapbooks or books? Pride? Can’t say I favour one over the other. Has to be equality in a family, no favouritism. Each book a product of its time and state of mind. Out of my hands once published. Not mine anymore. Becomes a bit of the collective mind, well that is if there’s at least one reader.
Cut A Long Story Short - give me the big picture.
This last book is subtitled ‘ A myth in 80 poems and four seasons’. Maybe that’s the gist of ‘the big picture’. Kind of a structured ‘memoir’, also containing some poems I wrote in my 20s, 30s and 40s, so kind of a New & Selected in some ways. It attempts a reading of the personal/autobiographical (as poetic myth of course, not ‘truth’) against the public/political of the last 60 years, as I don’t think the two can really be separated. It also references a lot of other favourite poets because we all write ‘intertext’ whether we know it or not, standing on the shoulders of many others.
What will tomorrow bring?
Rain, drought. Noise, silence. Life, death. The usual. The unexpected. Change. The illusion of time passing.