Author Q&A with Rohan Buettel
by Christine Nessler
April 5, 2023
This week’s Author Q &A is with Rohan Buettel who lives in Canberra, Australia. His haiku appear in various Australian and international journals, including Presence, Cattails and The Heron’s Nest. His longer poetry recently appears in The Elevation Review, Rappahannock Review, Penumbra Literary and Art Journal, Mortal Magazine, Passengers Journal, Reed Magazine, Meniscus and Quadrant.
Buettel’s poem, Turnings, is featured in Issue #10 of The Good Life Review.
Tell us about yourself.
I live in Canberra, Australia’s capital city, where I worked for more than thirty years as a lawyer and public servant, mainly advising governments on policy issues and developing legislative frameworks governing Australia’s communications industries. After retiring, I stumbled across a MOOC (massive open online course) called “How to make a poem,” and enjoyed it so much I have been writing poetry ever since. I undertook a number of creative writing units at the University of Canberra to improve my skills and this also gave me an introduction to the poetry scene. I convene monthly meetings of Tram Stop Poets, whose members workshop their poems together. I also lead mountain bike rides for cycling groups in the Canberra region, paddle a kayak and sing in a choir.
Turnings transforms a shared night of sleep into a beautiful dance. What inspired you to this poem?
I participate in another poetry group ‘Majura Cafe Poets’ which meets weekly to share our latest writing and has a period set aside to write each week in response to a prompt. The first draft of this poem was written at one of those meetings in response to the prompt ‘turning.’ The poem was inspired by personal experience with my spouse.
What message do you hope reaches your audience through Turnings?
In the poem, I tried to capture the relaxed comfort that a relationship provides for both of the parties. I consciously chose to avoid references to sex and gender in the poem to make it relatable for as many readers as possible.
What impacted you most when writing it?
I had been thinking over the previous few days about how we sleep together at night, the prompt gave the impetus to express it.
Tell us about the work you have done or do that makes you most proud.
I have written a lot of ekphrastic poetry, but I am most proud of my nature poetry, with much of the imagery prompted by things I observe, or encounters with wildlife while riding a mountain bike, bushwalking or even in my own yard. If readers are interested in looking at some of these works, examples include:
Semper Augustus — Passengers Journal Volume 3 Issue 2
Japanese Pagoda Tree — Reed Magazine Issue 155
Lorikeets — Meniscus Volume 8 Issue 2
Alpha Male — Fauxmoir Lit Mag Issue 5
Aeolian Geomorphology — Rockvale Review Issue 9
What is your writing process? How do you make it a part of your daily life?
I usually start to write when something attracts my attention, or I am suddenly struck by a good idea (all too rarely). When writing about art or nature, I start by closely observing the subject, taking notes and including any lines that come to me on the spot (including tangents and other associations). At home, I research the subject matter online. I write a first draft by hand taking into account my personal response and the research, usually in free verse, re-reading and revising earlier lines as I write new ones. I think about form as I write. If I think the work will benefit from a particular form I will start to rewrite the poem in that form, even before finishing the first draft. I put the first draft aside for a few days, sometimes I will try rewriting in a different form when returning to revise it. When reasonably comfortable with the work, I will type it into the computer, usually it just requires minor editing while doing this.
I don’t write on a daily basis, but if I haven’t written anything for a while, I start to feel a build up of tension and try and write. If dry, I sometimes resort to random techniques to spark creativity. For example, using a random word generator for a list of nouns which must be then used in the order created in a set number per line. This can lead to some delightfully surreal results.
Turnings is written in such a playful way. Is much of your poetry playful? What is your favorite type of poetry to write?
Most of the poetry is serious, but playful elements find their way into even the serious poems. I also write deliberately playful poems, but these are often hard to place — perhaps they seem too lightweight.
Apart from nature and ekphrastic poetry, I also enjoy writing persona poetry as a way of trying to understand the perspective of people or things completely different to myself.
How does poetry help you to navigate through life?
Sometimes I do not know what to think about a particular issue. Writing a poem can help me clarify my thinking on the matter. Sometimes it performs a cathartic role. In early 2020, I poured out a series of angry climate change poems in response to the bush fires engulfing the region where I live.
What part of the artistic process do you consider to be the most difficult, as well as most satisfying, and why.
For me, the most difficult part, and the most satisfying, is coming up with a good idea or ideas. I find the writing process reasonably straightforward if I start with a good idea in mind. Some writers work better organically growing each line from the previous line, however I do not usually work like this. I like to know where I’m going when I start.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “The Good Life?”
My parents owned an album released by Petula Clark in the sixties which while growing up I found inestimably sad. I loved listening to it when feeling miserable (like listening to The Smiths in the eighties). One of the songs was “The Good Life” and I am reminded of the bittersweet lyrics every time I hear the phrase:
“Oh, the good life, full of fun seems to be the ideal
Yes, the good life lets you hide all the sadness you feel …”
Rohan.. Thank you for sharing your poem with us and taking extra time to answer our questions. We are grateful for you and your work and wish you the best!