Rebecca Jessen on the influence of Dorothy Porter in Gap
Rebecca Jessen’s award-winning verse novella, Gap , is a gripping crime thriller. Here, she talks about the influence of Australian poet Dorothy Porter on her work.
My first encounter with the work of late Australian poet Dorothy Porter was in mid 2011 in a second-hand bookshop in Newtown, Sydney. I picked up a copy of The Monkey’s Mask, intrigued by the two naked female bodies splayed across the cover. There’s something special about encountering an author’s work for the first time, especially one of Porter’s calibre. The book was a gift for my girlfriend who had mentioned Porter’s name to me in passing. I keenly read over her shoulder on buses and while watching TV until she handed it over for me to read. I consumed The Monkey’s Mask quickly, stopping every now and then to remind myself to slow down as not to feel bereft too soon.
To say this book changed things for me as a writer would be selling it short. This was my first verse novel, and I was blown away at the way Porter used the form to convey voice, character and plot with stunning honesty, grit and beauty. Seeing what Porter did with the verse form inspired me to try my hand at it. I had a university assignment approaching for the first chapter of a genre novel and thought what better opportunity to experiment with the verse novel form and get feedback from my peers and teachers while I was at it.
Through curiosity and research I learnt more about not only Porter’s work – but also her opinions and beliefs about poetry. What struck me then, and still does to this day is the notion of writing for the ordinary reader; bringing poetry to the people. Porter exemplified this with the release of The Monkey’s Mask which went on to become an international bestseller and it was something she talked about regularly in interviews and lectures. I admired this about Porter and hoped to capture something of the idea’s essence in my verse novel Gap.
Part One of Gap was written in a matter of hours, the words came quickly and intuitively. The verse form took me by the shoulders and pulled me through with a freedom and certainty I had not yet experienced while writing. Porter says of poetry, ‘At its best it should be intravenous, a rush in the veins of the reader.’ That rush that Porter speaks of was felt both while writing and re-reading Gap. There is an irresistible danger in Porter’s verse which I subconsciously latched onto while writing in the voice of my main character Ana. I was compelled to give this character an urgent, unapologetic voice that would draw the reader in and make them question what they thought they knew about instinct and the lengths people go to escape the paths they have been set on in life.
Porter’s influence on Gap was not immediately apparent to me upon finishing. It is only now when I am drawn back to reading it that I see those ideas are there, both under and above the surface.