Author Interview

Dyson Russell

the author of Marching with a Broken Shadow

Dyson Russell is 28 years old and lives in Melbourne, Australia. He is a Masters of Counselling student and currently works as a supermarket manager. He began experimenting with writing poetry after studying William Blake in high school, as he became interested in language constructs and the various ways to convey meaning.

By 2015, he was writing intensively, but it wasn’t until later that he came to commit to producing a body of work that was conceptually realised and thematically linked; this work is what became known as ‘Marching with a Broken Shadow‘.

Now, with a penchant for writing and storytelling, Dyson aims to continue to produce artistic and thought-provoking material, and is busy completing his follow up work entitled ‘Stories Heard from the Hearts Whisper’.

TBE: Can you share with us the inspiration behind the title “Marching with a Broken Shadow”? What does it symbolize in the context of your book?

Dyson Russell: The title “Marching with a Broken Shadow” actually originated a long time before the book was even a concept… back when I was writing poetry simply as a means of self-expression and a method of catharsis. I was going through a really challenging time emotionally; my mum was very unwell, I was caring her for, I was working and trying to maintain a household budget, and ultimately I was really starting to feel the weight and the burden of these pressures.

I remember sitting at home one night and pondering, thinking about how tough things had gotten – we faced a genuine risk of homelessness even, but one of the main thoughts I had that night was the fact that I felt my anxiety levels, my constant stress and worry was starting to impact my friends as well… And I wrote two poems that night – both were terrible poems, but both filled with a lot of raw emotion, I don’t have either of them anymore such was their poor quality. I think one of them started with a line ‘I don’t want my friends to look at me and see my broken eyes’ – or words to that effect… just to give some insight. But one of those poems I called ‘Walking Against a Tidal Wave’, and the other was called ‘Marching with a Broken Shadow’.

I guess for whatever reason I preferred ‘Marching with a Broken Shadow’ more and it became a representation of the sentiments in the book more broadly. There’s a great irony to it I guess.  It’s like Billy Corgan’s song ‘Today’ where he sings ‘today is the greatest day’ in response to a period in his life where he was suicidal… but he makes the choice to persist and so the day is great… I guess ‘Marching with a Broken Shadow’ carries similar sentiments, similar ironies… We all have parts of us that are broken or hurt, maybe like our shadows they’re hidden, or maybe they’re in plain sight… but we’re going to march on anyway!

TBE: Your poems in this collection touch upon the delicate balance between innocence and experience. How did you navigate this theme while crafting your verses?

Dyson Russell: This was one of the challenges that came with committing to producing a body of work that I wanted to be conceptually realised and thematically linked… I didn’t want to produce a poetry book that was just a random assortment of poems, I wanted each poem to fit into an overarching story, an overarching narrative. Something that the reader could read from start to finish and see a sense of chronology… so that took a lot of experimentation. Ultimately, there were a lot of times where I would revisit the work that I had and thought it was too heavily slated towards one set of emotions to accurately reflect the authenticity of human experience… at one point I thought ‘no it’s too depressing’, at another point I didn’t have enough of an introduction to the rudimentary condition of human life; but eventually looking at the book as a broad piece of work that tries to in some ways capture time, whilst also mirroring the capriciousness of human existence, I think I managed to strike some sort of reasonable balance.

TBE: Many of your poems explore the idea of dreams evolving into something different over time. Could you elaborate on how you approached this concept and how it ties into the human journey?

Dyson Russell: This is an interesting question. The idea of dreams is very varied… dreams as in visions or hallucinations, feeds into nightmares… or maybe hopes and aspirations. I suppose the eclectic nature of dreams themselves lends itself to a natural sense of evolution, or if not evolution, change… unavoidable change maybe. I think in some senses there’s a natural catharsis around dreams. We all have dreams, and yet sometimes some of the most liberating experiences are relinquishing those dreams… maybe at some point we all dreamed of being the football player, or the astronaut; but watching that evolve as it enters the sphere or reality, whilst it can be very confronting, it can be a beautiful moment of acceptance, and can even lead you to find things you never thought you’d find.  I think the dreams themselves write their own evolution… dreams aren’t something stagnant, and if they are they’re probably not worth writing about.

TBE: “Clocks don’t tick like hearts do” is a line that stands out in your book. How does this sentiment resonate with the overall essence of your book?

Dyson Russell: This line has been mentioned to me specifically by a few people, so it’s nice to get that validation, but it’s honestly not one that I ever read back that stood out to me. I guess that’s part of the beauty of poetry, I’ve had numerous people identify a certain poem as their favourite that I was on the cusp of not including because I simply didn’t think it was very good… it’s a very personal and very individual decision, what poetry you like or what poetry you don’t like. One thing I can say for that line, and that poem more broadly… It was one that I wrote shortly after I realised I needed to establish a greater sense of narrative and sequence; one I put at the very beginning of the book to centre on new life and the fragility of it, and the protective voice of the mother soothing the young cherub. It was kind of written with the viewpoint that the mother was placating the fears, albeit with a realisation that you can only do that for so long… there’s the inevitability of the child growing up and experiencing hurt, and loss, and sadness, and all those things without a capacity to shield them from it. But I think the line itself probably speaks more to the idea that love continues, even despite the ephemerality of life itself.

TBE: Your poems often capture the dichotomy between hope and disillusionment. How do you find the right words to convey these complex emotions?

Dyson Russell: This might sound a bit disingenuous, but I think in a lot of ways it’s just guess work. I mean, you can write something and have a reasonable understanding of how you perceive it, or what emotions it invokes, what feelings it encourages… and you can start to predict or guess how that might resonate with a broader readership, or how a larger audience may interpret certain things. But once the book is in the hands of the reader, once the poem is read by a different set of eyes, a different mind… you can’t control what they’re going to take from it, or if they’re going to take anything from it. So, I didn’t really sit down with an idea to strategize, or come up with clever ways to tap into complex emotions, I merely wrote what was authentic for my interpretation of elements of the human condition, and human experience… and if the byproduct of that is the capturing of the dichotomy between hope and disillusionment, well then that is great that the story reflects that. Was it by design? I mean sure to some degree, because the natural evolution and change of the human mind across a lifetime of experience creates it itself… but there was probably less intrinsic thought as to finding the right words, and more just allowing the words to naturally reflect this reality.

TBE: Nature and imagery seem to play a significant role in your poetry. How do you use these elements to enhance the themes you explore?

Dyson Russell: I think there’s a wonderful symmetry or synchronicity between human life as an intangible concept, and nature as in intangible concept. Both have layers of tangibility, you can pinpoint real and ever-present elements of both… but both also seem to have ethereal, maybe otherworldly components too. Exploring the beauty of that wonder and awe is something I think makes for very nice poetry – almost like a painting that is captivating because it uses a vast array of colours.

TBE: Your verses often carry a sense of nostalgia and reflection. How do your personal experiences influence your writing, and do you see yourself in the characters or situations depicted in your poems?

Dyson Russell: I think personal experiences have an unavoidable impact on any artform… whether it’s writing a song, or painting, or dancing. At the end of the day, you’re creating what you’re creating in that moment based on who you are in that moment. If the whole world stopped and created something – anything, at the same time, we would have seven billion different things… maybe there would be points of similarity, but they’d ultimately be different, and they’d be unique. So, whatever you’re creating it’s based on the person you are at that moment – whether consciously or subconsciously, and who we are in that moment is based on our experiences, at least to some degree. So naturally I think some of the writing is informed by my experience because it’s ultimately not avoidable… even if you set out to avoid it, you’re avoiding based on experiences you don’t want to include, so it’s still quintessentially based on experience. But as for seeing myself in the character, it’s a yes and no answer… no, in that the character isn’t supposed to be or reflect me specifically, but also yes… because the character is supposed to be able to broadly represent everyone in some way, and I really hope it does.

TBE: In “Marching with a Broken Shadow,” there’s a mix of both somber and uplifting themes. How do you strike a balance between these emotional tones within a single collection?

Dyson Russell: I think this question goes to what I was saying earlier about the unpredictability of human experience, and breadth of human emotion. I try to capture layers upon layers of binding human experience and collective human experience, and the byproduct of that is cycles of a lot contrasting themes, and distinctive feelings… somber and uplifting are some, love and loss, life and death, memories. There wasn’t so much of an intention on my part to strike a balance, as there was to reflect the scope of potential emotional tones in a life journey.

TBE: Can you describe your creative process when writing poems? Do you find inspiration strikes spontaneously or do you have a structured approach?

Dyson Russell: I think this is something I’ve improved upon quite a bit and is something that is definitely making it easier to work on the book I’m currently working on. Previously I found it really difficult to write without that strike of inspiration… a lot of time could pass without any writing, then there might be a wave of material. Now I think I’m a lot more balanced… I can build the inspiration to write within myself and find that I tend not to lose it.  In relation to creative process. I hand write everything first… without exception. Once it gets time to type up that poem I basically see it as the first layer of editing… most occasions the handwritten draft will change fairly significantly when it’s first typed up.  Then of course there’s various layers of editing beyond that – some poems change quite a bit, some change completely and maybe just the initial thought or idea remains but the wording gets a total overhaul. It’s an interesting part of the creative process.

TBE: Some of your poems touch on the concept of memory and how it shapes our perception. How does memory influence the themes and motifs in your work?

Dyson Russell: I’m not sure if memory shapes the themes and motifs at all; maybe for some people it will, but I think maybe it’s more broadly the idea of memory that shapes the themes, or what people think memory is, rather than memories themselves. I think when it came to the idea or concept of memory in the book I almost came at it with the intention of building it up to be something close to tangible or recognizable in a material sense. It’s difficult to quantify the importance of memories without using the sentiments of other people’s stories and stages of it.

TBE: The book features poems that beautifully capture the passage of time. How do you manage to convey such profound concepts using concise and evocative language?

Dyson Russell: I think the funny thing about the passage of time is that it can be so profound… but conversely it can also be so basic and so rudimentary. I mean even the blurb, ‘the passage from birth to death is a journey that binds us all’ … this is something that everyone knows, it’s not necessarily that profound, it’s common knowledge… it’s the simple most obvious reality of collective human experience – and yet it can seem profound, maybe in our minds because of the mystery around, probably not that experience, but maybe the question of what happens after death, what is life, what’s our purpose, do we have a purpose etc. etc. I suppose these questions, which are profound, are all closely related to the passage of time… but the passage of time in isolation I think is a thing of almost hauntingly beautiful simplicity; and maybe it’s the simplicity of it that bears itself evocatively in poetry.

TBE: Is there a particular poem in the collection that holds special meaning to you? If so, could you tell us more about it and why it resonates with you?

Dyson Russell: I’ll say honestly, not really anymore… and the reason for this, after going through such an extensive editing process – and a process by which I ended up cutting a lot of poems out of the finished narrative, and then substantially editing and reshaping the ones that remained, I really detached from the emotive elements of why they were written. This isn’t a bad thing, it just simply marked the reality of moving from writing for self-expression and conveyance of emotion, to trying to view my own work more critically, with the understanding that it needed to at least be in some way palatable to a broader readership – in terms of quality anyway. So now, I probably look at certain poems in the sense of whether they’re stronger or weaker in my own mind, as opposed to having more or less meaning… which is in some ways redundant anyway because as I’ve mentioned some of the poems I thought were of a low quality ended up being people’s favourites, so it’s all very personal to the individual. But to try to answer the question, “Four Leaf Clover” was one that I remember being very emotionally attached to originally when I first wrote it – but for reasons that are ultimately unique to me, and hopefully people read it and like it for different reasons again, or don’t like it for whatever reason… Art would be very boring if we all had the same reaction and emotion to it.

TBE: Could you share any challenges you faced while crafting these poems and how you overcame them to bring your vision to life?

Dyson Russell: At the beginning the biggest challenge was just simply producing anything that was worth reading. Even looking back at the first drafts of poems that ended up making the book, there’s some really poor-quality writing and poor-quality material… ultimately it’s pleasing to look back and see how some very underdeveloped ideas or poorly written lines, ended up developing into something better. I think that’s a nice part of the process, to see how far certain works came, how they grew over time, and that was more or less just from a persistence to write… which I think is important, I think at the end of the day enjoyment of writing has to be the overriding factor. Overall though, the biggest challenge was undoubtedly being finished with writing the initial digital copies, having over 200 individual word documents for each poem, and then having to work them into a chronological order that made sense from a narrative standpoint. I think a lot got cut and it ended up at about 133 poems in the book, but it was still a logistical challenge.

TBE: The blend of lyrical beauty and introspection in your writing is striking. How do you balance the technical aspects of poetry with the emotional depth of the content?

Dyson Russell: The honest answer is I really don’t care for the technical aspects of poetry. I don’t like the idea of technical, formulaic writing, at least in a creative sense… and unfortunately I think that’s why, in a lot of cases, contemporary poetry has become incredibly boring. People say poetry isn’t popular, but my argument would be that poetry is actually too popular… in that everyone in their life has at some point written poetry.  Whether it was for school, or some means of self-expression… everyone has done it, so it doesn’t have the same wow factor as writing a novel which not as many people have done.  But poetry now is so ubiquitous, and there’s really two obvious schools of poetry, which are people who write merely to convey internal emotions – but it’s generally of a poor quality, and then there’s the flip side, with people who think poetry needs to be this highly technical, overly sophisticated, hipster plaything… which ultimately just alienates your average reader, who doesn’t have a fancy moustache, because they don’t understand it.  Hopefully somewhere within those two schools there’s still a small but alive minority that create poetry as an authentic expression but do it with some level of creative skill.

TBE: “Marching with a Broken Shadow” is a journey of self-discovery and growth. How do you envision this collection inspiring readers to embrace their own journey and find beauty in the moments that shape them?

Dyson Russell: This is a great question, and one I’m not sure I’ll ever have the answer to.  Obviously, there’s the hope that someone who reads the book will find things they can relate to; find different layers of emotion or experience, even elements of story, that they see themselves in. But in terms of how I envisage it, it’s like I said earlier in relation to creating art – well it’s the same in terms of absorbing it, everyone will read the book and interpret it differently based on who they… what their life experiences have been, their sense of bias, their sense of love and beauty, of loss and hardship… and so to answer how I envision reader’s embracing their own journey, well I hope it’s different for every person.  I hope the rawness of the collection, the vulnerability, the mesmerising highs, and the depressive lows, I hope they all tap into something within the individual that encourages them to think, or dream, or wonder…

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