Caitlin Maling is a Western Australian poet who grew up in and around Fremantle. Since then she has lived around Australia, the US and the UK while collecting a BA in psychology and criminology from the University of Melbourne, a MPhil in criminological research from Cambridge University and a MFA in poetry from the University of Houston. Her work has been published in Australian Poetry, Best Australian Poetry, Westerly, Island, Meanjin, Threepenny Review, Green Mountains Review, Australian Book Review, Prairie Schooner and The Australian among others. Fish Work, was released in 2021 after being highly commended in the 2020 Dorothy Hewett Awards with UWA Publishing. Caitlin is a previous holder of the Marten Bequest in Poetry and a Teaching Fellowship at the University of Sydney.
Fish Work was written during three years of fieldwork at the Great Barrier Reef – how do you find time to write poetry during your work as a researcher?
I wrote Fish Work during my PhD studies. I found it a very useful research project for how it illuminated in different ways the central questions of my overall research practice: how do we make art that reconsiders the intersection of the human and the extra-than-human. It was challenging at times to balance all the different work requirements, particularly when I had grading to complete in my role as a sessional teacher of creative writing, but it immersed me in thinking about art as work and how that work related to the work of the marine biologists and other more traditional scientific researchers I was surrounded by.
Can you tell us a bit about how you are inspired by the environment?
It’s impossible to separate the environment from anything, we don’t live in a void or a vacuum. So for me as a poet, it’s about looking for ways to report how we are embedded in our places – the impacts we have on them (good and bad), and more importantly, how we are impacted by them.
What change would you like to see happen for the Australian environment?
I don’t think there’s any one Australian environment. But I guess, to speak of political environment, I would love less cynicism, more openness to expertise in terms of what is necessary to keep warming to as low as possible, rather than desperately trying to keep clawing after power and money. It’s incredibly disheartening, but also, as a writer, incredibly boring just to hear the same sloganeering rather than any new type of political discourse which might recognise the broader extra-than-human ecologies.
Do you think poetry has the power to create change?
I think poetry has the power to change poetry, and at it’s best to influence those who write and read it.
Which Australian poets do you recommend people to read?
Omar Sakr, Alison Whittaker, Tracy Ryan, Stuart Barnes, Elfie Shiosaki, Shastra Deo, Fay Zwicky, Gwen Hardwood, Randolph Stow.
Which Western Australian poets have influenced you throughout your career?
Tracy Ryan has really impacted me as a model of someone who is incredibly precise in their writing. I often think of myself as throwing poems and words out willy nilly, without really thinking them through much. But Tracy she really treats each word and each poetic decision as though it matters and her work is the better for it.
How would you describe the Western Australian literary landscape?
Nice. Small. Incestuous. Literal. Littoral.
This is your fourth collection of work – what is next on the horizon for you?
I’ve just completed the manuscript of what I hope will be my fifth collection: “Spore or Seed”. It’s a poetry collection about being pregnant and having an infant in a time of climate crisis. As my sister said to me: “you’ve become one of those artists who, once they’ve had a baby, only makes art about their baby” and it’s true! I’m also now working on a collection of hybrid essays around the mid-west coast of WA from Cervantes north to Exmouth, it’s a weird stretch of land and gives me ample opportunity to use all my favourite words: rock, sand, red, sea-grass, dugong, stromatolite
Fish Work is available for purchase.