Anika Donnison: You have a performance background and a passion for storytelling; have you always been interested in writing and poetry?
Daley Rangi: I didn’t start writing poetry, or what people would consider poetry, until last year. I’ve written plays, but wrote a new, more lyrical piece in early 2020, when I was over on Gadigal country called Takatāpui, which is hard to translate, but essentially is how Māori folks refer to themselves within the queer community. I’ve struggled with gender identity, sexuality, my mental health and neurodiversity, for years. You know, all of that fun stuff. Only last year did I get a sense that I finally found some moments of peace with and within myself. The world changed, in a variety of ways, depending on your privilege, but what it definitely did do was slow things down.
With the world slowing down, as someone with a differently wired brain, it allowed me to catch up. Somehow it allowed me to find a place within myself, allowed me to connect to other communities. In doing that you really find the humanity in the stories we hold. This piece was the first time I dealt with my experience of sexual assault, and the toxicity of that, losing your bodily integrity. I lost myself for a long time, I think. But then I wrote something filled with burning power, rage, and joy – it was very poetic, in a way. The first time I’d made something I was proud of, because it was finally me being honest.
Towards the end of 2020, I saw that Perth Slam was doing some heats for the Australian Poetry Slam Finals. I decided that I would try writing something, I’ve always enjoyed listening to poetry slams, and, with all the injustice fuelling my writing, I thought people might want to hear my two cents in two minutes. The first poem I ever wrote was called Hallelujah, it was about my interactions with people who think I’m going to hell because I’m queer. It’s a brutal but beautiful micro-work. I got a really amazing response, and an understanding that sometimes we can write words that are simpler, quicker, more beautiful or more powerful. Sometimes you only have those two minutes. Sometimes you fall flat on your face, it’s great to try and fail and try again in poetry. You can feel when it’s beginning to work.
I kept coming back to Perth Slam, just testing out different pieces. I also wrote a poem called Fluid, which is basically a response to people who have been violent towards me just because I wear a dress. I think it’s interesting how clothing can create violence, this immaterial material. I was finding new ways to speak, new ways to reclaim myself, and new ways to challenge hierarchies. I’ve moved into this wide world of poetry because it is so different to writing a play or writing a short story. You are truly getting rid of everything that doesn’t need to be said. What you are left with is the truth.
AD: What is a story that changed your life?
DR: All stories that I experience and engage with change my life in small ways. It’s like death by a thousand cuts, but instead life by a thousand hugs. It’s this push and pull. Every single story, or poem, or piece of art will change my life in some way. I know it sounds obnoxious to say that, but I try to find some beauty or truth in everything I consume, even if it’s really against my values, morals, or ethics. I will fight against art or stories that hurt people or actively oppress communities, but those works will still change my life because it gives me another reason to fight. The works that really resonate are the works that give me a reason to continue living and fighting and continue telling stories. Maybe there is a specific work that has been life-changing and I just haven’t realised. Maybe I’ll be on my death bed and just be like “oh, that was the story that changed my life,” and then I’ll take a last gasp, say something witty, and be gone. Or maybe I even have the privilege of that final thought. I think I love the idea that art is to change someone’s life, even if perhaps that life is yours alone.
AD: Outside of performance and storytelling what do you do?
DR: Stories infect my life. But at the moment, I’m continuing my studies in Auslan and te reo Māori. Both those languages are important to me, for different reasons. I love language. I have my ancestral language that has been left for me to explore and connect with, and a language that is all about accessibility. Both bring so much light to my soul, about the communities surrounding me, even if sometimes they’re further afield. Beyond that, I love water. You will always find me in the water.
AD: What did you work on while hot desking?
DR: When I started the hot desk, I put forward in my application that I would do 10 poems over 12 weeks. I was like, I might get to 12 poems, because my two slam poems took quite a long time to complete. But, on the first day I got in and felt like “oh, this is what it feels like to have space, time and support to write.” Unfortunately not everyone has the privilege of a comfortable or safe home or café or office to write and to share. To dig deep. To have a quiet space to work, with other artists doing the same. It allowed me to do the digging. I wrote five poems on the first day. I slowed down a little bit after that, because each session I would edit and edit and edit and edit. I used a lot of imagery of sweat, and of labour, and of being alive. I gave my collection a loose title as I was working, Golden Sweat, a phrase from that initial poem Hallelujah. I can give you a quote:
Maybe I dream a quaint little dream where God is quite queer
She is tending her heavenly meadow
Dressed in naught but booty shorts and short boots
Her divine black skin shimmers with golden sweat
Glistening in the celestial sun as she embraces me
Some being who loves me for the am that I who.
It was this phrase that I came back to a year later. It runs through the poems even if it isn’t directly there. The thought of liquids and fluids and lifeblood. It’s all about fluids. Gotta love it. Somehow, I ended up with 36 pages of poetry, I think. I’ve technically written half a book. I would love to publish this collection someday.
AD: How has the hot desk served your writing practice?
DR: It’s so very good, the ability to have space and time and support to write, whether it’s a couple of days, or throughout a month, or for a whole year. I truly don’t know what it was about the space that allowed me to rev into gear, but maybe it was the fact that one day a week I felt like it was my job to be a storyteller. It felt like my place in the community was to tell stories. It felt like I had a home.
AD: What is one thing you’ve learnt that you want emerging writers to know?
DR: Don’t be afraid to offer up new ways of thinking, new ways of experiencing ourselves, and new ways of taking ownership of your stories. Don’t be afraid to challenge others. My biggest advice though, is to rest. To rest and to take a moment to be alive. You have survived this far, take a rest so you can fight when, where, and how you’ll need to. Enjoy being alive. Use some of that energy to help other people be alive as well. Don’t be afraid to find joy. Find joy in being alive. If you have chosen to be a storyteller in this community, your role is to offer up stories to help people survive and thrive, now and long into the future. Don’t be afraid to rest and recoup the energy it takes to share a part of yourself, your reflection and deflection of the world, your words of advice, protest, joy, or rage. That takes a lot of your soul, so rest, and know that other people will fight in those moments when you can’t, and other people will write in those moments when you can’t. Then, be ready to pick up the proverbial rope again, but only when you’re ready.
AD: Best writing advice you could give or that you have received?
DR: The same as before, but it took me a while to learn. Take it slow and enjoy being alive. Don’t force yourself to write. My best writing comes to me when I’m resting. Yes, there is truth in pain, but maybe it’s actually in the shadow of that pain, the reflection. Know that, as a writer, you don’t always have to write for someone else, sometimes you can write for yourself. You don’t have to sell your pain and trauma. Do what you need to do to survive, but don’t lose yourself in the process. My favourite poem I’ve written is about survival. My writing says more than I ever could otherwise.
Do you ever reread your secret suicide note
and recognise how far you’ve come
in your writing?
I noted my flawed grammar
erroneous and chaotic punctuation
and my unsound usage of metaphor.
If I was to write another
it would be so full of life
that it would defeat the purpose entirely.
To attempt to sum up existence in so short a verse
does a disservice to how beautiful you are
so let us stay around for a while
if only for the words you’re yet to write.
AD: What will you be working on next?
DR: I would love to publish a collection of poetry. I’ve got about 40 pages written so far. I’ve tentatively titled it Golden Sweat, as sweat comes up a lot in my poems. I think the collected words would say more about what I see in the world than anything else I’ve done. There is a lot in there that I want to share. Stories helped me survive, finding a way to tell my own helped me thrive, and if they can help just one other person do the same; why would I do anything else?
Daley Rangi is an antidisciplinary artist generating unpredictable works and words. A proud advocate for bodily integrity and neurodiversity, they evade categorisation and invade the status quo; speaking truth to power and reorienting hierarchies. Through eclectic and autodidactic research and practice, they share rousing stories which take many forms. Daley is inspired by ancestry and fuelled by injustice.
Anika Donnison studied Professional Writing and Publishing at Curtin University. She has appeared in GROK and COZE. She currently works as a Social Media Coordinator for Pegasus Professional Accounting.
Writing Change, Writing Inclusion is Centre for Stories’ signature writing program for 2021 to 2023. Generously funded by The Ian Potter Foundation, Australia Council for the Arts and Centre for Stories Founders Circle, this writing program features mentoring, hot desk, and publication opportunities for emerging writers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and/or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.