'It's Like Putting Your Diary in Public'
Dominic Hoey describes releasing his latest book as being similar to “putting your diary in public… it’s quite nerve wracking”.
Dominic has spent decades putting pen to paper, as a rapper, poet, novelist and playwright, but he still has plenty to say. He’s releasing his latest poetry book I Thought We’d Be Famous next week, which he self-published on his own press Dead Bird Books. This involved juggling the release with several other creative projects, as well as mentoring work (and interviewing creatives for The Big Idea).
He says he had over half of this latest collection written years ago, but then fell into working on his first play and had a novel, Iceland, accepted for publishing, which went on to be long-listed for last year's Ockham Book Awards.
“It’s good because I learned so much from doing the novel and the play and that affected my poetry,” he says. “It’s such a different book now, and also because I’m older, it’s not nostalgic but it’s more like a look back on all this stuff, even though there’s shit that’s contemporary to what my life is like now.”
Dominic says he aims to keep his poetry “as simple as possible,” as though he’s having a conversation. His work moves through themes of nostalgia, love and work—the political and the personal—as seamlessly as they blend in everyday life.
In a testament to the universality of his words, this week he was part of an Artweek Auckland where a tattooist from Two Hands made his poetry permanent on the limbs of several guests.
In terms of his process, he says he mainly writes at night, simply turning off the internet and putting 30 minutes on a timer. “I find that way you can do two or three hours and it doesn’t feel like a slog.”
“The other thing I’m really into is just going away and doing a large body of work—so with both my novels I go away and write the first draft in like six weeks. The first draft is a mess but you have something to build on. I find otherwise you start spreading your ideas too thin, especially when you’re dealing with the same themes.”
As well a play planned for early next year, he has a residency in Vancouver to fill with another “hare-brained scheme” because he already completed the project he pitched to write there. He says he’s had a lot more luck being accepted by funding bodies and the arts communities since working in these mediums.
“Whereas when you’re rapping or doing spoken word, even though what I was doing was quite popular at different times, it’s just really insular. I just did a CNZ grant and I didn’t even bother putting any of my rap shit on there, or anything I won, or any of the tours I did, so it looks like I started making art in 2012, even though I did 20 years of shit before that.”
This is an idea that’s informed his next play, and something that comes up for himself, as well as in the work he does with the youth mentoring programme Atawhai, where he often feels confronted by “the classism that exists in art”.
“What I’ve seen is that if an artform is more accessible it’s less valid. Like rapping for example, anyone can do that with a pen and paper, whereas like ballet which involves all that training — even though you could argue that the skill level at the top is probably not that different… I think people would be horrified for me to say that, but it’s pretty hard to rap well.”
“The play’s about that and how you’ll get told over and over to play the game, but all that means is to act like a straight middle-class person.”
“You’ll get told over and over to play the game, but all that means is to act like a straight middle-class person.”
He says showing the play to people has pointed out just how much “some people hate talking about class in this country so much, even by people who are supposedly really political but are actually just centrists.”
He found university study too rigid, and values the fact he’s entirely self-taught, preferring to run his work past other creatives he trusts and placing importance on an audience’s visceral reaction to a work.
“I think at the end of the day it’s how it reads and it’s how it feels. From performing I know how to make things that affect people—I know how to make people laugh, or empathise with me, or make that ‘ah’ noise—which is not to say I’m not learning all the time.”
“From performing I know how to make things that affect people—I know how to make people laugh, or empathise with me, or make that ‘ah’ noise
He says there are plenty of creatives making great work in Auckland at the moment, citing artist Elliot Stewart, the Fafswag collective, musicians Eno x Dirty and Tom Scott, and writers Liam Jacobson and Vanessa Crofskey amongst his favourites. Overall, however, he finds the city a strange place to be as it’s “been gentrified for one type of person”.
“I feel like I’m not that person, and most of the people I care about aren’t those people.”
He says it’s particularly difficult for artists to get by, and doesn’t have any faith the Labour Government will make a dent in the city’s levels of poverty or housing, having seen them through multiple administrations.
“I was thinking about writing an open letter to Jacinda, like: ‘Hey, you know how you used to come to my gigs at Golden Dawn and DJ and heaps of your support is because you’re down with the arts, well why don’t you actually do something now you’re the ruler of the country?”
The intense feedback he’d get from Labour voters puts him off, but he says art is a helpful outlet to express his politics: “It’s all I can really do.”
“Even if it is just for morale—I think that’s really important too.”