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Speech is important. For most of human history, our stories, religions, myths and truths were communicated exclusively orally. and it was talking that enabled us to collaborate sufficiently to rise to the top of the food chain. And yet public speaking is consistently found to be one of the most pervasive human fears. What's that about? Why are we so scared of using our voices?

This month, we're focussing on speaking, specifically, making ourselves heard in public. We'll be looking at storytelling, poetry, oratory and speechmaking, and celebrating the beautiful use of excellent words to make a point.

To whet your appetite, check out The Moth, who curate live storytelling events in the world, and have started a huge resurgence of interest in the art of telling a fantastic story. Then listen to some fierce, gutsy, chills-down-the-spine spoken word from Anis Mojgan and Warsan Shire. Then read this incredible undelivered speech written by William Safire for Richard Nixon in case the 1969 Moon Landing went very wrong. 

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter and Instagram for updates and inspiration!

Now, put your feet up and dive into our interview with poet, writer and sound producer Izzy Roberts-Orr, chatting about first words, knowing how to talk but learning to speak, and finding ways to truly, honestly connect.

THE ART OLYMPICS rides over to Brunswick for a late night natter with poet, writer and sound producer IZZY ROBERTS-ORR.

12:16 am. A queen-sized bed in a Brunswick sharehouse. Red wine, beer, fairy lights, two pillows, one sound recorder.

Art Olympics: Hey Izzy, how you doing?

Izzy Roberts-Orr: Aw, I’m pretty good. 

AO: Do you want to give a brief introduction to what you do? I know that’s a really big thing, so you can just say all the shit that you do that’s vaguely relevant to SPEAK.

IRO: I’m just reeling off the terrible bio that I have to send people from my website.


IRO: I’m a writer, and an editor, and a radio producer. And a lot of the stuff I do is around sound design. I produce podcasts and I do broadcast radio. I also do spoken word poetry and things like that. Even just writing, and particularly poetry, is so much about voice. So that feels relevant. 

AO: So, I’ve known you for probably eight years now. And when I think about you, one of the things that I always think about is your voice, and your words. You’re so articulate, and when I think of you, it’s as this incredibly passionate, communicative person. So I’m wondering, when was the first time that you realised that your voice was a powerful medium?

IRO: I feel like that harks back a long way. And that’s a slightly abstracted question, so my answer is probably slightly abstracted as well. I’m going to mention a couple of things. I remember always wanting to write. When I was about four or so, maybe a bit before that, I started reading with my mum. And when I was four, we made my first book. It was basically abstract shapes that we sewed together into a fabric book, but that was the first one. And then the next ones were, like, Chicken Little, and all these other things that I created. I still have copies of them somewhere at my mum’s house. But I knew as soon as I started reading, that I wanted to write. I always was like, ‘Yup! A+!’ 

And it’s funny, there is a video somewhere from my sister’s third birthday party, of me just talking to the camera, and it’s a perfect articulation of this tiny, young human who wanted to communicate with the world.

AO: How old would you have been?

IRO: Five? Just being like, ‘I have a lot to say! I just wanna tell you about it!’


IRO: As soon as I started talking, the way my mum describes it, I wouldn’t stop. As soon as I learnt that words were a way that people could understand you, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m on board with that!’ 

And the other moment that I have, and it’s weird – this was actually a moment of realising that my voice didn’t speak for everything. I wrote to my sister for her twenty-first birthday when I was overseas last year, about remembering this moment when, I think I was six and she was four. And I remember that always, we’d go to these family functions, and there’d be a moment when someone would say, ‘And who are you two?’, and I’d say, ‘Well, I’m Isobel, and this is Greer, and I’m six, and she’s four, and I do this, and she does that.’ And for the first time, I said, ‘I’m Isobel –‘ and she said, ‘I’m Greer.’ And she spoke up for herself. And I really remember this moment, having this revelation that this other human wasn’t part of me. I really thought that we were just the same person. So me speaking was me always speaking for both of us. And actually realising that she was a whole fucking universe – she had her own brain, and her own thoughts and her own experience of the world. And no matter how well I knew her, I could never speak for her. 

AO: Do you know what your first word was?

IRO: I think that my first sentence is actually more ingrained in family history, if you will. Because I don’t remember speaking my first words. I’m fairly sure that it was ‘mama’ and ‘dada’, pretty quickly, together. But my first sentence – in inverted commas – was, ‘Off doona Annie.’ Which was my older half-sister, and me pulling it, at Tanja, where my grandfather lives. Just pulling this doona and being like, ‘Off doona Annie!’, like, ‘Get off the doona, I need this!’ Apparently that was my first sentence. Not very interesting for a poet, but there you go.


AO: So when you were at school, did you do a lot of debating, or performing, or things that focussed on your speech?

IRO: Absolutely. I did debating a fair bit at high school. I was SRC president and executive in every year level. So lots of public speaking. And lots of improv and drama as well. Because, I don’t know – there’s an interesting dynamic there for me, with the audience. It’s always about engaging with people and communicating with people. And being on the same level. But it’s not the same way you always hear about it, where it’s about getting applause. And it’s somewhat confrontational. Like, I want the audience to not just be getting what they want. I want them to be shocked, or something. But I also want them to see me, really. And engage with me. And I’m like, ‘Here’s an offer. Take my hand. Let’s walk this walk together.’ 

AO: Do you get stage fright, ever, when you’re speaking in public?

IRO: Of course! More so after I finished high school, though. Weirdly, as an adult, I think I became much more afraid of public speaking. And I don’t entirely know why that is. I think, honestly, that’s had to do somewhat with other factors of my life, that’ve made me feel insecure – mitigating factors, like partners, or other people. Right now, today, I feel like I could go and speak and just know what I’m doing, and just feel okay about that. Because I am very okay within myself. And maybe I had more of that in spades when I was in high school. I think stage fright is fairly normal, though. I have a trait of blushing, quite often. 

AO: I’ve never noticed that. 

IRO: I do that, sometimes. I blush. Or even, I can feel it, there’s heat. And that’s awkward. But I feel like, often, that space for improvisation is important to me – that being in the moment, and not being like, ‘I’ve practiced this whole thing, I have this whole speech in front of me, I have to read all of that.’ Actually just being like, ‘This is now, and I am speaking to you.’ I’m probably better at speaking to people than I am at lecturing at them. 

AO: So, you’ve been doing spoken word for some years now. When was the first time that you did spoken word in public?

IRO: So, I had been writing poems. And my best friend from high school had been going to this spoken word event in Prahran.

AO: The Spinning Room?

IRO: The Spinning Room. And trying to convince me to go. And I was like, ‘Prahran is so far away from Footscray! So far away!’ And then I moved to a house around the corner from The Spinning Room. And she was like, ‘Well, okay, you have to come, if only to hear me read. And you should bring two poems. Just in case you feel like reading.’ And then I got there, she was like, ‘You should put your name on the door. They don’t call everyone, just do it, just in case.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’m fucking here, so I guess so.’ And I did. And I listened to everyone, and I got called up, and I went and read, and was like, ‘Oh my god! Okay!’ And it wasn’t a competition, but they chose someone that they decided was the reader of the night – the ‘callback’ was what they called it. And they were like, ‘It’s not like you’ve won, it’s not like you’re better than anyone else, but we would just really love to hear you read one more poem.’ And on my first read there – my first read ever telling anyone my poetry! Flo had never even heard these! – they were like, ‘You’re the callback,’ and I was like (she puts on a tiny voice) ‘Oh, okay. Ah!’ 


IRO: So I read another poem. And at the end of that, this man came up to me, and was like, ‘Hey, what are you doing tomorrow night?’ And I was like, ‘Er, nothing.’ And he was like, ‘You’re coming to Abbotsford!’ And I was like, ‘Am I?’ and he was like, ‘Yes! Cos there’s a spoken word thing, and you’re going to do that poem, and come to that.’ And I was like, ‘Okay! I’m going to take life as it comes! Sure!’


IRO: So I went the next night, and I signed up, and I won, and then I ended up, a couple of weeks after that, reading at the Wheeler Centre in the finals for the Overland Spoken Word thing. And I didn’t win, which is good!


IRO: But it was amazing. And I remember waiting, and being nervous before going up onstage, and they filmed it, and it was fucking intense, and I was like, ‘This is the third time I’ve ever read poetry in front of people!’ And meeting Luka Lesson, who was, if not that year, then the next year, the Australian Slam Champion – he’s amazing – and him just talking about rehearsing constantly, and just being really good at his craft as a spoken word poet. And me just being like, (a tiny voice again) ‘I just wrote this on my way here! Cool!’ 


AO: What is the difference between spoken word and slam poetry? Is there a difference?

IRO: Yeah, I would argue so. If you look at an event and it says spoken word, it’s not necessarily competitive. Whereas, when you see ‘slam’, the point of slam is that it’s spoken word that’s competitive. So someone should always win a slam, and the audience should always have participation in a slam. Slam is also much more influenced by hip hop than spoken word necessarily has to be. By the same token, I think slam can be somewhat restrictive, sometimes. Like, I went to see a terrible slam poetry thing a while ago, where everyone wasn’t being honest, wasn’t being true, but they had learnt all of their words by rote, so they didn’t have a piece of paper. And they had a rhythm and they had something to say. But it was far less interesting, because it wasn’t risk-taking. And spoken word can be like that too, but to me, that’s more of an open category that means, maybe you’re going to do a percussive set, where you just breathe into the microphone and do some weird performance art shit. Spoken word feels like a freer medium to me in a lot of senses. But slam also has an incredible history that not everyone in Australia seems to understand. I don’t know.

AO: I had this really kind of profound experience in New York, reading at the Nuyorican, having this epiphany that the thing that I read didn’t fit into the environment that I was reading it. Where there were these mostly incredible, feminist, women of colour speaking such gut-wrenching truths about what it was to be them. And it was so political in a way that my work has never been. And I was kind of like, ‘Ah. I’m not doing things that fit here.’ 

IRO: Someone who was one of my mentors a few years ago in the spoken word scene kind of mentioned that slam poetry, in that context anyway, gets judged on three criteria. And if I remember correctly, I may not, it’s: content, and performance, and – oh, god, what’s the other word? I was going to say delivery. There’s a difference, somehow, between delivery and performance. But that tells you something, that two thirds of it are about how you do the piece. Maybe originality was in there somewhere. But I remember watching one of my friends at a slam read this incredible poem. And the way that he performed wasn’t within the gamut of what the audience was up for. And so their vote was that he wasn’t the best poem, and I was like, ‘That was the best poem. If you gave any of these to me on paper, or even recorded, I would pick that poem.’ And he didn’t even rank.

AO: What was it about his performance that wasn’t fitting in to what was expected?

IRO: Probably the context. Some of the ‘being on the mic’ experiences are so much about the personal. I’m interested in this, in a broader sense. I was talking to my friend Fiona the other day about the rise of the personal essay. We’ve become so obsessed with truth, and people want to hear you divulge the morbid details of your life. It’s like clickbait, you know? It’s not about good writing always, it’s about sensationalism a lot of the time. And spoken word/slam is very often about that. 

I remember when we were at the Brunny [The Brunswick Hotel], and I read this poem about rape. And I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to read that again.’ And I really worry that with that poem – I borrowed that structure. And I say that at the start of the poem, but also, really, this is just something that is like, ‘Here’s a bad thing that happened to me.’ And that’s what people get off on. And so often, that’s the poem that people would come up to me afterwards and just be like, ‘I really felt you. Yes.’, and I’m like, maybe that’s a beautiful thing, in that I can be like, ‘Here’s my life experience,’ and someone else can feel connection, or validation. 

Because for me, ultimately anything I ever do is about connection. All of my obsession with communication and speaking is about connecting with other people. But there’s something uncomfortable about the fact that the thing that people want to connect with me over is this. I’m like, ‘What about all the work I put into these other things?’ That’s the uncomfortable thing about those spaces, is that there’s this uncomfortable weighting towards fucked-up personal histories. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I think it’s an interesting thing. That you, baring your soul, or worse still, you making a pantomime of baring your soul – and that’s where it gets uncomfortable, actually. When I go to those events and I watch a bunch of people read, and they’re not genuinely feeling what’s going on. They’re just kind of parodying the idea of something that’s going on. And I’m like, ‘I don’t want to see you pretend to feel something like heartbreak. Yeah, I do want you to actually give me your heartbreak, but I want you to give it to me in a way that is crafted, and different.’ And that’s the fucked-up point of poetry, maybe. And I want people to be able to come up to me and say, ‘I loved your poem about rape because of this line that you said, that was true.’ Not ‘Because you were brave enough to talk about rape.’ And that’s still valid – it’s great when people come up and say, ‘Thank you for being brave.’ But it’s weird when it gets conflated with art. There’s got to be some kind of separation, maybe. I don’t know. 

AO: Of all the poems that you’ve performed as spoken word pieces, what’s been the one that has been the most successful, or that people respond best to? 

IRO: There’s a push and pull between probably three pieces. My first one that I ever wrote for spoken word was ‘James Dean.’ And that still garners quite good responses. And it’s fairly empty, in a lot of ways. It’s about being young. I was a baby when I wrote that. But a lot of people liked it because of the rhythm and the way that it engages pop culture. I don’t know. Then there’s also ‘Tiny Cities’, which is the poem that I wrote about the man I love. And that, a lot of people engage with because it’s ridiculous and rambling and just about loving someone and not knowing how to explain it. 

The other one is ‘The Rape Joke’, which is a response to Patricia Lockwood’s poem, ‘The Rape Joke.’ And I stole, or borrowed, her structure, and wrote my own story into that. And a lot of people have responded to that as well. It’s interesting, I wonder if I read all three of those pieces to you, now, right here in my room, which one you would pick as your favourite. Because I think so much of the success of those has to do with where I’ve been in my life when they’ve been the most successful. So, ’Tiny Cities’ when I read it in Glasgow, over and over again, when my love was on the other side of the world, there’s a line in there that’s, ‘My chest is full of tiny birds that migrate to the other side of the world just to see you smile, then fly home to roost in my ribcage.’ And that tiny image, of, ‘You are so far away, and I love you,’ meant so much more when we were so far away from each other, maybe. And I wonder about the way that you read something. There’s poems, like for example, ‘Exposure’, which is one of my favourite poems of mine at the moment. The difference between that on different pages and different people reading it, and me reading it in different contexts. I’ve tried to do recordings of it, to edit into something, and I read it differently all the time. It’s still the same poem, but it sounds different. And I think that has a lot to do with how people receive something. 

AO: Recently, as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival ‘Uncommon Places’ project, you created this audio work designed to be listened to in a park, about women in public spaces. What was the process of putting that together, and what were you trying to achieve? There’s something quite powerful about being in public and hearing people kind of whispering in your ear about the space you’re in. Tell me about putting that together.

IRO: Well, you’re right about there being something quite powerful about being in public space and having someone whisper in your ear, and I’m kind of obsessed with it. I’m a podcasting nerd, and being on public transport, for example, like catching the tram into the city on the way to work, and having someone whisper in my ear about their love, this person that I will never meet, never see the face of, in America, talking about this thing that is so personal – I will cry on the tram, on my way to work. And I think that is amazing. To me, sound is an especially special medium, because of that. Because you’ve got this capacity to show someone for what they really are. There’s a vocal imprint. I remember when dad died, and all these people called his voicemail. And that’s a reflex – to hear someone, when they’re gone. I can’t hold you, but I can hear you. And long-distance relationships – I remember talking on the phone, every day, to my boyfriend at the time on the other side of the world. It was like, ‘You’re suddenly tangible, and I can hear you – oh my god! All of you is – you’re sick, or you’re in bed, or you’re walking on the street, and I’m there.’ There’s so much that sound gives you in that sense. So I guess I have that fascination in the first place. 

‘How to Behave’ was an interesting process. Where it came from was wanting to put voice to something that maybe has a voice but also is a very disjointed or underrepresented voice a lot of the time. Particularly, we were talking earlier tonight about the importance of place. And for me, the spaces that we inhabit often don’t get allowed the chance to speak about what goes on there. And that’s really interesting, to me. Some of the spur was Masa Vukotic, who was murdered in Doncaster, running about 6 o’clock at night. And the response from this police officer, kind of being like, ‘Well, you should walk in pairs’ – No. Actually, this was a freak, awful thing that happened to this young woman. She was going for a run, she was doing everything she could have been doing to be safe, and someone killed her, and that’s fucked. And let’s just deal with the fact that that’s fucked. Let’s just allow that to be awful, and not her fault. 

So that was kind of the spur, was about this question of inhabiting public space. And I have had that debate so many times with myself, and other people, but particularly with myself – and I’m referencing myself here with the rape joke poem, where there’s a line in there somewhere about, ‘As if the miniskirt and the Doc Martens and the cigarette were gonna protect me against the night, but also, it wasn’t the skirt or the night that were dangerous, it was a person that I knew that raped me.’ And all of those narratives, about ‘Don’t walk by yourself, don’t do this thing, don’t do that thing’, are like, ‘Actually, the reality of the statistics is, don’t leave your home. Don’t date anyone, ever. Don’t have a partner. Just don’t be murdered, women. Stop it.’ 

So the ridiculousness of that kind of narrative, where it’s like, ‘Don’t inhabit public space’ – actually, public space, for the most part, is safer for me than my own bedroom, statistically. In terms of what’s going to happen to me there. So, fuck that. I’m going to inhabit this. And it’s interesting, because that project ended up becoming something that was more about showing the stories that were positive about that. And for me, something that’s really important is having a vision for the future and having hope in the work that I create, I am not interested in listening to another audio piece that tells me the awful things about what happens to women in public space. And there was so much potential for ‘How to Behave’ to be about that. And I was like, ‘You know, I don’t want to listen to a 30 minute audio tour of someone telling me about being beat up, or harassed in a park. I want to listen to an audio tour about women knowing that that threat is there, and doing something anyway.’ And that’s what I ended up making, I hope. Is something that was not ignoring the danger, and not ignoring the fact that it’s uncomfortable, and every time I walk by myself at night, I am hyper-aware. That is there, that’s on my shoulder, that’s a bugbear. Don’t ignore it – acknowledge it. But also, speak about the fact that you’re walking home at night, and fuck yeah, what’s good about this situation? Just describe it to me, and normalise it. And I hope that’s what the piece ended up becoming, was something that was more about what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. 

AO: I think there’s something that I feel like you are particularly aware of, because you are a person who is incredibly adept at communication and incredibly convincing, and also a person who is a strong feminist – do you feel like you have this duty to kind of stand up and speak as a woman?

IRO: Hmm. It’s interesting, because I feel like ‘speak as a woman’ sounds like something to me that makes me feel slightly uncomfortable.

AO: I know, there’s something very 1990s and ‘men realising that women have voices’ about that phrasing. 

IRO: No, but there’s something to me that speaks of people trying to represent a group that is massive. And to me, firstly, I guess I speak as a woman, sure, but there’s also a lot of those experiences that don’t relate to me, at all. Even, you use the word ‘woman’ – yes, I’ll identify with that for the moment. That’ll do, sure. But ‘woman’ is like, half the population. Think about all the Venn diagrams of a person. That attitude, to me, being like, ‘It’s my responsibility to be the voice and stand on the soapbox, and be the person who is all the things!’, that sounds to me like the ultimate of white feminism. Where someone stands on the box and says, ‘I am a woman. This is what we need.’ And totally ignores all of the race and class and intersectional and gender-diverse and LGBTIQA+ issues that come up within feminism, and just goes, ‘I am this one thing. And this is the one thing that you should listen to.’ Nobody is just one thing. I am not just a woman. And this is an issue that has actually come up, when I meet someone, where it’s like, ‘Oh, that person sees me as a woman, rather than as a person.’ And it’s been really uncomfortable. It’s only happened a handful of times in my life, and it’s generally – I’m making the generalisation because this is my experience – it’s entirely been, for me, cis white men, who have met me and seen me as a woman first, and a person second. And I find that really uncomfortable. Because that’s part of who I am as a person, sure, maybe. But also maybe ask me about it first. You’ve also assumed that based on looking at me. You don’t know that yet. And it’s not all of who I am. Like, ‘woman’ isn’t everything that is Izzy. And then I look at that, and I think about the fact that I am incredibly privileged, in that I am a white, middle-class, educated, skinny ‘woman’, and I am so much closer to, inverted commas, ‘woman’, than a lot of other people who would also identify with that word, and yet I still look at it and go, that isn’t all of me. Like, what does that even mean? So no, I don’t feel that compulsion to stand on a soapbox. Though I certainly feel the need to speak out in certain circumstances. 

AO: I find it interesting that I know people who, for example, are dyslexic, and are like, ‘Fuck you, I’m going to become a writer.’ I think there’s something kind of fascinating about the fact that you use your voice so adeptly, and yet you’re a person who loses their voice more than most people I know. You have these bouts of laryngitis. And I know that when you were younger, you had chronic fatigue and were not physically able to speak. What was that experience like, of being unable to vocally express yourself?

IRO: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. It’s funny, because I think I speak a lot of the time, incessantly. And so many times, particularly my mother, but other people, have been like, ‘Learn to listen.’ And I don’t think listening and talking necessarily have to be separate things. But it’s an interesting point – I almost compulsively speak a lot of the time. And that overrides other experiences that I could be having, because I’m speaking. But by the same token…It’s been funny, recently I started a poem that was talking about the fact that I’m losing my voice. And what does that mean. But being someone who talks a lot, and learning to be someone who speaks a lot are quite different. Talking is not the same thing as speaking, I guess. And speaking, to me, is more about trying to find some kernel of truth or honesty, at least, and get to the heart of something, and crack it open. 

So yeah, I’ve always been good at talking, and I’m always trying to be better at listening, but learning how to be good at speaking has been a process. Learning how to go, ‘No, this is what I really mean.’ I think that’s why I’m attracted to poetry, because it distils all of that speaking voice. I can put in ten lines something that might take me 500 pages to work out in a different voice. But just distilling it, and being like, ‘These 3 words actually mean the whole fucking world. That is enough. That will tell you everything I need to say.’ 


And I also think that speaking comes from more than just voice, and more than just language. I remember travelling when I was 11 with mum, to Europe. I didn’t speak any of the languages in any of the places that I went, but I picked it up really quickly. So we’d be in Europe, in this tiny town where no-one spoke any English, and I would just pick up Italian. And work with some of the German that I had, and a bit of French, and somehow figure out how to communicate with a shop-keeper exactly what we meant. And sign language, and whatever. And I just got that. That at 11, I was like, ‘Look at me, look me in the eyes, I will tell you what I want. And I will sign, and I will dance, and I will find the words in five different languages that I don’t speak, to tell you that I just want to buy this tile for twenty Euros. Can I do that, please? That’s all I want to communicate to you right now.’ You know? Or just, like, ‘I think your icecream is amazing! And I just want to tell you that! And you’re great! And have a great day!’


IRO: That is not hard to tell someone. And so, speaking is communicating, and speaking is not difficult, necessarily, if you’re open to more than one avenue. 

But yeah, not being able to speak was really fucked. 


IRO: When I had chronic fatigue, speaking of that specifically, there were points in that where I just couldn’t speak. I could think something, and I couldn’t actually push it out of my mouth. And that was really devastating. To a certain extent, my self was stripped of me, because so much of me is about being able to articulate, or speak, or connect. And so I felt really locked within myself. I’d be like, ‘I just had the most amazing dream, and I can’t tell you, because all I can say is like, ‘Can you get me some water?’ I can’t even move.’ I don’t know, it was – I remember points as well, being mid-conversation, or worse yet, it would become exacerbated when I was emotional, which is the worst point, right? Is that I would be really sad, or really angry, and completely incapacitated and unable to communicate that feeling, because it would just make me need to go to sleep. 


Promotional image for 'Night Minds' by Sarah Walker. 

Promotional image for 'Night Minds' by Sarah Walker. 

IRO: So, I’d just be like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got all these feelings, but actually, I’m just going to have a nap.’ 

AO: Gosh. How old were you?

IRO: Eighteen, nineteen. 

AO: And how long did it go on for?

IRO: It was like a year and a half. I still technically had chronic fatigue for a long time after that, but it wasn’t affecting me in the same way. I mean, I still technically have it, but what does that mean? It’s a syndrome, so who knows? It’s interesting, though, because insomnia was so coupled with so many words. And before I had chronic fatigue, I had insomnia, and I wrote my first play, ‘Night Minds.’ And that was a moment of hyper brain activity, where it was like, ‘I am so aware of everything. And everything is metaphorical, and I have three different ways of explaining this intense moment.’ And I was so linguistically switched-on, and wrote this play that was almost entirely in poetic monologues, and then I dive-bombed, and was unable to speak, even to the point of communicating on a day-to-day basis with people. What a contrast. 

AO: What’s something that someone else has said to you recently, that’s been really on point?

(She silently taps away and plays a file on her computer. Children’s voices natter indistinctly, then a man’s voice says):

‘We just wanted someone to speak to. So we chose each other.’ 

(The last line is repeat over and over, distorted and glitching into static). 

AO: And who’s that from?

IRO: That’s from my penpal.


AO: So, with everybody that I’ve interviewed, I’ve asked them to come up with a challenge for people. Do you have one off the top of your head that relates to the theme of SPEAK?

IRO: Yeah, I do. And this has reminded me of something that I need to follow up with one of my friends, who – I’ll tell you the story first, then I’ll tell you the challenge. One of my friends, who I believe will be a brilliant essayist, isn’t super confident writing essays. But they have the most incredible critical mind, and this total minefield of intellectual ability. And any time you speak to them in person, it’s like, ‘Holy fuck, just write an essay about that already!’ And so we spoke recently, about them reading these essays in The Lifted Brow, and being like, ‘Wow, I should be doing that,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, you should.’ And then they were like, ‘Argh, but I don’t know how to –‘, and I was like, ‘Shut up, and just go and record yourself speaking into your phone as if you were speaking to me. Feel free to write notes and have references, but just record as if you were talking to me, for like half an hour to an hour, about this topic. Give me a lecture. And then we’ll go and transcribe it, and we’ll fix it up and turn it into an essay. But just speak to me.’ And so, my challenge is along the same lines, which is – just throw away your laptop – don’t actually, because you need it.


IRO: And your writing pad, or whatever the fuck. Just ignore that stuff for a while, and get yourself a sound recorder, and speak into it. One amazing thing I did with the poems when I was doing my Wheeler Centre Hot Desk fellowship, was that I’d write the first draft, and then I would record myself reading it, and then I would listen back to myself reading it, and the I would type it out again. So it would be like, handwrite, record voice, type. And when I was typing, I’d then make all these changes listening to myself reading it. But listening to myself reading it was the key point. Was the point where I was like, ‘Oh, that word does not fit there.’ And it’s like, that would take me seven more drafts if I just put it on the page! Just speak to yourself. Record yourself speaking. Whether it’s something that you’ve written and you’re listening back to it, and you hear your voice reading it, or whether it’s you speaking to yourself and then writing it down – it’s an incredibly powerful thing to listen to yourself speak. And just get over the embarrassment of your own voice. And recognise that there’s something beautiful and powerful within it. 

AO: Great. That’s great. Thanks love. 

You can find Izzy's work on her website, and follow her on Twitter
All photos by Sarah Walker.