Archer Asks: Madison Godfrey, author of Dress Rehearsals
By: Archer Magazine
Madison Godfrey is a writer, editor and educator who lives on Whadjuk Noongar land, with a rescue cat named Sylvia. They have performed poetry at the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Albert Hall, TEDx, and Glastonbury Festival. Madison is a previous recipient of the Kat Muscat Fellowship, the Varuna Flagship Fellowship, and a WA Youth Award for ‘Creative Contributions’ to the state.
Madison’s second poetry collection Dress Rehearsals was published by Allen & Unwin Imprint JOAN in March 2023 and “sounds like the score of a rebellion” (Nakkiah Lui). Dress Rehearsals was listed as one of the most anticipated books of 2023 by Refinery29, RUSSH Magazine, and Sydney Morning Herald. Currently Madison is finishing their PhD, teaching creative writing and wearing a lot of purple.
Archer spoke to Madison Godfrey about their second book, Dress Rehearsals, which is available now. This is the first title to be published under Allen & Unwin’s Joan Press, curated by Nakkiah Lui.
Image: Madison Godfrey (taken by Louise Coghill) and Dress Rehearsals (courtesy of Allen & Unwin)
Archer Magazine: Hi Madison! So, tell us about Dress Rehearsals. What were some of the main motivations and inspirations for this book?
Madison Godfrey: Dress Rehearsals is a collection of poems that documents a decade of performing womanhood. The poems are interested in music, fandom, gender and desire.
I wrote this book because I wanted to spend time inside a narrative that relearns and reimagines femininity. For so long, I perceived my femininity as something that made me visible or vulnerable, but in the pages of Dress Rehearsals, I was inspired to create a place where those feelings could coexist beside joy and euphoria.
Often, as a non-binary and trans person, I feel like my discussion of gender is expected to revolve around dysphoria, so I wanted to document some joyous, sexy and celebratory moments of being femme: in which my femininity is a song I sing to myself on the walk home.
AM: Dress Rehearsals is described as a “memoir made of poetry”. Can you tell us more about the form of your work?
MG: Yeah! So most of the pieces in Dress Rehearsals are prose poems. A prose poem can be understood as a poem that visually resembles a paragraph, and it’s usually justified to the margin, so the words exist within a visual box.
Something I adore about prose poems is how they disrupt expectations of what a poem should look like. This subversion of aesthetic assumptions has an exciting synergy with the themes of my book, where I’m speaking about performing a version of womanhood, even though I don’t identify as a woman.
The box of the prose poem also has a sense of containment and momentum. This really excites me in relation to my book’s discussion of the mosh pit: as a place of teen fandom and queer community. I think prose poetry mimics that same intensity; all the words are pushed tightly against one another like the bodies of fans eager to yell all the same lyrics. It’s a site of devotion.
AM: The concept of “femme fatale” features prominently in Dress Rehearsals. Could you explain what this concept means to you and your relationship with gender and femininity?
MG: The middle section of Dress Rehearsals is a surreal sequence of interconnected poems titled ‘The Femme Fatale Goes Home’, in which the persona experiences a gentle haunting of sorts. They’re repeatedly visited by the femme fatale, a figure who acts as a representation of all the women the persona feels they could’ve or should’ve been. Together, the persona and the femme fatale collaboratively reveal and negotiate their relationships with desire (and with being desired).
On a personal note, I wrote this sequence soon after the end of a relationship where I felt I had become a stranger, and so the writing was an important process of returning to myself. One of the poems says: “I come home to myself. I re-enter the room of my pleasure.” So, metaphorically speaking, I wrote this series as a way of re-entering all the rooms of myself.
Above all, the femme fatale series aims to document a relationship between two feminine people who are building their own mirrors – mirrors which we can use to gaze upon ourselves. The femme fatale, like femininity itself, feels like a silk slip I’m wearing under my clothing, a soft layer of skin that holds me.
AM: There are quite a few references to music in Dress Rehearsals – from La Dispute to Mitski to Halsey. The book itself is dedicated to those “beside [you] in the mosh pits of gender”. Can you speak to the connection between music/fandom and queer identity?
MG: The first poems I ever knew were lyrics yelled in mosh pits. As a young person, I grew up obsessed with live music; I attended local gigs, bruised my thighs against barriers, yelled lyrics until I lost my voice. I like to think about ‘fangirling’ as a verb: an action that can be performed by fans of any gender who want to participate in that communal choreography of obsession.
When I imagine the mosh pits of gender, I envision a similar space of shared devotion, anticipation and excitement. Too often gender theory is approached as this serious academic concept, but truly, gender can be about moving and presenting your body in ways that make you feel more like yourself. I first experienced that feeling – of both inhabiting and transcending my body – while I was a teenager watching a band I loved.
AM: I love that! Have you had any good opportunities to ‘fangirl’ lately?
MG: I feel really lucky that in the weeks surrounding the release of Dress Rehearsals, some of my fave musicians (such as Kae Tempest, Phoebe Bridgers and Harry Styles) have played in my hometown, and I’ve been reminded again of how euphoric it can be to share sweat with strangers who love the same songs.
There’s a line in Dress Rehearsals that refers to the spot just in front of a stage as “a place where you were allowed to feel holy”. I’ve been thinking a lot about that feeling – how being a fangirl is not just about loving music, but about that sense of belonging, as you’re crammed together waiting for Phoebe Bridgers to sing ‘Moon Song’ so you can sob in unison.
AM: You’ve done a lot of mentoring and workshop facilitation in your career so far. Do you have any words of wisdom for queer writers?
MG: I love teaching! Collaborating on knowledge and craft makes me so happy! Some advice I have for queer writers is that your queerness does not define or limit the scope of your subject matter.
Don’t wait for anybody else to give you permission to write about the things you want to write. I long to read your weirdest poems, your joyful rants, your odes to pop music and veggie burritos.
My other piece of advice to writers is to never underestimate the impact of your tenderness. Find ways to make your writing practice an act of care. Care for community, yes. But also care for yourself. Take a nap. Drink some water. Write the book you want to read.
I guess that’s what Dress Rehearsals truly is – it’s the book I wish I could’ve found a decade ago, back when I was an emo kid in a mosh pit, so hungry to feel at home in my own body. Writing these poems taught me to be more tender with myself.
You can grab a copy of Dress Rehearsals by Madison Godfrey through Joan Press (Allen & Unwin).
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