Meet Peter Polites

The fourth writer to be commissioned as part of our 5 + 5 project is Peter Polites. He may already be familiar to you. Peter is a prolific writer and novelist, with his book Down the Hume, a cleared-eyed queer noir looking at the intersection of race, class and gay male sexuality in Sydney’s West, released last year.

His work has appeared in theatre and staged readings, including Urban Theatre Project’s Home Country at Sydney Festival and #Three Jerks and Alleyway Honour directed by Roslyn Oades, and he was a guest curator at Sydney Writers Festival.

Peter had a chat to Thom about who influences and inspires him, his writing process, and the economic and social systems that propel his work.

Thom: How did you first get in to writing?
Peter: About 10 years ago, I started writing as a form of therapy and joined the early incarnation of SWEATSHOP. For anyone else doing this – don’t try and get this work published. I wrote terrible, non-sensical, mind dumps and have been refining my work ever since.

TS: What’s the driving force behind your work? Are there any issues or ideas or forms that you like to explore in your writing?
PP: Simply put: diasporic melodrama on a bed of queer noir.

I explore patriarchal same sex relationships within a neo-liberal white supremacist society. I try and situate this experience within Western Sydney and inject the complexities of class and geography into my work. So, in my novel Down the Hume, this manifested as a character who is on minimum wage and in a DV (domestic violence) relationship.

In some of my more recent works, I have been including the overlapping themes of queerness and ecology. In a piece that I wrote for Urban Theatre Project called Steps in Katouna, the character interprets his mothers infirm body as the landscape of his ancestral island home.

TS: 5 + 5 is a bit of a collaborative writing experiment, bringing together five different voices to co-author a new script. Is the idea of working with other people on one project daunting? Or is it a nice change from the ‘solitary writer’ kind of stereotype?
PP: The myth of the monastic writer bunkering down in a cave is destructive. Writers are like all artists, they need to be in the world while at the same time being critical of the structures around them. SWEATSHOP is a collective that has created a community of writers. In SWEATSHOP I have found people who share my critical analysis and aren’t scared to call me out on bad work. I am proudest of the work that has been a result of these collaborative processes.

Justin Shoulder and Bhenji Ra


Latai Taumoepeau

TS: Whose writing do you really admire? Who are your main influences?
PP: I would be a certain kind of asshole if I didn’t acknowledge that there is a strong queer literary tradition in Australia and that I draw from it. Some of these novelists are Christos Tsoilkas, Dmetri Kakmi, Dorothy Porter, Fiona McGregor.

When I am researching performance writing, I love reading poetry. Maryam Azam and Omar Sakr write beautifully. I have had strong responses to the Egyptian Greek poet Cavafy, but only to his homoerotic melancholia. There is a poet called Seferis, the way he talks about exile and home connects with me. The images he uses stir something lost in me.

Because I have a background in visual arts I also respond to contemporary artists. I like Justin Shoulder – he creates fantastical creatures through makeup, design and costuming. These creatures have drip-fed into my imagination.  I love watching Bhenji Ra perform – a talented dancer who builds community with their work. And Latai Taumoepeau – their performance work speaks to displacement, tradition and flirts with humour. One time she installed her body in a gallery and sprayed it with fake tan over a period of 24 hours. Another time she put her body in a clear box, wore floatation devices and tried to dance as the water filled above her head.

TS: What is a conversation Australia needs to have right now?
PP: Why do we have offshore concentration camps?

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5 + 5 will be written throughout 2018 ready for development and presentation by 2020.

Performing Lines is working with Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement, with support from Playwriting Australia.

We need your help to continue commissioning exciting new and urgent works.

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In everything we do, we acknowledge that we live on Aboriginal land and constantly learn from the wisdom of First Peoples.

Where we are and the history that precedes us informs how we work and how we move forward.