Sunday, December 20, 2009

Somebody Loves Us All

By Damien Wilkins (VUP 2009).

We talked about this at our newly formed book group last night. So I can't claim all of this, but we seemed to be in agreement about most of what was said.

Damien is of course a tutor at the IIML, so we all struggled to not hear his voice while reading it, or in my case imagine him and his wife as the main characters!

For most of this book not a lot happens, Paddy seems to have it together more or less. His mother has a strange accent related affliction, but it's not life threatening, Paddy buys a bike in a kind of second mid-life crisis, but this doesn't really annoy anyone else, his step-daughter doesn't really like him, but they tolerate each other, the father of a former patient and long-time listener suddenly disappears, but turns out to be on holiday. So what drives this book? It's a good question and I'm not sure I know. I guess for a lot of it we are waiting to see what bad stuff is going to happen, which can only carry you so far. There are several ominous moments, but they always seem to be averted at the last minute. And this seems to be a continuing theme through the book, that narrowly avoided disaster; the disruption of expectation. It seems like life in this book is a series of near-misses until eventually one doesn't miss, and this is likely to happen when you least expect, and it's about what you do during those near-misses that counts. Not what happens when the big one comes.

There is something in there about communication, about connection. What is that people are waiting for? Why don't they say that thing now? Paddy lives next door his mother, but hardly ever sees her, when she suddenly gets this condition, he feels it's better to leave her alone, live life as normal. He talks to the father of a former patient every week on the phone, they are hardly friends, but somehow this small routine is important to Paddy. I was never sure what all this added up to, but it seemed relevant. Is it something about all those things in life that don't add up to anything?

In a lot of ways this is a bit of an anti-story and I think in lesser hands it would have been a disaster. A woman who wakes up one morning speaking in a French accent is hardly a premise with longevity and Damien wisely avoids making that the central story. And having no real dramatic arc is a bold move, instead he brings us into the lives (and the minds) of Paddy and his family. And this is what drives the book forward, the mis-communication, the odd moments, Paddy's interpretation of it all. The peripheral characters like Tony Gorzo, Camille and Iyob. They are hilarious and all bounce off Paddy's own baffled view of the world and himself.

There is a lot in this book and I was never bored. Someone at the book group said they weren't so into the cycling scenes, but I didn't mind those, maybe being a cyclist myself helped there. Damien has such great characters and always something underlying, something subtle grating on the interactions, that we read on waiting for it all to erupt. Luckily Damien never lets that happen.

This passage seemed to say something about Damien's style:

There were other divisions. He the bathroom, but she vacuumed. He took things to the post office but she managed their join bank account, keeping an eye on the automatic payments and all other bills except those connected with their various insurances which were somehow his area despite the fact he'd overlooked a double payment on their car insurance for several months. This had all developed mysteriously, in some cases with a kind of illogic, and lying in bed, stunned by the dream he'd just had, it was nice to gather up a few domestic details.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I am not a man...I am Eric Cantona

Looking for Eric is a Ken Loach film about a middle-aged football obsessed postman named Eric who is having a bit of a shit time. Luckily the philosophizing football legend, Eric Cantona, stops by for a joint and chat. This sets Eric on the path of redemption.

It was a weak story. There were heavy themes set up: youth gangs, men who walk out on their families, panic attacks, which was all fine and had the basis, if not a little melodramatic, of a good story. The problem was, all this was resolved in incredibly juvenile ways. I won't give it away, but let me just say, there is no way a psychopathic gangster would back down because of THAT! I guess if was a comedy, but it is a Ken Loach film, and surely those kind of grim situations need some kind of meaningful resolution?

Luckily, none of that matters, because Eric Cantona, the man, the actor, the legend was absolutely incredible. Oozing cool, style and wit, he was the movie. In fact I kind of wished he was the main character. Loved his beard too, are all French men so cool? Probably not, but Eric is.

It wasn't a bad movie, funny enough and saved by Cantona and the glimpses into Manchester life, but let's just say it had a few holes in the defence.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Balls. Yay!

4 days after hand in and the sun is shining and so are the birds and so is...whatever, I'm done.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Only 4 days to go till folio hand in. I find myself in a weird space between not having enough time to rewrite the whole thing (I wonder if anyone has ever tried?) and being sick of tinkering. In fact I constantly have to check that I am not over-editing and removing anything that was interesting about the poem in the first place. It is easy to do that, I think, the bits that your editor brain seems to think don't fit are often the lines that make a poem wonderful. The clunky, unfortunate, slightly baffling sections. Sometimes happy accidents, sometimes where the sound of the words have taken over from the narrative. It's tempting to try and smooth all those parts out, make some kind of homogeneous ball.

I saw on Myth Busters a few weeks ago, there is a craft where people polish balls of dung into shiny ornaments (these are called dorodango or happy mud balls in Japan). It takes days of polishing with your hands - apparently it is the oil from your skin that helps bring up the sheen as well as help draw out the excess water, but eventually you get this pretty brown ball that looks a bit like glazed pottery.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shoot an Editor Day

This is a message from the Overactive Editor Gland Degenerative Disease Society

In today's world, 1 in 5 people live with or are an Overactive Editor.
Over three thousand terrible manuscripts were attributed to this disease in New Zealand last year. Imagine what it is like in places where clean paper is freely available and ink is cheap?

We all shake our heads and say, but what can I do? How can someone like me make a difference?
Well now you can...

OEGDDS International has organised 'Shoot an Editor' day on the 10th of November and we want you to pull the trigger.

Dan Brown, author of the famously erotic movie - The Da Vinci Code, says:

"If just everyone of us shot just one editor, books like 'Stranger in a Strange Land' and 'A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life' by Leonard Nimoy might have had a chance at a better life. A life where words like 'tootle-oo' and 'farness' can exist without threat of violence or ridicule. How many years must this vicious cycle of Over Editing go on?"

Please shoot your editor this 'Shoot an Editor' day and give generously.
And please, please don't let him trick you into changing the title. Again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Potential Titles

First Born, Then What?
The Wolf Market
Idea for a Film (Short?)
The Arborist
On Parole
The Evangelical Book of Unconvincing Certainty

The Evangelical Book of Convincing Uncertainty
Wolf Music

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Folio is being rebuilt at an excruciatingly slow pace.
I've got about 25 pages settled in, so it should be simple just to spatter a few more in there, but no.
Haphazard rewriting, a bit of a mess of ideas overall and no real structure to speak of. What fun!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Arabic Star

Let's talk fonts. Who votes for Palantino? I like the space it has. This place seems to have a reasonable range of free serif fonts. I think I'll look for something similar to Palantino, but less Microsofty.

My biggest break through has been to go for the six pronged asterisk, otherwise known as the Arabic star.

Also most of the books I've been looking at seem to have different justifications depending on the overall width of the poem. I like that idea too. There is nothing uglier than having a short lined poem left-justified with an ocean of white space between it and the edge of the page.

And of course have decided to go for slightly larger font titles, bolded and title-cased. I used to do lower case titles (except for the first letter), but this looks too grungy I think and doesn't really separate the title from the poem. Makes it look a bit like a first line. When you are as rubbish at coming up with titles as I am you need to keep them as separated as possible.

Think about it people.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Michael Palmer talks about the difference between the 'laws of form' and the 'rules of form'. The latter being able to be learnt, seemingly fixed and in many cases not particularly exciting. While the former, can never be learnt, but also can never be broken if writing good poetry. I like to think of the 'laws of form' as being completely different for each poem. Where one poem might require couplets and end rhymes, another might want to be a single stanza of variable lines and syncopated enjambments. You can't learn what those might be, in fact I don't think you can even plan it. Until you start writing the poem it will be formless. Until a conversation, a subject or a tone starts to emerge there are no laws. It's a blank page after all and what form do you put on a blank page?

From The Danish Notebook (quoted in Active Boundaries. New Directions, 2008) which he was apparently asked to write as a kind of journal, 'connecting the dots', type thing:
I once thought I should find a form for this little book you have asked for, but now it seems unformed would be better, a book at fault. Displaced. I accepted your invitation because it seemed an impossible thing for me to do, against my nature as a writer. Of course one should never have such a nature. If you discover that you do, you must erase it, as violently as possible. Coup de torchon. Clean slate. One of our cats, the apricot-colored one, is sleeping on the computer as I write this. He doesn't give a shit one way or the other. As long as the computer stays warm.
He goes to say that the book did eventually find its own form "beyond conscious intent or design" that exposed "hidden memories and patterns." That last little bit about the cat is indeed against Palmer's nature. I've never seen him write anything so mundane and confessional before. It was very exciting. I think I'm going to have to try and track down that book. Hopefully it's not out of print.

I think pattern is good way of looking at it. Where is the pattern in this? And there is no pattern that can be imposed on an unwritten work.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Passive resistance

Three things have happened lately that have made me think about how politics (not sure that is the right word) interacts with poetry/art and if I should be doing more of that, which in short I think I should. So...
  1. I've been reading Michael Palmer's essays in Active Boundaries (New Directions, 2008) all of which so far are as much concerned with politics as with poetry (in his mind they don't exist without each other I feel). He talks about George Bush, the Iraq ware, Vietnam, The Cold War - all the things that shaped who he is/was as an artist I think. He is so passionate about it and yet from his poetry, you would struggle to find an overt political subject. But it seems if he is always thinking about it working on what he seems to feel is a 'war on language'. So that was really interesting.
  2. I went to the start of the World Peace March (it starts in NZ and goes around the world in 90 days), which was also a celebration of Mahatma Ghandi's birthday. I'm not what you'd call a peace activist, but I'm certainly a pacifist and I think passive resistance is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen (I have seen it on a small scale and it's impossible to beat). So I was incredibly interested in that.
  3. I watched the Tua vs. Cameron boxing fight which made me feel sick. I am not against sport or competition or even aggression in the context of those two things and the actual boxing match was not such a bad thing. I think it was the spectators that bothered me the most, the baying for blood. The comments after the match - how wonderful it was, how sensational - it had been a particularly short and brutal knockout. Cameron was out of it by the end of the 1st round and at the start of the second Tua had him on the ropes and was pummeling him even as Cameron's legs collapsed and he fell to the ground. So by anyones standards it wasn't a tense battle between two great sportsmen, it was one guy getting the shit kicked out of him by another guy, but that's what these particular spectators wanted. And while I am loathe to draw the connection between that and greater issues of violence - international war, domestic violence etc. Maybe it does start in places like a boxing match at mystery creek?

So I guess I'm saddened by the whole thing. But then what do you do with that? How do you write a good poem about it. Palmer might use the bullshit hype/marketing speak of the fight promoters to illustrate something (however obliquely) that way, but what should I do? Describe the fight in detail? Describe everything about the fight except the fight itself? Talk about what I would have been doing instead of watching it? Run with the words 'Mystery Creek'? Have a dream? Talk about hippos and dinosaurs? I dunno. My poetry is often meaningless and that seems to be my violence, the thing that saddens me the most.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fergus Barrowman

Yet another speaker last week. This time Fergus Barrowman from VUP. He talked about a whole bunch of stuff about the NZ book industry, including the slow demise of Whitcoulls, which has apparently allowed the independents like Unity etc. to have bumper years (yay!). He had a whole bunch of other depressing facts and figures, but the most interesting thing about him was how genuinely positive and optimistic he was. Especially about the digital 'revolution' and how that might allow good writing to rise to the surface and allow potentially much larger readerships than is possible with conventional books.

It seems we are in a fortunate space, geographically and culturally in New Zealand. We are in a position to both benefit from having a small market and in the future being able to go global through the digital thing. I'm feeling positive too. Thanks Fergus.

At the half-time coffee break I tried to crack a joke and asked him whether as writers, we should think about putting often-searched keywords into our work for better google-books indexing. Like 'Britney Spears' or 'Blowjob' or something. I don't think he got what I was meaning though and I kind of blurted it out in a really offhand way. He kind of laughed weirdly and I had nothing else to say. An awkward silence descended over the whole room, until I stood up and pretended I needed to go get something. I'm so cool sometimes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Interrogating the mind

Brian Castro came and spoke with us last week. He is an Australian novelist who also runs the Creative Writing program at Adelaide University.

He said some really interesting things about the nature of the novel and of the writer. He talked about his move to writing a novel as an 'interrogation of a mind' and his emphasis on voice over plot. He seemed incredibly intellectual and experimental. A real inspiration.

He also talked about melancholy artists and the power of melancholy which he differentiated from depression which he saw as a commercial/medical thing. I think he was coming at melancholy from the angle of its inherent introspection and space/time to let things sit an simmer I guess. It was an interesting idea and nice to hear a rejection of 'happiness' as an ideal, which I have heard elsewhere and I think I agree with. Why, if you ask so many people, do they say the meaning of life or their goal in life is to be happy? What is so great about being happy? Is that an honest way to live and more importantly what are the kinds of things you might have to do to attain 'happiness', what if you never attain it? Are you then a failure? Can't we be 'content' being ourselves, sometimes happy, mostly not - complex, interesting.

Here is an interview with him.

So yeah, he was incredibly interesting and thoughtful and humble, yet confident in himself. A great 2 hours.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

21st Century Authors: Geoff Cochrane and Elizabeth Knox

So Geoff and Elizabeth Knox talked to us yesterday for a couple of hours. The idea behind the session was I think getting to know what it's like to be an 'author' in the contemporary age.

The startling thing about those two was how they both call themselves 'writers' and seem to have done so since the beginning (before the beginning?) of their careers. Which is nice I think that people do that, own the profession I guess. Kind of ignore all the defunct ideas of the 'author' as in authority and just say I am a writer, I write, that's what I do. For some reason though no one ever wants to say that, people are at pains to point out that they are not writers, either in it temporarily (like who knows what will happen tomorrow) or they kind of rebrand themselves as something artist like an artist or a thief or a note-taker or a bricoleur or something. Which is probably what I would do. Someone asked me the other day when I decided I wanted to be a writer, and I couldn't figure out how to answer. I ended up something lame like I don't think I want to be a writer. Which is untrue I think. I some respects I don't know what a writer is, unless it is someone who writes, cause then I am one I guess, but if it's all this other stuff like authority, being witty, clever, insightful whatever, then I'm not. Most of the time it feels like writing is totally out of my control and I'm not it and it's not me. Like it is a vacuum cleaner that has attached itself to my leg and is dragging me around the house.

One really cool thing Geoff said about how he writes is that he said you just have to 'man the station' - by which I think he meant, get up every day and get out your pen or computer or whatever and write cause if you don't you might not be around when a poem comes. That idea of the poet as a channel I guess, as opposed to the maker. Which I'm not sure I agree with a kind of belief, but I also think the end result is good. You do have to get up every day and write. It is a simple as that.

They also both talked about this thing called 'talent' which they both thoroughly believed in. I'm not so sure I agree with that either. I believe some people are better at some things that others, but I also think that they have learnt that, even if they did so at age two, being read to by their mother or whatever. But I guess there is then the issue of creativity, which no one seems to understand biologically, so maybe that is something you can't learn? Your brain either works that way or it doesn't?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Geoff Cochrane come on down

Geoff Cochrane is incredible. Just been reading Vanilla Wine and a bit of Acetylene (both VUP, 2003 and 2001 respectively):
Roman numerals
& spiky carburettors
clog the drains.

As I pass the Cenotaph
a cold wind soaps my cheek.
He is coming to talk to us today at the IIML (along with Elizabeth Knox), so hopefully he'l have some interesting stuff to say. He has a poem in Vanilla Wine called Automatic Writing, so I wonder what his process is? If he writes 'automatically' or has a more considered hands-on approach, some of his poems are so mysterious I suspect that they might be totally subconscious, like For Anne Carson:
The purple gloom
of a dire Friday,
and here we are sans God
lights stuck in us like darts
lights like stings all over

Gelid chrome deflects the pinging hail
Beautiful language and that is something I've noticed - he uses a lot of really unusual words, that seems to be his thing (as well as strange metaphors). The last line of that poem is a good example. Which is something I don't do and Damien has remarked I could try doing, which I don't for some reason? I've noticed Geoff uses specific nouns where I would probably tend to use a general one, like there are several poems where he says things like 'Mazda' instead of 'car', or 'Cold Water Surf' instead of 'washing powder', that kind of language I don't think I'd ever want to use, seems too temporary or too specific? 'Gelid chrome' on the other hand...

Friday, September 18, 2009

As is

As is by James Galvin (Copper Canyon, 2009) - thanks Kay for lending it to me!

I don't think I've realised before how much Mr Galvin has influenced my own stuff (we had an intense but brief relaionship last year). I kind of thought I'd become some kind of Michael Palmer clone, but I think a lot of my stuff is actually closer to Galvin, like in the first poem of the book, A tiny yet nonexistent etching as seen through a magnifying glass:
Everything is drawn
With excruciating precision:
The grape arbor sheltering the children
Who are playing with a pig bladder,
The thatched roof of the cottage,
The boat pulled up on dry
Land, a curving jetty.
Similar tone, rhythm and enjambment I think. Although his control of register and syntax is so much better than mine.

So anyway, digging this book, and it seems like a nice return to existential form after X. Also I just noticed there is a poem at the back set in Wellington. I feel like I helped write it! Although the last time I painted a house I listened nonstop to The Brothers Johnson. Fuck that house was painted with LOVE.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Happy birthday Mr Seidel

From the end of Sunrise (Poems 1959-2009) by Fred Seidel:
I wake beneath my hypnopompic erection,
Forty stanzas, forty Easters of life,
And smile, eyes full of tears, shaking with rage.
That was originally published in 1980, four years after Seidel turned 40. The poem has forty stanzas in it and seems to range around the world, Milan, Perth, New York - all the while counting down, like some kind of doomsday device. It seems like his poems from this time are a bit different too, less morbid I think, often ending on more of an upbeat note - young men's poems? I don't know. Maybe this fortieth birthday poem was his move away from all that?

Like I guess, if you look at the excerpt from The Last Poem in Book (see two posts previous) he is definitely concerned with a sudden conclusion. A scary sort of ending, the kind that might incline you to cry and shake with rage.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

August Kleinzahler

Been reading about August Kleinzahler in a review.
All of your ex-sweethearts are arranged in a chorus,
each in a pinafore with dazzling florets,
laughing themselves sick.
I love how this poem ends on the word 'sick' and he pulls it off.

And how in several poems he seems to address people in quite a confrontational way. It is good to see that, although I'm not sure I could do it. He seems interesting, but how much? I don't really know. I'll have to get a book at and have a proper go.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Not making a statement

The ending of The Last Poem in the Book by Frederick Seidel (Poems 1959-2009. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. 2009).
I'm coming now.
I can't breathe.
I'm coming now to the conclusion that
Without a God. I'm coming now to the conclusion.
I love it how he never makes his conclusion on one level but does on another. Incredibly clever and sinuous. That age old thing in poetry where something is repeated, in this case in close proximity, and has a completely different meaning the second time. Beautiful and sad and has the truth of no truth.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A sudden freshness

Printing reading journal today. Just spent three hours formatting it in MS Word. Yay!
A sudden freshness stirs then stills the air, the century.
The new jet-black conductor raises her batton.
The melody of a little white dog,
Dead long ago, starts the soft spring rain.
The Little White Dog, Frederick Seidel (Poems 1959-2009. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. 2009)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Circling back

Letter 6, from Michael Palmer's Letters to Zanzotto (The Lion Bridge: Selected Poems, Carcanet UK, 1999):
Dear Z,
So we accused mimesis, accused

and the plasma of mud,

accused pleasure, sun
and the circle of shadow.
Yes! Mimesis and pleasure...

From Red Yellow Blue (Sarah's Eighth):
Now that you know all the words
and I have almost forgotten them

Or now that you have experienced rain
for days on end

and learned to paint with red, yellow and blue
those days which seem to have no end

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wormy metaphors

A very felicitous eve,
Herr Doktor, and that's enough,
Though the brow in your palm may grieve

At the vernacular of light
(Omitting reefs of cloud) :
Empurpled garden grass;

The spruces' outstretched hands;
The twilight overfull
Of wormy metaphors.
Delightful Evening by Wallace Stevens (The Collected Poems. Vintage Books New York. 1990).

I like they way each line is interesting on its own in this poem and how it seems to be set against lazy adjectives. I'm not sure what 'Herr Doktor' refers too though? Given the time it was written (before 1936) it seems like it could be something to do with WWI maybe. I don't know. But the main focus seems to be on describing the night even if it is full of 'wormy metaphors'.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gathering what falls

Beauty makes me hopeless. I don't care why anymore I just want to get away. When I look at the city of Paris I long to wrap my legs around it. When I watch you dancing there is a heartless immensity like a sailor in a dead calm sea. Desires as round as peaches bloom in me all night, I no longer gather what falls.
On Hedonism, Anne Carson (Glass and God. Jonathon Cape Publishing, 1998). This is one of many 'On...' poems she wrote in a section of the book called 'Short Talks'. They read a bit like free-writing edited down into a poem. All brilliant, beautiful and unpredictable. So of course I tried to write some which turned out, blunt, boring and unimaginative, but ultimately not hopeless I think. Worth trying and maybe trying again?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bad Google and bad language

Just read this about google trying to steal NZ author's copyrights. Don't be evil, my arse!

I hadn't even heard about this but it makes me fucking angry. Why isn't this all over the news? Authors are going to end up like Hollywood scriptwriters before we know it. We'll be underpaid (even more so) and completely undervalued.

Deep breath...OK...

Back on the Michael Palmer buzz which is good I think. He's so dreamy.

Wrote my fifth poem for the week and quite possibly the only decent one. So five more next week and that's it. Or maybe not? Maybe I should keep going and do revision in the afternoons? I think that could work. Anyway my goal is five more next week. I'll be in Rotorua visiting my parents and mountain biking, so hopefully I can fit it in between soaks in their geothermal spa pool. Oh yeah, that's real art.

And something nice and ironic to end on from Mr Michael "McDreamy" Palmer (Company of Moths, New Directions, 2005):
Your Diamond Shoe

Don't write poems about what's going on.
Murderers and liars, dreams and desires,

they're always going on.
Leave them outside the poem.

Don't describe you sad-eyed summer home
or wide-eyed winter home.

Don't write about being homeless
or your home-away-from-home.

Don't write about war,
whether you're against of for,

it's the same fucking war.
That's the only time I've seen Palmer use an expletive I think. His language is usually so much more refined than that. I guess he was being ironic there too. Quite a different tone, objective and form from his usual stuff. I read in an interview of him the other day that Your Diamond Shoe was inspired by another poet, so I guess that explains that, but one of the interesting things that has plagued me since I read that interview was his objection to what he calls 'bad language' in poems. Which I couldn't figure out what he meant and obviously if he could define what exactly bad language is I could then stop using it. I don't think it is simply things like expletives or non-musical language though, but I guess it'd be more cliched or boring language maybe? Although perhaps there is something of a smoothness element in what he was saying - a beautiful language? Most of his poems seem to share that kind of ephemeral, languid tone that comes from the language he chooses, although I would hope he wouldn't close his reading to that.

So, Mr Palmer, explain yourself please, what is 'bad language' and how do we avoid it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Finished reading Anna Sanderson's Brainpark (VUP, 2006) which was recommended to me by a friend when I said I wanted something to read that was easy and cheery. It was definitely easy, not too sure about cheery, but I loved it. I finally get what all this 'personal essay' stuff is about. Her little things were so beautiful and inconclusive I wanted to read more and more of them. I remember reading one of Chloe's stories/essays last year and asking her why nothing really happened in it and why the narrator was so concealed - it seemed like just a description of a scene. I was comparing it to what I thought a short story was, with the whole beginning middle and end and characters, not really aware to the simple pleasure of describing a scene/moment in precise detail and ending it with an image, profound or not. And why I couldn't see that when I was supposedly writing poetry I have no idea.

Anna Sanderson's short pieces were precisely like that, descriptive, simple, beautiful. A reviewer for the listener called them 'burnt poetry' which I liked, unfortunately he seemed a little obsessed with placing her in a post-feminist world for the rest of the review.

Wrote a short thing today that started from a sentence. I like doing that. They go anywhere although often nowhere. So much fun. Was genuinely excited at the prospect of writing something, which I haven't felt for awhile.

We have two weeks of holidays over which I want to get as much new stuff done as possible. I don't care what it is about or where it goes because after that two weeks is over I am going to get down to some serious revision. Start reigning in the random stuff. I did that with one poem last week. It took me ages to figure out what the fuck the poem was doing, but when I got there, I think it came together OK.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Toto comes to the rescue

Thank God for Robert Hass and his clear unintimidating prose. Here, he is using a scene from the Wizard of Oz to discuss Robert Creeley' s poetics in Twentieth Century Pleasures (Harper Collins, 1984):
I am thinking of the scene in which the wizard, a stern face on a huge screen, booms out his mighty definition of himself: I AM OZ; and Dorothy's little dog Toto, the only creature in the room not scared witless by the impressiveness of it all, trots up to the curtain and pulls it back, revealing a nervous man fiddling desperately at a control panel and speaking into a microphone. Language has such power that poets are always both the image on the screen and the figure at the controls who tries to act as a medium for that powerful projection.
In this case Bob is Toto I think and for the last three days I've felt a bit like the tin man, the scarecrow and the lion all rolled into one. That big fucking face on the screen!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No writing today

If you write for the reasons I think I do, as a way of contemplating problems - scratching the itch of something you don't understand - there's an inbuilt reason to keep going, no matter how strong your doubts are. There's an internal pressure to go on, not because you think what you produce is going to be worth it, but beacause you need to know something that you can only know by writing it.
- Kate Grenville (Making Stories, 1993. Allen and Unwin, Sydney.)
So does that make 'knowing' writing invalid? Does the reader sense the writer is coming from that angle?
An unidentified friend of Fanny Howe's (The winter sun. 2009. Graywolf Pr.) said:
Poetry is backwards logic. You can't write poetry unless you have knowledge of, or taste for, this 'backwards' way of finding truth.
So it's also about how you want to solve a problem, discover something.
And Fanny herself calls writing
A vocation that has no name.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stop! Thief!

I was just reading over some of the stuff I have written recently to select a few I like (we have a rehearsal for our Writers on Mondays reading in only two days!) and I've noticed how much I borrow the tone of whoever I'm reading. I can almost read each poem and work out who I was reading that day. It's ridiculous, I feel like such a fake a lot of the time, like I'm just hanging on to the coat tails of someone else's writing.

I tried to write something called 'Biography of a day' thanks to Judith Thurman for that title (stealing again!), I'll have to remember to acknowledge her if it ever gets published. I trawled through heaps of news articles and not sure if I managed to create any kind of coherent narrative, but it was interesting to try.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The image and telling people what to think

Benjamin and Bill have been collaborating under the expert guidance of Mr Robert Hass and his best friend Basho.

I do like the idea of the plain image. That thing that means nothing except itself. But it is so hard to write like that. I guess you have to really love the 'world' and feel your only goal is represent that world in imagistic words. But what about people, what about thinking, what about feeling? What if you want people to think and feel as much as see? Surely that is one of the great pleasures of being human. That we can think about our world on so many levels and reflect on our own ability to feel in way that goes beyond survival instinct. I guess the point Bob was trying to make is that the pure image removes all the ego of the writer, the sense that the writer is trying to tell us something, that what he has to say is somehow important. And I definitely feel his point there. So how do we write a sprawling philosophical poem that doesn't dictate> I guess there is that thing about more questions that answers. But is it satisfying to have nothing resolved?

Anyway, I wrote an imagistic poem, which is completely flawed and tells the story that I wanted to tell.
And Benjamin wanted to tell.
And Bob wanted to tell.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

'Every man's a rapist until he's done' - Frederik Seidel, Hair in a Net

Titles, titles

I like the section title 'Wish List' or 'To Do List' or something like that. I think Benjamin might like that too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The discovery of the inner world

Read a Bob Hass essay ('Twentieth Century Pleasures', Harper Collins NY, 1997) about James Wright. He went into great detail about Wright's work on the self and his empathy with 'outsider' characters. Which was all very interesting. He also talked about a poem called 'The Undermining of the Defense Economy' which was a really lovely poem that as Bob described it
He tries to see what can be made to happen by saying beautiful things, by repeating his talismanic nouns and adjectives of the the discovery of the inner world.
So of course that sounded like a great exercise to do what Damien suggested when he read a metaphor I wrote a while ago and said - do more of those! Not sure if the poem is working, because I went for the brutal metaphor I think, the talismanic voodoo side of what Wright was doing, trying to make it fit into the Bill Nelson series. But it seems those kind of beautiful metaphors don't really work. I like the idea of relentless metaphor and adjectives though, it did make for a really interesting poem. So I will work on that one and try and bring it into line.

Other than that. I haven't written anything else this week.

James' workshop was interesting in that it highlighted the struggle with originality I think. He seems to be trying to do so many things in a fresh way he is struggling to progress and focus on one thing. I feel his pain.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Benjamin Nelson returns

I've been thinking a lot over the last few days about how to make these 'Bill Nelson' poems work. I've been playing around with the titles to get the 'character/self' thing going and at the moment they are all named after famous fictional or at least mythological/religious character. Not sure it that is quite there yet though. Another thought I had the other night was to use an alter-ego. Maybe someone called Benjamin? I don't know if that would work either, it'd probably be less interesting. There is also the problem of the section heading, I think that will be crucial. I'm talking with Damien on Wednesday about it.

When I was seven I had a friend who's little brother was named Benjamin. He hated the name and forced everyone to call him Fred. I have no idea why. But at the time I liked the idea and asked everyone to call me Benjamin. I previously owned a goat called Dr Ben, so it was a name I liked and not completely theft. Or at least the kind of theft that involves taking peoples rubbish. Anyway, no one ever called me Benjamin, I guess they thought it was stupid, and I couldn't really be bothered forcing people.

Showed a few of them to Ashleigh and she suggested having some that aren't so brutal as some kind of relief for the reader, which is something to think about and might be worth trying. It might work in the scope of the complete/balanced self thing too, although part of me wants the self to be completely unbalanced and tyrannical just to highlight that aspect. She also suggested going all out on the bruality where possible which is probably something else to think about too.

Got some book vouchers the other day and had a splurge on a Robert Hass essay book (must remember to lend it to Sarah when I'm done) and Sport 37. I really wanted to buy the Michael Palmer essay book but they all seemed so academic and mostly critiques of people like Dante etc. which is cool, but I'm not sure if it is essential for me to own. I'd love it if he had a book on poetics - I'd buy that in a second. So I've got a few vouchers left and will wait to see what comes up to buy. Maybe Michelle Leggot's new book? I'd like a book called 100 Contemporary NZ Artists too, but it's like $60 - goodbye vouchers.

Has anyone got any must-haves they'd like to suggest?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

from HEART ART by Frerderick Seidel

A man is masturbating his heart out,
Swingin in the hammock of the Internet.
He rocks back and forth, his cursor points
And selects. He swings between repetitive extremes
Among the come-ons in the chat rooms.
But finally he clicks on one
World Wide Web woman who cares.
and then in the middle...
This is the story about humans taking over
The country. New York is outside
His study while he works. Paris is outside.
Outside the window is Bologna.
He logs on. He gets up.
He sits down. A car alarm goes off
Yoi yoi yoi yoi and yips as it suddenly stops.
and then at the end...
Here in the eastern United States,
A man is masturbating his art out.

An Ice Age that acts hot
Only because of the greenhouse effect
Is the sort of personality.
Beneath the dome of the depleted ozone, they stay cold.
Mastadons are mating on the Internet
Over the bones of dinosaur nuclear arms,
Mating with their hands.
'A man is masturbating his art out' - he certainly is.
I don't know what to fucking write in this fucking thing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Like a hare in pâté

Yes, read more Seidel.
Wrote two things about Bill Nelson, neither of which I am happy with. I am tired. I have a massive bruise running down the inside of my right foot from the toe to the heel and I didn't sleep well because of that I think.

On further defence of Seidel defending himself, the only poem he has ever written titled Frederick Seidel (originally from The Cosmos Trilogy) although he does mention himself in quite a few poems. This poem has two characters, the 'I' and the 'him.' The 'he' is the poet in this poem and finds it both 'impossible to look or not to' and both characters live the same life of 'laziness and luxury'. The 'I' in the poem is the one who 'is seeking more Jerusalem, not less' (answering his anti-semitic critics?) and under torture confesses 'I do love / The sky above.' So it seems he is playing on the idea of the self and the narrator in the poem. Both are Frederik Seidel. One is the poet and one is the persona/narrator, while both are strikingly similar, they are also subtly different which is highlighted by the one direct comparison that differs:
Like a hare without a bone who sleeps in a pâté.
Like a hare still running from a gun in a pâté.
Seems like both hares are kind of forced to live in the pâté, while the persona is more comfortable and the poet is shit scared. I love those metaphors, they are so messy and yet so amazing. There is nothing beautiful or overwhelmingly true about them, but they exactly the kind of thing a hare sleeping in pâté might write. Brilliant. This is certainly a very telling poem and I'm glad he wrote it because it certainly clears up a few things for me although it doesn't go into why he takes on such a brutal persona, but I guess that can be read in a lot of his other stuff. That reminds me. I am planning to track down some kind of interview with him on the the internet. It's fairly likely there isn't one, but it's worth a look I think. I'd love to hear what he has to say himself. Apparently he never reads though. Bummer.

On a side note, my Swiss uncle was one of the first people in New Zealand (in the world?) to perfect seafood pâté. Apparently it's quite hard to get right. This was in the early eighties when I was a baby. It was my Mother's job to deliver boxes of the stuff in her VW Beetle and I would sit in the back in a car seat. This seems all a bit Wonder Years to me (I'm imagining perms, flares and light disco music), but I like the story.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The boogie man

Up to Bill Nelson version number 7 at the moment, I think 10 might be a nice number to reach.
How about either 'Bill Nelson' as a section title? Or 'Not Bill Nelson'? Or something that hints at the thing I am trying to do? Yes I like the something that hints at the thing I am trying to do. If I only I knew what that something was?

Read the rest of Ooga Booga (Seidel's second most recent book contained in Poems 1959-2009). I read a scathing review of it the other day, basically saying that the Seidel's aesthetic that critics had been so praising (apparently Ooga Booga was a bit of a hit) was precisely the thing that made Seidel so bad. Her name is Ange Mlinko writing in The Nation and she said a lot of stuff like this:
Rich white man, American, womanizer: he cops to it all and invites us to scapegoat him. That by doing this he has garnered a large following is not surprising. I'm not a moralist, and it would be fruitless to pillory readers for the pleasure they get from Seidel: it makes perfect sense that a poetry that prizes the same dialectic of exhibitionism and voyeurism that popular culture does would resonate with readers who don't read much other poetry.

That paragraph is almost laughable in it's contradictions, but she probably represents a fairly large number of poets/reviewers out there. Those that think
  1. poetry is some kind of higher art form above the common people (read popular culture)
  2. poetry should be beautiful and nice and tell us how great the world is, despite everything
Seidel never does that and I love him for it. His aesthetic unease, his crazy, awkward rhyme schemes are yes, not something you would constantly want to read, but are incredibly appropriate for his subject matter and for me are part of the total package of his poetry. The poetry of unease maybe? It seems sometimes, like poetry is the only art form that can't be nasty. Why? Film, music, visual arts, dance, opera whatever all have the dark, immoral sub-genres or whatever. Why not poetry? Seidel's poetry is fresh and he is rare in that he is doing something truly different. I don't read too much of his stuff as autobiographical either. It seems he has created a persona for the purpose of his poetry to me. Maybe he has dones some of the stuff, but I think when it comes down to it the poetry's sensibilities do lie in what is right and wrong. This seems to come through in his political stuff, like in The Bush Administration (from Ooga Booga):
CENTCOM is drawing up war plans.
They will drop snow on Congo.
It will melt without leaving a trace, at great expense.
America will pay any price to whiten darkness.
My fellow citizen cicadas rise to the tops of the vanished Twin Towers
And float back down white as ashes
To introduce a new Ice Age.
The countless generations rise from the underground this afternoon
And fall like rain.
I never thought that I would live to see the towers fall again.

I mean I guess, it's the same voice in this poem as the others, so it would be difficult to say it is the 'real' Seidel coming through. But maybe highlighting the true injustice of the Bush Administration by taking this stand when he (his narrator) is so highly immoral is what he is trying to do. This character who sleeps with young woman with such relish and does all kind of horrible, hedonistic things still thinks the Bush Administration is immoral - what is that saying? What does it say about all the so called 'moral' elite who supported Bush, championed the war in Iraq? Who is the real Ooga Booga man there?

Shit, getting on a total political rant. Sorry.

It definitely provides food for thought anyway when thinking about what are we actually trying to do with poetry and how can we best go about doing it. There are many ways I guess and everyone has to find their own, but personally I think Seidel's way is damn exciting.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Spending a summer in Hawai'i

Don't know anything today. Began with something and ended with nothing.

I just read Maxine Hong Kingston's Hawai'i One Summer (University of Hawai'i Press, 1998) which are great little essays/stories. I love the way she writes, kind of almost like a child discovering things. Beligerant and opinionated and intellectually fierce, but also just a child wondering about stuff. They are beautiful essays or whatever you want to call them. And her house in the Manoa Valley on O'ahu looked fucking amazing in the photographs, like some kind of buddhist jungle island retreat which I have the feeling (from her writing) it wasn't like, but the photos tell a different story. I wonder if the writing or the photos are the truth or neither?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Soft decaying galaxies...of course

Read some more Seidel, wrote a poem and then read some of Vincent O'Sullivan's Further Convictions Pending (VUP, 2009). O'Sullivan is amazing. Beautiful use of language, and engaging little poems, some of them more accessible than others, but always quite surprising like in Being here:
It has to be a thin world surely if you ask for
an emblem at every turn, if you cannot see bees
arcing and mining the soft decaying galaxies
of the laden apricot tree without wanting
symbols - which of course are manifold - symbols
of so much else? [...]
Bees in 'soft decaying galaxies' - holy fuck, talk about blowing our little poetry reading minds out of the water. I think part of it is the manifest intelligence too. His poems don't dumb down language or make it 'relevant' or whatever, they are unashamedly talking about big things. Quite Wallace Stevensey in that regard and also doesn't not remind me of Michael Palmer's intelligence and mystery and beautiful, images, language and enjambment too. So yeah. Very impressed. Weird how I've kind of skipped over him before. How many other great NZ poets have I done that to?

Also, glad to here Sam Sampson won the Best First Book of Poems at the Montanas. I know that was like a week ago, but news is slow 'round here. Anyone of the three finalists (also Charlotte Simmonds and Amy Brown) deserved to win it, but you know, I guess I'm biased towards Sam's obliqueness. So well done him!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Half hour timeslots and the crumbling of reality

I had a half hour to write something and I think I did. Another Bill Nelson poem which has become a way for me to enter the persona and then deviate from it, so that these poems will end up with different titles I think.
Note: I might have to add something like this as the last line
'I take out another cigarette
lit with a burning will.'
Another note: I quite like the title 'The Voyeur'
Not particularly startling or interesting, but it might fit these poems as a section title? Dunno. Needs some more thought.

Damien has put me onto reading Vincent O'Sullivan (his newer stuff) and it seems really good. Interesting, funny, verbal and a lot of depth. I never knew. Someone said he looks like a grumpy old man and they put him in the same category as C K Stead. But I don't really care who he is as long as the writing's good and it is. I'll read some more and report on that tomorrow.

I also just went to a conceptual exhibition at the Adam Gallery where some artist has got all the gallery staff (who apparently work in a building on the other side of campus) to move their whole office into one of the gallery spaces, complete with little doodakkies on their monitors, novelty mugs and half eaten bowls of lunch. Not to mention the staff are actually there working every day. When I first walked in I felt really weird, like I was intruding and a bit baffled. One of the staff thankfully informed me what the fuck was going on and it was a bit more relaxing after that. Strange though. There was also another room with a trianglur latticed pyramid made out of some kind of really thin wire or polymer, so when you first walk in you don't even really see it. It was beautiful and fragile and stunning in the half lit grey room. Nice. Then when I was walking out I saw sheets broken glass (with graffiti on?) piled on the floor by a window covered with plywood. By this stage I was ready to imagine almost anything as being part of the work (was I), so I assumed it was some clever commentary on something. But right outside the window was a tradesman's van with a ladder on top like he/it was there to replace the glass. Was that part of it too? Or a coincidence. And then I left walking back to the IIML and I couldn't help wondering if all the students walking past, the scooter lined up haphazardly on the grass, the two other tradesman's vans that roared past with little regard for the people walking around - were they all a part of it too? Where did the art stop and the real life begin. So yeah a good result for the Adam Art Gallery there I think, by breaking down that barrier between the gallery and the outside world, it did more breaking of the outside world than anything else I think.

Fuck, what a rant. Class now.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Personae and 'The Dark'

Still reading Seidel, still writing stuff I would never want to read out.
I've heard people angst over not wanting to read out their 'dark' stuff which I don't think is that dark at all, not the particular person I'm thinking of anyway, more just a little angsty, as in embarrassing I spose, which for this person is a problem I think in light of her reputation as satirist. But whatever, I think I'm starting to like the idea of personae, as in completely ridiculous personae.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bad poetry

Going down a bad, bad road. Hopefully Damien can help me out tomorrow as to whether I should turn back or head cross-country for a while or what. It's so hard to write bad poetry that isn't bad, how the fuck does he do it? Maybe like this:
If you consent to life, as I do, condescendingly,
It seems you get to fuck unendingly.
The woman on my bed plays mozart heartrendingly.
I drank too much last night - as usual - mind-bendingly.
The body on the bed is all eyes as I prepare to mount it.
There's the body's usual hopefulness. The thing is to surmount it.

I'm standing at the window, after, looking out and looking back,
Looking past my floaters, my swimming specks of black.
I'm shitting on the ledge outside, moaning in my awful way.
I rap on the window to make myself fly away.
My body on the bed gets up, smiling at the gorgeous day.
The winter sunlight sparkles diamonds down on Broadway.
From Sunlight. In so many ways that should be, and kind of is, a terrible poem. But for some (disturbed?) reason I like it. I like the humour in it (mainly in the over-the-top rhyme I think), the beauty at the end, the mind bending leaps of point-of-view between him the bird and the body on the bed and the amazing philosophical insight - '...consenting to life, condescendingly.' So it's all those things which individually would not be enough to make the poem work I think, but together somehow do. I wonder if part of it is the freshness of it all too, if I am being a little blinded by the fact that I've never read anything like Seidel before and what I mean by that is, maybe there is a way to do it better or at least different. Like if I can figure out exactly what makes his stuff so fresh and use that in my own way. I guess I need to be weary that for Seidel, bad seems to be a complete package. Bad rhythm, bad metaphors, bad rhyme and of course horrible subject matter/characters.

Interestingly on that note the stuff from his first book Final Solutions is quite different in rhythm and tone I think, he doesn't have that humour and his poems are a bit more mysterious like in After the Party
A window sighs.
The row of houses stipples and sways
As if seen through the windshield after a downpour.
A brownstone tries to say something:
But the chimney is too small,
Is intimidated by the dark,
Its fireplaces never used
or from The Sickness:
The way a child's hands stare through glass
Under the frost, pining so much
They lag behind the child, they pass
Their two hours, patients and their visitors, and touch
Each other's hands with all their love
The huge scarred Chinaman, a yellow boxing glove
(His neck and head), spreads out his wife's left hand
So I think, rhythmically, very different and also much more subtle, not as overtly disgraceful or cheeky as the later stuff. Apparently he had a 17 year break between that book and his next and it shows. Long time not to publish anything though. He's making up for it now though by the look of it.

Lots of stuff to think about and potential minefields to avoid I think.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Frederick Seidel has arrived

I wrote a poem about Milan today. Why? Because I had a photo of it from the time I was there of some political graffiti that I had never really considered the meaning of, and now, today, I suddenly realised what they were probably on about and the fact that I took a picture of it is quite ironic. Damn, irony, seems like such a dirty word these days.

And yes, I am reading Frederick Seidel. Good guess. Chris lent me her copy of his Poems 1959-2009 (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, NY, 2009). So excited, because I can't afford it right now and Chris hasn't even read it. So I'm incredibly grateful for that.

The poems are in reverse chronological order, so I started with his newest stuff from Evening Man (2008). Some of the end line rhyming ones I just couldn't get into. I guess I still have some of that modernist schooling in me that cringes whenever end rhymes come in. I'm sure he is doing it ironically or super-cleverly in some way. I guess I just have to figure out what that is. Funny how reverence can let you get away with stuff eh? If it was some so called 'lesser' poet, I don't think I'd be quite so favourable. However some of them are gorgeous and all, of course, a brutal and astonishing in almost every way. One of the ones I liked (Ode to Spring) I'd read on the internet somewhere, so I guess I'm not the only one. But here is a few lines from Bipolar Novemember, another that I liked:
I get a phone call from my dog who died,
But I don't really.
I don't hear anything.
Dear Jimmy, it is hard.
Dear dog, you were just a dog.
I am returning your call.

I have nothing to say.
I have nothing to add.
I have nothing to add to that.
I am saying hello to no.
How do you do, no!
I am retutning your call.

Absolutely fucking nuts. I love it!
And here is an example of a heavy rhyme part that tripped me to start with, but I am sure in time, I will come to love. Haha! The end of Coconut:
Happy birthday, Doctor Hart.
You stopped my heart.
You made it start.
You supply the Hart part. I'll supply the art part.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I guess that's what he wants.
So yeah, many more polarised opinions to come.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Divine Inspiration of the Muse

I found out today that a phrase I thought I had invented all on my own is in fact a literary cliche and has it's own wikipedia page to explain this and is even the title of several famous poems, including one by Walt Whitman. I won't say what it is because you'll probably laugh, but suffice to say it is something like the word dappled (according to wikipedia anyway). So I guess I've read it somewhere, - it sounds like it would be impossible not to - assimilated it and then promptly destroyed all the neural pathways linking it to anything else, so that when I was writing that poem it popped in there fooling me into thinking I'd had some kind of divine creative moment. Which I guess begs the question, do divine creative moment actually exist? Or are they just cliches that no one else has heard of? Do things only ever come in to being in a creative way by accident, typos, chance operations like Jackson Mac Low and others would have us believe?

I'm sure there is some message about artistic stealing and originality in there, but I don't know what it is or how it is supposed to help me. Anyone?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lindsay vs. early Bob Hass: and the winner is...

Another weird day. They seem to becoming more common than not. I did write though, so in that respect maybe it was good?

Anyway read some of Robert Hass' Field Guide (Yale University Pr. 1973) which is interesting, but to be perfectly honest not as good as Lindsay's poems I was reading yesterday. WTF? I don't know either, but Lindsay has had some kind of imaginative explosion in his new work that I for one wasn't expecting and am completely astounded by. I guess you can't knock Robert Hass for his skill or wise understatement, but these early poems of his certainly aren't what you would call wild and exciting, not in the same way that Lindsay's stuff is. I was coming down with a serious case of writer's envy reading his work. Anyway I won't talk about that anymore, because I haven't formulated all my notes and stuff on it.

That imaginative excitement, surprise maybe even surrealism does draw me in every time. I love it and it seems so few people have the gift for it. It's that kind of harnessing of random connection and metaphor and I say harnessing because it is not completely random there is method in it, but yeah at the same time completely and utterly original. I guess maybe that's what it is, the fact that I know for certain I have never read anything like that before and may never again. That is good art?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Getting Angry with Jackson Mac Low

Struggle again today. This time I spent two hours browsing the interent on a semi-important errand. Not as important as the writing though, obviously. But after that I read a few things from that Jackson Mac Low best of that I bought awhile ago. Some of his stuff is so good and I mean the non-random stuff here. People always think of him as that guy who wrote chance poetry or whatever, but his other stuff, which admittedly is in the minority, is so good. Like inthe first section of phone (the later sections get more experimental and for me not part of the poem?):
Whenever I answer the phone
It's never you

Even if it was you
It'd never be you

Hello it's me
I love you so much
I can hardly wait to see you
Can I come over right now

Yes yes yes yes

So I hate the sound of the phone
& worse
To answer it

Hello hello
No I'm not me
I'm not here
I'll never be
Except for possibly the last line (I can't decide whether I love it or hate it) this is a beautiful, simple, philosophical and playful poem. Why couldn't he have written these instead of letting chance get in there and take over? Just because of some stupid buddhist commandment about refuting the ego? Sometimes an ego is needed I think. Someone has to do something after all. Someone has to do the writing and if you can do it as well as he can then why the fuck not! I feel kind of cheated that there isn't more of these.

So anyway, after reading Mac Low's work I wrote a silly thing about my most vivid memory from Standard Four which involved pencils, compasses and indiscriminate stabbings. Hmm.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The perfect lyric poem

Nothing came today. I've been here 3 hours and nothing. I even tried to do the exercise that we have been set for a special workshop next week in the hope that exercises are limiting and therefore easy, but nope. Which I guess goes to show that the only thing stopping me writing is me. The little voice that whispers crap and reaches for the delete button.

I read some more Jorie Graham though and Michael Palmer. I've finally finished The Lion Bridge after, I think, about 18 months. Which, for me at least, has got to be some kind of record.

We are discussing Helen's reading package this afternoon about science and writing which should be interesting seeing as I've had a bit of science and software engineering background. I think it is quite a complicated issue, made more complicated by the fact that science isn't just one thing and can range from the naming of plants (botany) to the such hugely complex and unmeasurable theoretical concepts that they can only be represented by massive computer models (quantum physics?). It seems there is some space for poetry to meddle in there, but I would suggest it is more at one end of that spectrum than the other. That's not to say poetry can't try of course and can't dream. In fact I think poetry's ability to dream and make random, surprising connections is where sometimes it's strength lies with regards to science. It has the power of sci-fi, which I guess is the romantic end of science, where the ideas are born and before the real, nitty-gritty and (usually) mundane work is done. But who's to say someone can't write the perfect lyric poem that describes all the intricacies of string theory in some kind of perfect vortex of language?

I also read the thing I wrote yesterday that was kind of spawned from a Wallace Steven's line and it seems reasonably interesting. I might have to do that again. He seems like one of those writers who writes nice open, philosophical one-liners that a ripe for quoting and reinterpreting.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back to school sale!

Read Wallace Stevens' massively long poem The Man with the Blue Guitar. 33 different sections, all needing to be read incredibly slowly and carefully. Not that I did that. Some of it was quite elusive. I kind of got the general gist of 'the man with the blue guitar' being the writer, the artist not saying things 'as they are,' but as they could be, the bread as opposed to the stone. There was also some stuff in there about imagination, dreams and sleep/wakefulness too. The thing is I am pretty sure there was also at least another dozen or so things going on that I didn't get. I'll have to read it a few more time I think. Sheesh, he is so dense (not in the pre-teen slang kind of way) and so philosophical. I think sometimes he misses out on thoese lovely small details though, because the poem is so stripped back to it's symbolic, philosophical core. Maybe that's the post-domestic poetry coming out in me, the whole observational thing that I guess he was arguing against in the Blue Guitar, poetry not being about things 'as they are' or at least not in the factual, demonstratable sense.

First day of school today. So good to be back after so long in the wilderness. Can't wait to hear what everyone has/hasn't been up to.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Out of the oven and into the fridge

Went to a cafe today for a change of scenery. It was very noisy and I was trying to read Jorie Graham. Laughable, so I wrote something about trying to read Jorie Graham in a cafe, stealing phrased from one of her poems. She is so good at phrases, they all seem so fresh and loaded like little pockets of holy-fuck. Definitely becoming more and more of a fan. The book I've been reading is her latest, Sea Change (2008, Carcanet). And it is beautiful, like in Root End:
The desire to imagine
the future.
Walking in the dark through a house you know by
heart. Calm. Knowing no one will be
out there.
how you can move among
the underworld's
Wow. What a singularly gorgeous idea and image, one of those that-is-so-true moments. I want to be her. Although I noticed she has a kind of limited tone in her work. I find it is all that kind of ephemeral, beautiful kind of language that fits some poems and not others. Like she wrote a poem called Guantanamo where that kind of thing doesn't seem to work so well. I couldn't help but wonder if she could be more brutal or something. But fuck it, you can't change how you write and that poem is still good. I'm just being picky and letting my own preoccupations get in there.

Going to watch Mr. Bob Hass on video interview this afternoon. Should be nice, he seems like such a thoughtful and kind man I can't see him saying anything other than pure gold.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Stevens/Douglas connection

I got out a small Wallace Stevens book (Selected Poems. 1953. Faber and Faber Ltd.) yesterday and I've been reading that because I think he is the one from that era that I respect the most. I haven't been let down so far. He has some beautiful and, I think, varied music. Like he will have a line or two of really lovely rhyme that comes as a shock to the rest of the poem, but fits into the rhythm of it perfectly. He writes a kind of free verse that is incredibly controlled, so it seems almost form like. Maybe that is the definition of good free verse? The Worms at Heaven's Gate:
Here is an eye. And here are, one by one,
The lashes of that eye and its white lid.
Here is the cheek on which that lid declined,
And, finger after finger, here, the hand,
The genuis of that cheek. Here are the lips,
The bundle of the body and the feet.
That rhyme at the end of this section (and also the sound of the 'lid declined') is for me what makes this poem so special. It jumps out as a lovely piece of music, even though in a way he is describing quite a banal thing, using quite ordinary words. It's the syntax and the control that makes this so gorgeous.

And I wrote a found poem from the book I bought last week Completing the Circle by Roger Douglas. I'm not sure if it is working. I might show it to Damien etc and see what they think. Generally I don't like found poems. They have to be exceptional I think. I'm not sure this is. The most interesting thing about the book is that it is signed and he pressed so hard with the pen that you can see the indent of the signature all the way to page 9. Maybe I should write a poem about that? His solid grip or something?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Golden Days

Back from Golden Bay where I tried to write some stuff, but didn't really get in the groove. I think being at home, at my own desk with my own blanket and my own heater really does help to get stuff out. How many times do I look up to find the morning has gone? I guess when your on holiday it's like you only give yourself an hour to two to rip something out before running off to the beach. Which is probably not a bad thing.

Em had quite a good poetry collection, so I read some of her 'Griffin poetry prize' books. Thanks Em! The 2004 (?) one was my favourite. It had Fanny Howe in it as an international finalist. Fuck her stuff is good. I'd never read longer things of hers either, but damn she is impressive. Also started Damien's book The Fainter which seems cool at this early stage. Other than that I was drinking coffee and Mussel Inn beer and checking out all the freaky natural stuff they have.

Only one more week till class starts again and I have to email 10 new things to Damien by Thursday, so I can't have any days off this week. Work, work.

Wrote another poem about sex and yo-yos today. What is wrong with me?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Workers unite!

So wacked out some spaz based on the word agitprop and me following what it means.

Read some more of Seidel, finished the Earth section of the book, which is by and large based more on earth than off it. It is also more brutal: rape, stalking, overt chauvinism. And right at the end the really interesting poem Frederick Seidel which seems to be him answering all the people who call him anti-semitic, chauvinist, racist, red-neck whatever or is it?
I live a life of laziness and luxury,
Like a hare without a bone who sleeps in a pate.
I met a fellow who was so depressed
He never got dressed and never got undressed.

He lived a life of laziness and luxury.
He hid life away in poetry,
Like a hare running still running from a gun in pate.
He didn't talk much about himself because there wasn't much to say.


There are other examples but
A perfect example in his poetry is the what
Will save you factor.
The Jaws of Life cut the life crushed in the compactor

My life is a snout
Snuffling toward the truffle, life. Anyway!
It is a life of luxury. Don't put me out of my misery.

I am seeking more Jerusalem, not less.
And in the outtakes, after they pull my fingernails out, I confess:
I do love
The sky above.
So this one is interesting, the stuff in the middle kind of digresses into a scene with a naked woman and how the 'poet' can't but has to look.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Realism or lack-of-imaginationism?

Well, Gomorrah wasn't that good. James came too and we both agreed it needed a little spice or something. I for one am definitely bored with the whole realism thing (like that French movie 'The Class' etc), in film anyway. I just can't get past the fact that I prefer stylised, imaginative cinema so much more. Like how less of a movie Pans Labyrinth would have been if it was a realist film about WWII? It's not that I don't like documentary or something (Helvetica is one of the coolest films I've seen in ages), but doco-fiction, I don't know, it seems so limiting. But I guess, it's super popular as far as film goes at the moment (literature too?) so maybe I'm completely missing something. Long live works of the imagination!

So I've been working on the penguin poem and have found some relief with going for more of an asterisk separated montage thing. So it's getting there. Thanks for the words of encouragement Helen!

And read some more of The Lion Bridge: Selected Poems 1972-1995 by Michael Palmer (Carcanet 1999). Maybe that has helped, having dependable old Mike on board. I don't know.

Gonna go for a bike ride this afternoon which will be nice and maybe watch a writer interview at the IIML if Helen is there and if not, I might anyway.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Does Senator Bill Nelson struggle to get up every morning?

Firstly, check out this picture of Senator Bill Nelson (formerly of NASA). How cool is that NASA suit and the sculptured chin, hair and smile. Googling your own name is never much fun, unless I suspect you are Bill Nelson and so damn good looking. I want one of thos NASA suits, those zips look incredibly practical, although I'm not sure in which way, something to do with doing something mundane in zero gravity I'm sure.

Weird, weird day today. Been at it for fucking hours. I thought I had a good idea to start with about using 'The Penguin History of New Zealand' as a literal title for a poem (or at least the unspoken title of a poem), but I just couldn't get inside the head of a penguin. No surprises there I guess. So I fucked around for ages trying to make than work, then I read some stuff, read some other stuff, had a coffee, read some Seidel and bang, decided on something. Not sure what, but at least a place to start (the whole Unsettlement thing - brutality?) and something kind of came and it has a penguin at the end. Yay! Mission accomplished, but no, not really I don't think. Still don't like it and I don't feel comfortable about it. God, this writing process thing is fucked up. I wish I could work out some thing I could do that would work everytime. Wish I could collect all those clever little ideas and phrases and use those like Kate does or freewrite and come up with something astonishing like H does. Fuck, I don't know, what do I do? And why can't I do it?

So yeah read lots of little things today to try and get the engine going. Kate told me she reads for at least an hour before writing and doesn't allow herself any less, which seems like a good idea. I usually only do abotu 20 minutes maybe half an hour. Not today though, I did a bit of Sam Sampson, James Brown, History of NZ, Tusiata Avia and of course ol' Seidel.

I dunno. I just don't. Got to stay positive though.
I'm going to go and watch a film called Gomorrah this afternoon. It's supposed to be good and the sun is out, so not all bad.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Agitprop: Thing of Beauty

My new Jackson Mac Low book arrived today. It's called Thing of Beauty and is his selected and new works. Only just got into obviously and mainly only read the foreword and a few of his early ones.
My favourte so far is What's the matter don't you like candy (not too sure about that title though) that he wrote in 1941:

I have been told that a child crying indicates the death of a songbird
I do not know whether to believe this, but I know crickets are often
affected by high temperatures
I would like to know what the bug is with long thin six legs who paused
fluttering up and down for a while just now and then
flew away
It might have something to do with the crying of children
He goes on like that for about two pages, the phrase: 'crying of children' is repeated all over the place and he builds it up through that repetition exploring all sorts of weird ideas and incidents around 'crying children.' It works though, I think, because of that matter-of-fact tone and the unusual places it goes.

Anyway, he is much more well known for his chance-operation poems or his 'systematic' type ones, where he uses two texts to create a new one. And the foreword goes into quite a bit of detail about why he went this way and it basically comes down to his buddhist belief about removing ego from art, although he later admitted there is as much ego in chance operation as in the traditional lyric poem. He also talks about politics (hello, back on that again) which is strange for someone who has pretty much no control over his how his work comes out. It sounds like he had very strong view on war and violence, but I wonder how many people would know that of him from his work (his earlier lyric poems were often heavily political)? I guess there is nothing wrong with that, but to talk about it so heavily in the introduction to a work spanning 50 years that could be interpreted in an almost infinite number of ways strikes me as a little strange. Perhaps he considered his rejection of the ego as his ultimate political statement? He does talk about poetry as being capable of change, but subversively so and not through direct agitprop argument which I agree with, but I'm still not sure he is doing that either:
The politically aware artist can hope that what gives her pleasure and what gives her pain will give others the kinds of pleasures and pains that may help engender more positive social arrangements [interesting that the artist is a 'she' like a boat].
Anyway, he has undoubtedly served post-modern poetry to no end and is an important figure and I should really hold judgement on the existence of politics or beauty (another thing he is said to hold dear) in his work until I've read the whole thing. All interesting stuff, I just wish the Frederick Seidel best of book was the same price. Times certainly are tough right now.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Politics, Szymborska and power

Just to go back to yesterdays post about politics...

I've been doing some more research on it because I really want to know what this politics thing is.

There is this poem by Wislawa Szymborska, Children of Our Era (translated by JoannaTrzeciak and retrieved from

We are children of our era;

our era is political.

All affairs, day and night,

yours, ours, theirs,

are political affairs.

Like it or not,

your genes have a political past,

your skin a political cast,

your eyes a political aspect.

What you say has a resonance;

what you are silent about is telling.

Either way, it's political.


Her position seems clear, although she does qualify with the first line of course, but isn't every era political in some way? The world is never devoid of problems. So I guess that didn't help much as far as defining what is political and what isn't. So I went to trusty old wikipedia which seems relatively well referenced in this case and had this to say:

Politics is the process by which groups of people make decisions. The term is generally applied to behaviour within civil governments, but politics has been observed in all human group interactions, including corporate, academic, and religious institutions. It consists of "social relations involving authority or power"[1] and refers to the regulation of a political unit,[2] and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy.[3]

"Politics" ultimately comes from the Greek word "polis" meaning state or city. "Politikos" describes anything concerning the state or city affairs. In Latin, this was "politicus" and in French "politique". Thus it became "politics" in Middle English ( see the Concise Oxford Dictionary).

There is no academic consensus on the exact definition of "Politics", and what counts as political and what does not. Max Weber defined politics as the struggle for power.

So it seems power has something to do with it and group (or societies?) as well in which case, is there such a thing as personal politics which people talk about a lot. Can one person be political, or is politics by definition trying to convince people of something, thereby creating a group of people who (supposedly) agree on some issue. If that is true then I would be uneasy about calling any of my work political. I've never written a poem with the intention of convincing someone of something. I'll go back to what John Kinsella said about him wanting nothing more from his work than for it to be interesting. I'm the same, thought-provoking, but only for the purposes of entertainment (or art? - but that's another debate). So that seems clear.

I'd also be uneasy about having a struggle for power in my work. I find that kind of thing pathetic to be honest, the want of some people to control other people. I'm no anarchist by any means, and probably the opposite when it comes to ideas of state control, but it seems those things have no place in poetry. It isn't an exercise in power over the anything, over the reader, over the poem, over the poet. It just isn't like that for me. So maybe I am an anarchist when it comes to writing, I like the words to govern themselves or something, create some kind of rule free utopia without the need for an interfering, pesky poet to control them. I guess the key word there is utopia, in that it those ideas can never exist in the real world, even in the poetic world, but fuck me if I'm not going to try.

So yay! Down with politics! Up with art (entertainment - groan)! Now that sounds like politiking.

And morality? That is another topic. Maybe I'll google that tomorrow. Some pious person must have written a poem on it at some stage. In fact, wasn't there several centuries dedicated to it?

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