Monday, March 30, 2009

He loves me, he loves me not

I've just finished reading Postmodern American Poetry before it goes back to the library. I read it backwards, curiously, I can't remember why, but it think it might have something to do with me thinking contemporary = relevance and therefore I should read the newest first. The last poet I read and started out in the late fifties, was Jackson Mac Low, perhaps the most experimental of them all and before them all. His stuff reminds me of Christian Bok and reading about his algorithm driven production method, that is not entirely surprising. There is that lack of emotional resonance or any kind of loose structure for the reader to build their own around in some of his poems (like Bok too). The 'Dance' series poems on the other hand are astonishing, strange, lucid and captivating:
Later I quietly chalk a strange tall bottle.

Then, being a band or acting like a bee
& being a brother to someone,
I discuss something brown.
Without the title this poem would be flat too (6TH DANCE--DOING THINGS WITH PENCILS). But when the reader is imagining this as a list of metaphysical dance instructions they can't help be drawn into the dance of the language and the visual performance playing out in their own imgainations. Very satisfying.

Also took a bit of interest in the section on Robert Creeley because he more than anybody has influenced the contemporary short-lined poem that I am so fond of:
I think I grow tensions
like flowers
in a wood where
nobody goes.

Each wound is perfect,
encloses itself in a tiny
imperceptible bloom
making pain.

Pain is a flower like that one,
like this one,
like that one,
like this one.
I love how this poem is self-contained, and references pain/tension as being the flower, coming from the flower, returning to it. The line endings are so powerful, each one like a ripped petal. The only place where it doesn't seem to work so well for me is the line 'making pain.//Pain...'. Why have the word pain twice, so close and why the flat line at all after the beautiful power of the preceding lines? It doesn't seem to add anything for me and if it was me I'd be tempted to take out the 'making pain' line. But the star-struck goober in me is insisting he must have it there for a reason. A break in the power/music, some kind of witty intelligent reference I have missed? Can someone please tell me?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Avant garde poets: charge!!!

I'm not feeling good about much right now. I just wrote a boring as hell poem. I read Kinsella's Warhol at Wheatlands poem which made me want to write something similar. Nothing came and I ended writing a stupid thing about the graduation ceremony I went to yesterday. 

Reading has been good though, the preface to Denis Haskell's poems in Landbridge: Contemporary Australian Poetry (1999, Freemantle Arts Centre Press) has something I completely and utterly agree with and also several things I completely and utterly disagree with.

He says, quoting Pound who quotes from 'The Chinese':
Only emotion endures
Arguing that only poems with emotional resonance have the ability to transcend fashion and politics and appeal to audiences indefinitely. I think in many ways he is right. Emotional intelligence is something all great poetry shares, but he goes too far with the idea:
I aim to do this without slickness, easy irony or surface effects and without entering the perpetual child's garden of gimmeckry known as the 'the avant garde'.
Child's garden? Gimmeckry? He couldn't have used stronger words to describe an ever-changing movement that artists for centuries have devoted their lives to. 

The avant garde for me represents the people at the front. It originally meant the foremost advancement of an army, a vanguard. It seems to me he is confusing an eternal truth of poetry, that of emotional resonance, with the mode of its delivery, its 'surface effects' as he calls it. All poems have surface effects, it was makes them interesting, it is the music, the shape of the words, the imagery, the irony, the surprise. I love poetry that uses all these things to acheive emotional resonance. That for me is a successful poem. 

He seems to be saying he wants to be somewhere in the middle of the army, maybe in the rear (he certainly likes to sling arrows from the back) which is fine, but I think we need a full army to keep advancing. To shoot your own vanguard seems to be a stupid tactical error. The avant garde will always end up in the main-stream as the battle progresses and a new vanguard will appear. The stuff he is writing now, that he thinks is so safe and of the people for the people, would once have been avant garde. I am sure of that.

I am liking this army metaphor now. I could go on to say in this era of post-modernism it has turned to guerilla warfare where everyone is lost in the jungle, each writer for themselves...but I won't go there. Not today anyway.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More self doubt and Kinsella

Firstly, a few more thoughts on the travel piece I wrote. I said yesterday that it comes down to the readers expectation, which seems to hold true. The problem being that all readers have different expectations. Everyone seems to have a different view on where the line between fiction and non-fiction should be drawn. Should there be a line? Should we just accept that fiction is inherent in any kind of non-academic writing.

Someone said yesterday that it crosses the line when the writer 'knowingly' makes something up to form a narrative. But I would argue all writers (except maybe honest academic writers, but we are sticking to 'creative non-fiction' here) knowingly fictionalise at least a small element of their writing. They might put a pause in a conversation (seems like a forgivable thing), they might make up all the words in a conversation but keep the general idea (I can live with that), they might say the colour of the sun was burnt orange, when it was more like a dull yellow, they might say a character existed who never did (seem to be pushing it for me). Which one of these people have crossed the line if any?

I think the only way to answer that is that all of them have or none of them have. And as a writer, a non-academic writer, I think to think none of them have. I hope that writers and readers are moving beyond the fact-monopoly on truth. I like to think we are moving into a new post-modern (or whatever else you want to call it) era of writing that encourages questions as much as answers. When a historian says, this is what happened on this day at this place, I like the idea that writers can now say this is how I felt, this is what the people might have said, this is where your imagination as the reader comes in, this is where you must question what happened, where you must add your own fiction to this story.

Shit, that was a bit of a rant. And on the actual reading...

I've read some more of John Kinsella and I can see where his 'experimental' tag comes from. He writes some poems (the newer ones with variable indenting of each line) where they are like a tirade of spiraling linguistics. Some of the words are quite unusual and I think for that reason some people might see him as a language poet, although I definitely get the sense he is still trying to 'tell us something' in which case I think he goes beyond the language poets. Michael Palmer does the same kind of thing really, he does have a narrative in his work, it is just that it is heavily concealed(?) behind the language. Language comes first and rightly so.
Deprived, as in waste or wastage
    seed scatterings
where shattered stalks dropped and winnowed, a district

I hope I reproduced the line indents properly there. I think in general I prefer, plainer, everyday language in poetry. Maybe because my vocabulary is quite small and I don't feel as involved in the poem if it had plainer words. I don't think that is a problem with Kinsella though because he uses such beautiful music and alliteration that the meaning is inferred and they do seem on the tip of understanding, like you've seen it before or something like and that connection is almost there, but not quite. A nice place to be in a poem.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Big package

3 hours. 1 reading package - Truth in fiction/non-fiction. 2 blurry eyes.

I am about to discuss it all in class so I won't prejudice that here, but I will say how I am now dubious about a travel piece I wrote recently with regard to the parts I 'embellished' and whether I should have. I think it all comes down to the expectation of the reader. What do they expect of a 'travel story'? I am quite glad they used the word 'story' and not 'article' there. For me I think as long as I am true to the journey and to the experiences of the travel part of the story then I am OK.

I am happy with it and that all the places, events and people are true (to me) and real (to everybody). So what more is there?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Post-modern heuristic role call

So I've been reading Post-modern American Poetry Anthology (W. W. Norton and Company, 1994) and it has to go back to the library this week. So far I have found a few writers that pique an interest:

  • Kathleen Fraser - she was kind of glossed over in the book. She only has one poem, compared to some of the others who have a dozen or so pages dedicated to them, but she seems to traverse the imagistic, meta-physical and linguistic all at once which is extremely intriguing, '...white bowl, strawberries / perfumy from the sun / two spoons two women / deferred pleasure// pious impious/ reason could not take/ precendence...'
  • Wanda Coleman - Extremely inventive and uncertain with its own convictions her stuff handles political issues in a much more mature way than alot of other people do, 'blacks think in circles she said. no they don't/ i said it too readily, too much on the defense. of course/ blacks think in circles. i think in circles/ why did i feel it necessary to jump on the defensive.'
  • Paul Hoover - Surrealist/imagist to put him in a category. 'If a monkey drives a car/ down a colonnade facing the sea/ and the palm trees to the left are tin/ we don't understand it...'
  • David Lehman - Editor of Best American Poetry series, linguistic, paradoxical. 'VARIOUS nostalgias: rock, scissor, and paper:/ Cardinals and opposing orioles in the April rain:/No pain: a brain perfectly in tune with the newspaper,/ Like a commuter in love with a computer, and with the paper/ On which he neatly jots down, in blue...'
And of course Michael Palmer, Rae Armantrout and Charles Bernstein feature in it too, but the above names are new to me.

I wrote today, inspired by something from the novel Lolita by Nabokov. The main character, Humbert Humbert, had read elsewhere :
Words without experience are meaningless
I've also ordered some books from the internet. So exciting! Two of Michael Palmer's latest books and a collection of Rae Armantrout's early work. Yay!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Michael Palmer does it again!

Wrote a poem I like today, tomorrow...I dunno, but for today it seems OK.
It came after reading a Michael Palmer poem. He fucking did it again. I don't know what it is about his work, but it inspires me on some mysterious level, emotionally I think, maybe tonally, I dunno. He just somehow gets me to write and write well. The book I have of his is The Lion Bridge: Selected Poems (New Directions, 1998), which I have been reading at a snails pace since early last year. I treat it like the magical elixir in Asterix comics and once it has run out there will be no more. I deliberately don't allow myself to read more than one or two a day. Fucked up.
We never say the word desert
nor does the sand pass through fingers

of this hand we forget
is ours
How can anyone not want to write like that?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Australia/New Zealand Mash-Up

I'm still exploring the massive continent of Australia. Fortunately I've had it condensed down to book form in 'Landbrige: Contemporary Australian Poetry' (1999, Freemantl Arts Centre Press) which was kindly lent to me by Chris. It is a fantastic book. I've read/skimmed through about a third of it and almost all the poets in there are interesting/original in their own way. Who knew? So far I particularly like Ken Bolton (who I already know about), Pam Brown (she has that gift or matching disparate images/language) and a prose poet called Joanne Burns who has a interesting style and suprising narrative (if you could call it that). I'm writing these down so I will remember them. The anthology is edited by John Kinsella, so I'm getting a greater sense of respect for him also.

All the poets have an opening section to say what their 'project' is. I can feel their pain. Ken Bolton wrote:
I don't think I have a project, beyond attempting to be interesting...I am also attracted to the aesthetics of the arbitrary and surprise.
Yes! Yes! That is exactly how I feel. The first and foremost responsibility of my work is to those things. I don't really care or even know sometimes what my work is about as long as it is really fucking good. As long as I am excited by reading and writing it.

On that note...I wrote a silly poem today without much direction and perhaps excitement. Maybe I can do a mash-up at some point of it and something to make something more meaningful out of it? 

I've never tried that before I don't think. I probably should. I have plenty of things that will never see the sunlight in their present form. That is not to say they are completely without worth. Who was it who said one of the great delights of poetry is to have to competing ideas/words next to each other and it somehow be true?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reading list

I have just finished putting together my reading list for school. On it is alot of American stuff, but thanks to meeting with Chris (tutor) and gleaning some stuff from James (a guy in my class who has lived in Perth for quite awhile) I now have a healthy amount of NZ and Australian writers who lean in similar directions to myself, so I am really excited about getting into them. Excited about the possibility of becoming excited, which seems like a good place to be.

So I've read a little bit of John Kinsella (who was kindly leant to me by James). He told me at the time he is/was a 'language' poet which I haven't really found evidence of yet, at least the kind of evidence I would expect. He seems to be a conventional narrative poet, although an obviously accomplished one. His poems are certainly fresh and surprising with linguistic and idealogical twists, but they don't seem to be deliberately turning language on its head as I've come to expect from 'language' poets. I'll have to read more of course before judging. 

In the introduction written by Harold Bloom of 'Peripheral Light - Selected and New Poems' (2003, Freemantle Arts Centre Press) he is compared to John Ashbery in the first paragraph, which seems to be more of a fitting comparison. He is avant garde for sure, he is experimental, his work seems to cover alot of form and function, much like the 'New York School' poets seem to have done. But still interested in the clear image and even in narrative. 

We had a talk by Paula Boock who is the writer in residence at the IIML this year about the novel she is working on and her career as a young adult writer and script writer. She was very brave to show us her work in progress and let us offer our opinions. I don't know if I could have done that. I hope she got something useful from it. I could definitely see her career as influences in what she showed us, a lot of dialogue and focus on youth/child issues, but written as a novel. It will be unique that is for sure in New Zealand literature.

I've started writing my own stuff as of yesterday before doing class exercises. In fact I haven't even started the exercise for next week. I need to find a photo in the newspaper and tell the story/lie behind the official truth. I have half an hour before I have to go to the gardening job, so I think I'll try and find a suitable photo at least.

Goodbye internet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Untimely Meditations

I've been reading Untimely Meditations & Other Poems by Ken Bolton (1997, Wakefield Press). It is great to find something enterprising and fresh so close to home. One of my goals this year is to try and get away from reading so many American writers, not that there is anything wrong with that, but I'd like to find really exciting stuff going on in other places that are similar to NZ (culturally I'm thinking of): South Africa, Australia, Canada, England - colonies I guess. It must be out there I just have to find it.

So anyway, his writing is incredibly distinctive, playful and surprising. It has a level of unpredictability that is hard to find in Australasian writing (in my limited experience). I particularly loved the title poem 'Untimely Meditations' which was deliverd like an errant lecture on Australian poetry complete with self-deprecating discussion on the likes of Les Murray and the Australian 'Outback' school of poetry:

Les told us,
the beef?'

as if poems were a sandwich

and his
had dinkum verities

and content, while ours were that relativistic nonsense
you learn at unis,

So pretty happy that I have found this guy (in the IIML library) and intend to read some more. Things I don't like are: 
  • poems can be very long (why can't I handle that?)
  • he is quite conversational using 'no, yet', 'let me see', 'when I think about it' that kind of stuff, which is both endearing and at the same time wasteful - I think something to be employed not too much
Also had a poem published in issue 3 of Swamp journal which is a Newcastle University (Australia) thing for postgrad writing students.

I've struggled to write anything that isn't related to our exercises so far. I think from next week I am going to have to start my one poem a day routine to try and get some miles under the belt.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

15 minutes of fame

I've decided to allow myself 15 minutes per day to write in this blog and maybe a couple of minutes to correct spelling and typos. So there might be the odd swear word or wild thought which is probably good.

I recently finished Oryx and Crake by Magaret Atwood which I found at the Pukerua Bay 2nd hand bookshop. I read 'Shadow Debt' by her a while ago and was impressed with her insight and range. Oryx was good too, although I don't think I was enthralled as much as with her non-fiction writing. It was imaginative and revealed itself in a slow kind of way, the things that made this character (snowman) become so twisted and cynical. Written in quite a conventional and easy to read style the book highlighted the true strength, that of her imaginative characters. In a sense it was a standard apocalypse story in a similar vein to Day of the Triffids, but with more back story and wit. I found some of the science fiction technologies and jokes about bio-engineering a bit over the top. Like CD-roms, surely she must of known they would date the book? And hammering home the whole ridiculousness of corporations creating new animals and the lack of ethical control. I got a bit over that. The characters were great though and the comments on education and the elite. Nice to read some literary science fiction, that is not as dry as the old Isaac Asimov stories I read as a kid.

The MA has started now and I'll probably be reading more poetry I imagine. Which is great. I've read a few novels over the summer and now it's time to get back to the real stuff. My writing has seemed lacklustre for the last few weeks (months?), the old silly humour creeping back in. Some of it seems quite like the stuff I was writing last summer. Maybe writing goes in circles rather than straight lines (or waves even)? Last year I thought it was all straight ahead progression. Maybe I was wrong.

My 15 minutes is over.
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