Thursday, May 28, 2009

Workshop. Sleep. Feed. Write. Read. Workshop.

Wrote prose today. Started reading The Rehearsal by Ellie Catton (2008, VUP), thanks Liz for lending it to me! Perhaps (-> perchance? -> to fall(accidentally)?) there is residual inspiration left from Pip's story that I mentioned yesterday too. I was feeling a wee bit blue about line breaks, so maybe I need this?

The Rehearsal as of page 19 is intriguing. Liz told me she loved the use of language, but thought the story was so so. Which is more important I wonder? James and I were talking about this last night at the Katipo. I said there didn't seem to be any solutions for the problem of narrative. As in, how can we write a story that seems less 'story like' and more 'life like' but still remain entertaining. He talked a bit about the spiral method as is the story tightens in ever decreasing circles, perhaps crossing of the same points in time until we get to something in the middle. The crux? The truth? I don't know if this is really that much of a depature from the classic three act thing. Just mixed up a bit. I guess the question is, how do you elicit and emotional reponse from an audience? How do you play them and does there have to be chorus? I reckon there must be other ways out there, probably incredibly simple and yet undiscovered.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Damn it Sweden!

Wrote a poem about Utah and snow and isolation. Very un-NZ. Don't know how it would fit with any of the others? Also trying to not drink coffee before writing, not sure if it has made any difference yet. I'll try it again tomorrow.

Read a really unusual story by Pip Adam in Hue and Cry 3 called Pushing, Pulling about a strange character called Douglas who seems to be going mad thinking and interacting with gravity, physics and geography. It is the way it is written though that is really interesting. The voice is so disjunctive and rich with surreal imagery that you can't but helped be convinced by his insanity. There are elephants, babies, ice-blocks, Belgium and superpowers. The world seems normal, but the way Douglas interacts with it is anything but. There are no regular prose type descriptions or dialogue betwen two characters, except with a wise feminine character called Sweden who he conjures up earlier in the story. It seemed a bit rambly, like one thing leads into another, Sweden will appear and then Douglas will be talkig to Sweden, but she pulls it off by making it about madness I guess and the way that thoughts progress like that. Amazing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Muderous intent

Wrote nothing today, nothing yesterday. I kind of tried, but it ended up being worse than nothing. I think the mini-manu-script I'm handing out today is taking its toll.

I've just been reading Lindsay's reading package and a fantastic essay called The Accidental Plagiarist (VQR, Spring 2007) by a guy called Erik Campbell. He is brilliant so funny and pop and insightful and for some reason morbid? The overarching theme I think was to do with the tradition of good artists 'stealing' from others (as T.S. Eliot once said). And I can't really disagree. Stealing is a part of it. Making it better is also a part of it. Bill Manhire was talking a while ago (and in his poem On Originality) about not only stealing from your literary forebears, but killing them off too. Eventually the aim is to use them to make better art (at least more relevant to contemporary audiences) at which point you have successfully killed them off. And that is kind of what he did with Robert Creeley at the start of his career and what I am trying to do with Michael Palmer I think. I love his work, a lot, but I want to love my work more. Stick a knife in a twist it and if I have to plagiarise the odd line, plunge that in, twist that then so be it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The angel question?

I haven't finished The Blind Singer yet but I did skip to the back and read the two essays that frame her final section The Angel Question. They are great, smoothly written, insightful essays and probably more like how I should tackle an essay which immediately makes me think, shit, maybe one of the essays I've written this year could end up in my manuscript. But there is something niggling at me, even as I say this. And that is the ability of an essay to steal the limelight. I think by creating a cohesive argument around what the poetry is (even obliquely) discussing, you remove a little of the mystery. Too many signposts?

So the idea is appealing. Especially with my 'History' section. But I just don't think I can do it.

I would love to write an essay with a series of quotes and insights by a fictional man named Derek Nohff.

Anyway...I've been putting my workshop package together and have ended up with 21 fairly full pages. I hope it's not too much for people. The whole thing is kind of all over the place except for the History section and the Straw epic, there is also my other mini-section, Endnotes, that I decided not to put a title on or a frame around to see if people can find it themselves. Probably not I imagine. They don't really have anything to do with each other, except that they are all relatively short and have the title as the last word. I dunno, if I even think they are a section. Some of the ones that were supposed to be in this section didn't even work trying to jam the title in at the end, not to say that where I could do that the poems work, but you know. It is a series I've attempted, so I thought it would be worth putting in.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The blind singer

The Blind Singer (2009, VUP) is great and not what I was expecting which is always nice. It seems different from (admittedly the little amount of) Chris' work I've read previously. A bit more textural in it's language or something. Quite sensual, yet subtle and a little aloof which I like. She has those nice flat yet inclusive ending down too. She is great at rhythm and music which seems to come very naturally, although I'm sure it takes a lot of hard work. The end of Swan Song:
So then we tried to cultivate the art
of listening. Intent:
even the air in our bones
listening, so hard we heard their own high
hollow crack, crystals of river ice

re-forming. Now we grow old, and what
we've heard has ripened slowly
into song: one melancholy burst
to sear the earth
before we're gone.
Beautiful! I reckon it's in the top 10 NZ poetry books I've read and I'm only up to page 16, so more to come.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Making nice things out of straw

I went to a book fair the other day and found a book called Making nice things out of straw by Eunice Svinicki (1976, David Mackay Company. ISBN 0-679-20452-0) which I just had to buy and I started writing a series of poems based on the chapter headings. Today I changed that idea slightly and I'm working on one big epic about straw making with a whole bunch of asterisk seperated sections inspired by each chapter. Fuck some weird shit has come out of it though. I have no idea where this one is going.

Saw Chris do a reading last night and she seems really into inspiration from things/words/ideas and combining that with other ideas to create really lovely multi-level metaphoric poems, much like Kate Camp does I think. So I've been wondering if I can do some of that. But I don't know how? I don't think I'm that smart. My metaphors seem to come from a much weirder less sensical place. But is that bad? In some ways I think it is, people don't get that fuck this poem is clever feeling. They get more of the fuck this poem is weird feeling. Control versus chaos maybe?

Thankyou Eunice though. This book is awesome and I can't believe no-one bought it before I did. Possibly the best title of a book I've seen in ages.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A question of place

Been reading some Jorie Graham because it has to go back to the library soon. Some of her stuff is really nice, some of it unpenetrable. Well, maybe not unpenetrable, but it takes so much time and effort. And the look of it isn't even that inviting. I quite like that difficult poetry that at first glance seems like a walk in the park. Hers doesn't. Long lines, long stanzas, brackets, weird line breaks, indentations, lack of concrete imagery/narrative. I'm sure it all has a purpose and is carefully considered, but at first glance you are like phoar! and after reading the first couple of lines you have to have a real will power to go on. They aren't all like that though and some of her earlier stuff is definitely more in the imagistic lyric pool like Two Paintings by Gustav Klimt (Dream of the Unified Field. 1996. Carcanet Pr.):
Although what glitters
on the trees,
row after perfect row,
is merely
the injustice
of the world,

the chips on the bark of each
beech tree
catching the light, the sum
of the delays
is the beautiful, the human

body of flaws.
(n.b. indentaion missing) Lovely music and mix of imagery and abstract. Which I guess what she is known for. This is defintely one of her more conventional and accessible poems though.

Also been reading Kay's reading package (I found a picture of her, she's trying to hide but you cant get away from me! haha) about 'place' which inspired me to write a poem called History of this place (12) which tries to be as unplaceful, unhistoric and unspecific as possible. I think it came more from thinking about Allen Curnow's regionalism arguments about putting a frame around NZ in our writig as much as Kay's stuff. After hearing Bill Manhire talk about his poem 'On Originality' which I think is basically a response to RAK Mason poem about 'poets I want to follow them all' or something like that. So I guess I've become interested in the critical response poem, but don't I need more respect or something first? It's not even that I disagree with Curnow, at the time that is exactly what NZ literature needed. And do I know enough about those poets/poems to respond in that way, because surely people are going to criticise my criticism and they will have to stand up to it? Why do I do stuff like this? It seem to cause more problems than it resolves. Why couldn't I just write a nice poem about Wellington or something?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Perfect day for reading

Very bad week. Had a few visitors which has screwed up the routine thing. Wednesday and Thursday were completely unproductive. Today I've written something, but it reflects the messed up schedule.

Read a really interesting essay in Hue and Cry by Tahi Moore. It was kind of standup comedy style of thing, finding the irony in the everyday, but it was a really interestig read. Quirky and insightful. So I was briefly inspired to write an essay which hasn't happened yet but maybe this afternoon if I feel like it.

Also read some more Michael Palmer and out loud too which I think makes a difference. I should do that more often. Same with my own stuff, the music is definitely different when read out loud. More obvious? Different speed? Less words skipped over? Dunno, but it helps anyway to 'get into it.'

The weather today is horrible. It's 10.30 am and it's almost as dark as night. Perfect day for reading.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Didn't write anything today. Haven't read anything today. Went for a mountain bike and now, so tired. The sun is shining and I think I might use it to relax for the hour or so before Pat's reading package class.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lots of things

Been reading Hue and Cry. Mainly fiction really and what do you know, I wrote a prose poem. The story I read was one by Anna Taylor that was full of drama and emotional gravitas (Isaac Newton's original word for gravity I found out today) and of course what I wrote was nothing like that at all. It was an absurd thing about a man-like bear who works in a call centre and drinks too much. It fitted in nicely with an earlier poem about a bear-like man who drank to much.

I also tried to write a family myth in non-fiction which came out so boring and un-storylike I think I should burn it. Which I might actually do if it wasn't electronic and therefore unburnable.

I think drinking too much coffee is getting to me. I should cut down. I wonder if that would change my writing? Would it change other things?

Went to see Ann Thwaite, the award winning biographer, talk about her latest book last night. She was dry. I don't really have anything to say about it, except that is where the family myth idea came from. Which may say something about something.

It's been great reading Lizzie's novel (sorry for calling it that Lizzie, but it is). I do get a little inbred with the whole poetry thing. Reading other stuff does engage different issues and that is good for my own work I think.

I'm drying out my cycle shorts on the electric oil heater which seems quite dangerous. I think I'll go and remove them now.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pat's package

Been reading Pat's reading package, where I think he wanted us to think about the role of constructing the
'writer's voice' as opposed to their 'human voice'. He gave us some stuff all with mention of a Hawk which he thought of as a metaphor for writers, swooping, scavenging, waiting (?) at distance from the 'real' world.

In a lot of the things he provided I got something else though, except for the memoir by Janet Frame, which definitely talked about her family and early life as piquing her interest in poetry, but it wasn't until the locksmith came along (Frank Sargeson?) that the 'writer' was truly unleashed. She also used a hawk metaphor. Is this the one that got Pat onto this topic?

Magaret Atwood and Lisel Mueller also talked quite clearly about those that are considered writers and those that consider themselves writers. I don't particularly thing is a clear distinction there though. It is, like most things, a continuum. Most good writers are never complete. Who was it who said he/she was only trying to write one poem, implying that everything else they had written was a delightful failure and perfection can never be achieved.

I wrote something interesting this morning. I tried to concentrate more on music and less on idea or story. I think I've been leaning that way lately at the expense of the music which I consider to be absolutley crucial to a good poem. Without that it might as well be prose. So yeah, it's a strange story of twins that came out of nowhere (the aural connection between words themselves?) and ended up as something with some merit, although I can tell the ending isn't right.

Also, for a digression journal, I've been doing little of that.

How about the rain? I dug the last trench yesterday. There was 30cm of water in the bottom, the clay bank behind running down like a lahar. I hope to fuck the wall lasts a few years. I'd feel really guilty if the whole things comes down.

P.S. Found a great photo of Pat on internet. Sorry Pat!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The problem of language

Presented my reading package yesterday on 'Language'. It went pretty well. Some key things that came out of it for me was the idea of language as fossils or historical elements, in that you can (not exclusively) think of them as little time capsules of context, indicators of what people (societies? cultures?) have thought in the past. I like that. Opens up ideas on how to use that in my writing.

And also James talked about the problem of language. One essay written by an etymologist pointed out that because of the infinite ways that words can be connected together to mean new/different things that the writer has infinite power to create whatever they choose which is true, but she didn't really go into the area of the problems that causes with communication. How do you know that the brilliant original sentence you just wrote is going to be understood by anybody, maybe your connections are too random, maybe some people will get it and some won't, maybe the cultural context of your language is so different from someone elses they will miss crucial aspects? Should we keep this in mind and play it safe? That is the problem, how to communicate in an original and fresh way? There is no answer of course and I think it comes down to relishing the problem rather than being despaired by it. Like Bill Manhire said [paraphrased] poets like to strive for purity in their language, but the most interesting ones are those that fail.

Been hammering through my Rae Armantrout book and I'm loving some of them, I think my initial impressions from last week were a bit rash. I love this one. The ending is fantastic, Equals:
As if, after all,

the thing that comes to mind
times inertia

equaled the "real."

One lizard
jammed headfirst

down the throat
of a second.
That last line is brought about so expertly, the syntax, the ridiculousness of the tone compared with the seriousness of the first section...brilliant.

Wrote three things today, one of them stupid and titleless, one has some potential, and the other semi-found poem about etymology I like, because pure chance came in and rescued it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Music, music, music, it's all about music

Just quickly, read a couple more from Company of Moths. Read them fast and the music really came alive. Like from a poem called The Turn:
So it is the lift, the shifting of earth, the turn
So it is the pleasure of green, so simply

we think, and then singing of stones
So it is the same mountain, yet otherwise

yet not entirely otherwise,
slant logic of the half-torn, final leaf,

twig across a sickle moon
Lovely! I think he partly acheives it with the heavy use of similar sounds, all the i's in there, then the f's etc. Just carries it along like a little boat.

Wrote some rubbish today. Completely directionless. Tried to write it out, but was still as directionless and pointless at the end as when I started. No music either I don't think?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The funny and the serious

Damien gave me some stuff by Edwin Morgan yesterday, which was very kind of him. I can see why too. He does have a someway similar voice to my own:
- Although a poem is
undoubtedly a 'game'
it is not a game
And although now it is even
part of the game to say so,
making it a "'game'"
is spooky, and we'll
not play that

- Who are you kidding, said
the next card. You just played.
Heehee. So funny. I like the way he twists you around so many time you forget which way your facing and kind of fall over, but fall over laughing. Thanks Damien.

Also, got a couple of book of Jorie Graham's out which I'm not so excited about. So fucking deep and brainy, allusions to things I suspect I'll never know about. One of those poets I think I really want to get into, but just can't. I really do love plain language, not because I think it is better or anything, but because that is what I speak, read, understand. Other language just alludes me. In small doses it great, to find a new word, but with long complicated lines/sentences loaded with allusion and big words, I do fail to get into the poem. I get the feeling she is a Keats fan too and you can kind of see that in the way she writes. It is very classical in many ways. I will perservere with it though, and try and change all this. And for fairness sake, from Never (2002, Carcanet, UK. ISBN: 1-85754-621-0):
On a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl
themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the
way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re-
entering and exiting their own unison in unison)[...]
Actually scrap all that. I'm wrong about the whole big word thing. I think it is more her tone or something that at first puts me off. But that little section is beautiful, describing the motion of the little fish without ever saying what the narrator is looking at. Requires further reading...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Feeling threatened

Get on back that little pony.

Just reading an essay by James Longenbach in The art of the poetic line (2008, Graywolf Pr. ISBN: 978-1-55597-488-6). He's talking about the 'Sirens' section of James Joyce's Ulysses when he says Joyce suggests [when indulging in the aural pleasures of poetry] 'we ignore the seduction of plain sense at our own peril...Words mean something because they always threaten to sound like something else.'

I don't know if I completely understand what that last sentence is getting at. Is he saying words have added meaning if they sound like another word - rhyme, assonance etc? Is he saying words almost always sound like something else other than what they mean and this somehow gives them that meaning? Or when he says 'mean something' is actually saying 'are important'?

The whole previous paragraph is kind of getting at the point that meaning (in poetry) is useless without sound and vice-versa, but that last sentence is a bit perplexing. Maybe he is just saying those two things might be more connected than we think, that they have to work together to achieve either?

Anyway, it sounds like Joyce's Sirens section didn't really make sense unless it is put in context of the previous prose sections and the bit that came after. Which kind of sounds a little bit like cheating. How many poets get to write an accompanying prose section that explains of the strange words they gave chosen? But then context comes in many forms, and something as simple as a one word title can provide that kind of context, so I guess all poetry is working within a sphere of context of some sort. When a poet mentions sand and war, you could assume that he/she assumes that the reader might connect that to the one of the recent wars in the Middle East. But if he wrote 'wah wah wah, ssssssss and sssssss' would they get that? Probably not I'm guessing. So then it becomes like a cards face up, cards face down kind of thing. Which is an eternal problem.

So thanks for helping James! Although to be fair I haven't read all the essay. That will come this afternoon I think.
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