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?
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