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.
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