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?

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