Tuesday Poem: The Economist by Aleksandra Lane

Monday, 8th August, 2011

Aleks Lane

The Economist

 

The Economist is bored by Brussels. Green sprouts

out of his mouth; he is forgetting his roots. Jesus

said teach the poor to fish. Garnished they look

much better on his plate. They trust but make military plans.

Soldiers in his son's hands. In his wife's fair hair.

 

The first person had four children and the next had five. Fish fingers

every Thursday is when they get paid. Atrocities on remembrance

day, the day after and the day before. If I spent all my time popping

out babies I would be poor: poverty is a condition, a state of mind.

Anyone receiving assistance should be limited to two children max.

 

The Economist grazing is an insult to the intelligentsia at large.

Who milks the cows in Cambodia? Show me your frequent food miles.

After your second child forced sterilization is required. These World

Bank measures judge a person to be poor if his income falls short

of a given level. The first person had three children and the next had four.

 

In principle poverty rates based on these measures count the people

lacking resources to buy a notional basket of goods. The real winners

are the creditors, with ears of tin. Sardines fly in and get dropped

on the heads of unsuspecting passers-by. Third World measures

judge a person to be poor if his heart falls short of a given level.

 

The first person had two children and the next had three.

The Economist had Weet-Bix for breakfast. It takes a poor

to understand another poor. It is necessary to keep your money

to yourself; there is a need to be labour market aware,

but many poor people aren't. The first person had one child

 

and the next had two. Put another way, greed is good.

The Economist is sleeping with the lefties, it smells of Chinese

takeaways in there. The rich aren't like you and me. The first person

has no children and there is no second opinion on the market share

of the heart. Forced sterilization is required; do not go on giving fish.

 

 

Aleksandra Lane completed her MA in Creative Writing at the IIML (Victoria University) in 2010, and was awarded the Biggs Poetry Prize for her portfolio. Her poems have appeared in various online and print journals, as well as two poetry collections in Serbia, and some of her work will appear in anthologies in NZ and overseas. Her book Birds of Clay will be published by VUP in 2012. "The Economist" was first published in Takahe 72.

This poem is so surreal yet very real at the same time. I love the way it surprises and takes a stance. I'm really looking forward to seeing Aleks' collection come out next year.

For more Tuesday Poems go to the Tuesday Poem hub.

 

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NZ Fiction is wanted - dead or alive?

Sunday, 7th August, 2011

Unity Books crew. Photo from Booksellers NZ.

July is a busy month in the New Zealand book industry calendar. We've had the Booksellers' conference, NZ Post Book Awards, Poetry Day (Week!) and assorted launches and associated events.

This year was the first (its seems to me) conference in years that wasn't all doom and gloom about ebooks. You can read some coverage of the sessions on the NZ Booksellers site here and here. The Independent Bookseller of the year award (announced at conference) went to Unity Books Wellington, my favourite Wellington bookshop! They really know their books. Specialist knowledge, a lovely atmosphere and an excellent venue for launches – these things you can't get at Amazon.com. Unity recently renovated their shop and it looks stunning.

The NZ Post Book Awards (again organised by Booksellers NZ) were a great night, the Town Hall was decked out in a winter wonderland theme without being too cheesy. I was slightly worried by the snow foam machine at the door but it was all great fun. There were no big suprises on the night, except perhaps Damien Skinner's The Passing World: The Passage of Life: John Hovell and the Art of Kowhaiwhai (Rim Books) winning the illustrated non-fiction award. It was so unexpected by Damien that he needed to book a new flight home so he could stay on for the meet the winners event he hadn't expected to attend. The biggest suprises for me had been at the shortlist announcement earlier this year when Bill Manhire and Patrick Evans were astoundingly overlooked.

Top prize for glamour on the night goes to Kate Camp in her excellent retro coat and dress, even if she did get snagged by a tree on her way up to collect the award for Best Book of Poetry (Damn you winter wonderland!).  Prize for most humble goes to Pip Adam, winner of Best First Book of Fiction. 

The only Poetry Day event I got to was the lovely reading at Unity Books Wellington by Airini Beautrais, Jenny Bornholdt and Dinah Hawken. Unity was packed even though it was a miserably cold night, which gives me hope for the future of poetry! The other highlight of the day was a nice young man saying to me 'I've got to tell you how much I love you' (over the Poetry Phone). 

The other online palaver this month was the North & South magazine article slagging off NZ literature ‘The (not so) great New Zealand novel’ (August issue) I can't link to it as it isn't online, you'll have to read it at the dentist, but basically the jist I got was that NZ 'literature' doesn't sell enough (not true!) so we shouldn't bother with it and should focus on popular fiction. This was replied to well by Stephen Stratford here and here and debated on the Booksellers blog also. Then Fergus Barrowman (VUP) and Debra Millar (Penguin) discussed the topic with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon.

When are we going to grow up enough to escape our cultural cringe? I truly believe critics and readers are far harder on NZ books than international titles. We produce some amazing titles every year from a tiny population. Lets start celebrating that for goodness sake! New Zealand books are one type of book you won't find cheaper on Amazon or the Bookdepository. They may be the thing that saves our brick and mortar bookshops if we the readers can get in behind them. Surely we can be patriotic without becoming ranting flag wavers (wait, isn't that what we do for rugby?!).

Should we stop writing art if it doesn't sell? What do you think? Do you buy NZ Books? Why/Why not?

 

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Tuesday Poem: Nan by Eden Tautali

Monday, 25th July, 2011

Nan

 

 

At the funeral

we sang beneath

high-beamed ceilings

in yellow light filtered

through a stained glass jesus.

I whispered to a bent microphone

of fish bones and sick days

of hot cocoa rice and

early morning mutterings of prayer

and of you.

But when I stood above you

eyes cast down

fixed on your cold cheek

I couldn’t bring myself to

touch you.

 

This week I'm delighted to reproduce the winning entry of the National Schools Poetry Award for 2011 by Eden Tautali. Eden is also a talented singer and songwriter who in May won the inaugural Matariki songwriting competition for Auckland secondary school students.

 

Here's a little from the award site:

 ‘A difficult, honest admission of grief, written in restrained, effective language’ – that is how judge and current New Zealand Poet Laureate, Cilla McQueen, describes the winning poem in the National Schools Poetry Award for 2011.

Eden Tautali from Auckland’s St Cuthberts College won the Award with her poem ‘Nan’, addressing the death of her Nan and the experience of speaking at her funeral. While it has the hard bits about loss and regret, it also has the comfort of warm memories.

 

For more Tuesday Poems go to the Tuesday Poem hub.

 

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Quick Ten with Penelope Todd

Wednesday, 20th July, 2011

Penelope Todd writes for adults, children, and young adults. Her writing has taken her in recent years to Spain, to the Chateau de Lavigny international writers’ residency in Switzerland, and in 2007 to Iowa for the International Writers’ Programme.

In 2001, she was Writer in Residence at the Dunedin College of Education. Her work has been four times short-listed for the New Zealand Post Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards. In 2005 her novel Box received a White Raven Award in Munich for outstanding children’s literature. Zillah (2007) , an exquisite conclusion to the Watermark trilogy, was a finalist for the 2008 New Zealand Post Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards. Penelope has also written a memoir - Digging for Spain: A Writer’s Journey. Her most recent book is a Island, a novel for adults.

Not content with all this Penelope runs Rosa Mira Books, an ebook publishing house, which has just released its second book, a collection of short stories called Slightly Peculiar Love Stories. 

 

HH: You've got a successful writing career, what made you decide to venture into publishing?

PT: In my experience, the 'writing career' doesn't provide much of an income. My main freelance editing job finished abruptly when Longacre Press left town at the end of 2009. It seemed time to act on the idea I'd had percolating for the past 18 months.

 

HH: Why did you decide on epublishing as your primary format?

PT: The pragmatic answer is that I had no capital — just a set of skills concerning publishing, a laptop, and a willingness to learn what I needed to.

The altruistic answer is that digital publishing is light-footed, manoeuvrable and to some extent 'greener' than hard copy publishing. Production time is potentially shorter, and publications are made accessible at once to a global readership. Besides that, I’m excited about finding and showcasing exceptional work.

 

HH: What do you think the biggest challenge is for ebook publishers?

PT: For me, it was the huge amount I had to learn, from the basic premises of running a business, to learning what digital formatting actually was, creating a contract, a website (and so on), and a sustainable way to hold it (and myself) together.

Once the technical aspects have been worked through (and the right people found to help with them) the ongoing challenge is the evolving nature of presentation and marketing — the latter with a far heavier reliance on social media networking and on authors having their own active online presence. A little over a year ago I was told on the release of my new novel that there was nothing for me to do — just sit back and let the (hard copy) media roll. I don't believe I'd be given that advice now — nor would I accept it. Things have changed enormously in this last year. In digital publishing the author stands to receive a far greater share of profits, but is also expected to take a more active role in promotion of their work, even if (speaking now as an empathetic writer) some find that uncomfortable.

 

HH: Can you tell us a little about how you met some of your authors, they seem to come from all over the world?

PT: At the Can Serrat writers' residency near Barcelona in 2005, I met Dorothee Kocks of Utah, who was writing a gorgeous historical novel called The Glass Harmonica. We were keen walking companions and it was only years later that I offered to read and then (galvanized by her story) to publish her work as Rosa Mira Books' first offering.

I met five of the seven international writers represented in Slightly Peculiar Love Stories at the Iowa International Writers' Programme in 2007: Alex Epstein dubbed the 'Borges of Israel'; Salman Masalha, an Arab Israeli who writes salient political essays, poems and fiction; Lawrence Pun, a fiction and film writer from Hong Kong; smart and prolific Chris Chrissopoulos of Athens; Sarge Lacuesta, journalist and fiction writer from Manila; Elena Bossi, academic, critic, playwright and novelist from Argentina — all writers with kudos in their own countries and abroad.

Closer to home, though, via this collection, I've met several impressive, new (to me) authors here in NZ and I look forward to following their work.

 

HH: Did you have any translation dramas?

PT: Most of the stories had already been translated into English; with a few of them I made tweaks to the idiom. In Chris's story the two correspondents employ English as their second language — Chris wanted that to be evident, and yet clarity of intent was called for so, when in doubt, we smoothed out the English. The only story I slogged over (but happily) was Elena's which came to me in Spanish. A friend's daughter and student of Spanish, Georgia Birnie, helped me rough out a translation with the aid of the dictionary, then I checked with Elena (whose English beats the socks off my Spanish) and did my best to bring out the full glow of her story. At one stage I called on my FaceBook friends, knowing one to be a multi-language translator. So, alas, no dramas to report, just pleasure in having worked with so many consummate professionals who also trusted me. 

 

HH: How do you make time for your own creative work?

PT: Unfortunately that was the first thing to fall away in 2010 when I did so much fretful pioneering into ebook publishing. This year I've seen time gaps open up but have been uncertain where to put my energy. I usually have some paying job underway, as well. The plan is, once I've got the gist of everything, to work on RMB a certain number of days a week, and on my own work the others.

 

HH: Has editing and publishing given you a different perspective on your own creative process?

PT: I've been editing and appraising manuscripts for some years now and over that time have found it enormously helpful regarding the nuts and bolts of my own writing. You're always looking for what works, what doesn't, and why. It's also deepened my appreciation for the editors of my own work — the objective eye is invaluable.

 

HH: I noticed on your blog that you create fun little drawings as well. How do other creative outlets influence your writing?

PT: I think it was one of those Fridays when the Twitter stream was in full flood; I was face-booking, blogging, editing, revising, reading, reading, reading and suddenly, aaaargh! I had to do something else. I don't know if it's some kind of regression; decades ago I’d make cards or notes for friends using these naïve drawings; now they offer a kind of playful escape. Because I have no great talent for drawing, I find it peculiarly freeing. You don’t invest ego in a wonky cartoon.

 

HH: What's your current writing project?

PT: In fact the drawings have brought me back to a long non-fiction piece I've been writing on and off for years. I think inserting some drawings might rekindle my active interest in it. Also, Elena Bossi and I have co-written a bilingual novel, necessitating my trip to Argentina in 2009, and helping us keep our friendship alive. I've just had an assessment done of the English version, hoping it'll help us jostle the novel's component parts more comfortably into place. That's given us plenty to think about and even more to do in the next few months.

 

HH: What are you reading at the moment?

PT: Slightly Peculiar Love Stories!

 

 

Penelope's blog, with the lovely drawings, and musings.

The Rosa Mira blog.

Rosa Mira Books on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Tuesday Poem: Theory of Light by Joan Fleming

Tuesday, 19th July, 2011

Joan Flemming

 

THEORY OF LIGHT

 

Andy goes craving all over the beach

with her red grip and her red grapple.

 

A red apple after dark isn’t red,

it’s a black apple.

 

She says she’ll black up if she doesn’t have salt.

She finds a sea urchin full of holes.

 

What’s a blue sea after dark?

Are these the spaces where breath goes?

 

I find a gorgeous gold-yellow branch,

a colour, a describable friend.

 

We carry our findings, our branches

and urchins, from end to end.

 

The blue and red and yellow everywhere

is our theory of colour, of light.

 

Young salt-footed fools, you know there are no ends,

only ends in sight.

 

Joan Fleming is a Wellington-based poet at the moment who usually lives in Golden Bay. Her work has appeared in Sport, Hue & Cry, Turbine, Moving Worlds, Takahe, and, The Lumiere Reader. Joan completed her MA in Creative Writing through the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2007; she received the Biggs Poetry Prize and co-edited Turbine that year.

The Theory of Light originally appeared on The Best NZ Poems 2008, you can read about how it came to be here and listen to Joan read it here, which I reccomend because it has such lovely sounds in it. Joan's first collection of poetry will be published later this year by VUP, keep an eye out. This poem also made the cut for The Best of Best NZ Poems and I can see why.

For more Tuesday Poems go to the Tuesday Poem hub.

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Tuesday Poem: Badly stuffed animals by Ashleigh Young

Monday, 11th July, 2011

 

Badly stuffed animals

 

 

I knew these people who loved their pets so much

they had them put to sleep and stuffed

and mounted in the living room

because they couldn’t bear

the grief of losing openly.

Filled out with wood and wool

articulated with wire

eye sockets packed with glass:

death’s only a pause.

They said don’t be scared

it’s something to share, something

for the visitors.

 

I knew people who stuffed their pets so badly

that pictures of their loved ones

went up on a website called Badly Stuffed Animals

a place where pets became fixed stars.

Cast in the stone

of their own skin and hair; there the animals were home

in their wrong eyes

and buckled teeth

and skin with old air rumpling through;

with nonsense postures to have and hold them.

 

There was a farming family I knew, had

a blonde fawn in their living room. There it lay

with legs curled under its body.

Like a houseplant it had been placed

at the foot of the piano that was never opened.

There was something funny about that.

A fawn with a piano for a mother.

The farming family laughed about that.

 

I once had a lamb. Its mother had died

and the farmer had too many orphans already. Such is life

when life comes too early.

I kept him in the shed. Gave him a cardboard box, stuffed

with towels for a bed. I fed him from a bottle

and visited him at night when I worried

he was scared. When the light came on he ran to me.

His bleating was broken and ridiculous. Of all the lambs

to need a mother! When he grew up the farmer

took him away. You weren’t supposed to be sad

because lambs are for eating

so I sat on the swing and forgot him.

But I cried when we buried our dog in the garden.

 

Being dead is too easy. You have to remake it.

This owl has a self-conscious look.

That leopard sinks its teeth into a monkey’s head.

That stag’s head lolls its tongue. This little donkey

has a Dali crutch

in place of front legs. That chimpanzee wears

long strings of white pearls

and clutches a sculpture of Jesus on the cross.

Their nonsense postures have and hold them.

 

 

Ashleigh Young is an expat writer and editor living in London. Her work has appeared in Booknotes, Turbine, Sport, and Landfall. She is currently finishing a collection of poems. 2009 was a big year for Ashleigh, she was the winner of the 2009 Landfall Essay Competition and the recipient of the 2009 Adam Foundation Award in Creative Writing. Ashleigh also appears in Best NZ Poems 2009 and this year in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems. This is far from overnight success though, Ashleigh has been working hard behind the scenes and has been appearing in print since 2003 with a poem in Sport. She's been a regular contributor to Booknotes since 2005. Ashleigh started blogging from London, it a great, curious, read.

This is a new poem from her forthcoming book of poetry, it's classic Ashleigh - beautiful and disturbing and awkward all at the same time. Ashleigh had a poem here last year too.

For more Tuesday Poems go to the Tuesday Poem hub.

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From ISOLA BELLA: a guest post by Chris Price

Tuesday, 5th July, 2011

Rome Beggar

A Beggar in Rome

 

From ISOLA BELLA

When I arrived at the KM Room in the Villa Isola Bella, I began – without having intended it – to keep a poetry diary. I suppose the impulse was to preserve the more fleeting impressions of my time here – the things I knew I’d soon forget, in other words – and thereby keep hold of the texture of this unusual and luxurious period in life, one with no work commitments, a stimulating location, and abundant writing time. I chose poetry because I didn’t want a completely shapeless record of things done and seen – and because I needed some light relief from wrestling with prose, an activity distressingly short on instant gratification. And yet I can’t call the diary ‘poetry’ in the usual sense - perhaps it’s what the reviewer Hugh Roberts somewhat unkindly called the ‘poem as blog’, or life with line breaks. The difference is that it has so far (a few outings excepted) been a private, not a public activity.

The diary starts at ant level (literally) and works on up through personal events, news of the day and seasonal changes to more nebulous mutterings about writing and life. It’s fed by the local newspaper, Nice-Matin (Menton edition, a bit like the North Shore Times), BBC News and the English channel of France 24, where Radio New Zealand correspondent Lyse Doucet has a day job. More often, though, the things I see and hear, or think about, as I walk to and from the KM Room (podcasts included) find their way in. Web browsing doesn’t come into it, because the writing room is not connected.

 Insofar as this is not writing for an audience, it’s an entirely pleasurable activity, a bit like lying in the beach lounger when I should be knocking the lounge suite together. In contrast to my usual procedure, I try to avoid revising anything after the day on which it was written, for fear that the diary will displace The Book, the thing I’m officially here to do. It can be relaxed, light-hearted – it needn’t be polished, or ‘complete’ - what a relief! And yet, like walking to and from the KM Room, it feels like good exercise. Exercise in simply noticing and recording, in trying out different voices, and thinking about the things that don’t normally find their way into The Poems.

 As time has gone by, more and more prose has crept in, and in some ways the diary has begun to resemble the reading journals kept by the MA students at the IIML, which have always given me a lot of reading pleasure. I use it as a warm-up for The Book, and sometimes – I have to admit – as avoidance strategy. In fact, it’s a little addictive, so it’s probably good that it will come to a natural end on my return to New Zealand. Before I left in March, I met the Fulbright scholar and poet Lesley Wheeler. She said that, for her, writing was most enjoyable or productive when done in time stolen from other things. That idea didn’t connect with me at the time, but now I know exactly what she meant.

 I recently spent a few days in Rome, doing the usual touristy things, and got back to hear that the Institute of Modern Letters’ Writers on Mondays programme had briefly given me what one Twitter wit called a ‘Messianic upgrade’: for a few days, or hours, I was Christ Price. Did this happen while I was in St Peter’s, perhaps in the very moment I was standing in that shaft of sunlight falling from heaven? I suspect the erratic gods of Spellcheck, the curse and blessing of editors everywhere, are to blame for my elevation, which has occurred once or twice before — but it’s nice to think God might have a sense of humour about the unbeliever in His holy city, paying her respects to the gods of Romantic poetry and merely goggling at the accumulated wealth of popes. Here’s the entry (not A Poem, remember) written immediately after returning ‘home’ to Menton. The poetry gods, too, come in for some irreverence.

 St Peters

St Peter's Basilica

 

23 June

 

 

Roma

 

Sheats and Kelley,

the narrow room and bed

from which Sheats could view

the Spanish Steps where

now the flower-sellers push romance

at cleavage on legs.

 

Beefy gladiators (fake) and

straight-backed Swiss beefcake

with beribboned thighs,

defenders of the gates

of wealth while outside

beggars take the prostrate

posture of the faithful.

 

Around one corner

of the palazzo hides

Innocent X, original

screaming pope; around

another Brueghel’s villagers

skate on their frozen lake.

The emperor’s loot is

subsidised by tourist euros,

Rome’s an overheated 31°

while Berlusconi fiddles and

across the way the Greeks

are threatening to topple

the whole edifice with their

bolted paper horses,

vertical columns making

sudden horizontals, as once

the marble, bronze and

travertine fell or were pushed

and left lying on the ground

to be quarried by the latest

wave of arrivistes in search

of a fast turnaround.

 

The actual bed was burned.

This one bears some

resemblance, if you believe

in educated guesswork:

all that remains of what

little remains.  We’re told

his piano was saved. That’s

gone too, but the poet’s pencil sketch

of the urn is on display.

 

 

Chris Price

 

Chris is currently in Menton as the 2011 Katherine Mansfield Fellow, she is writing at the Villa Isola Bella, where Katherine Mansfield lived and wrote in 1919 and 1920. These photos are from her trip to Rome. 

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Tuesday Poem: Spring by Tim Upperton

Monday, 4th July, 2011

Tim Upperton

Spring

 

Is coming. This is a poem about spring,

which is too much. Everything is too much.

This is a poem about everything.

I ruin everything I touch.

 

I ruin the jonquils, the daffodils.

I ruin the I love you.

I ruin the blue remembered hills.

The apple-trees vomit blossom. I ruin the morning dew.

 

Mine is a peculiar badness.

You are reduced to the smell of your hair.

Mine is a peculiar sadness.

You are almost not quite there.

 

Which is to say, I am terrified.

Meanwhile the grassy goodness, the lengthening day.

It’s not as if you died.

You come closer and closer away.

 

 

 

Tim’s poems have appeared in AGNI, Bravado, Dreamcatcher, Landfall, New Zealand Books, the Listener, North & South, Reconfigurations, Sport, Takahe, Turbine and Best of the Best New Zealand Poems. A couple of poems are forthcoming in New Zealand Books and an anthology of villanelles. His collection, A House on Fire (Steele-Roberts), was published in 2009.

This poem was originally published in Sport 39. I love that this traditional form holds untraditional content. 

For more Tuesday Poems vist the hub

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And the winner is...

Sunday, 3rd July, 2011

A page from a shared journal project by Helen Lehndorf.

 

Okay, so the image above is intended to inspire you, it gives you a taste of what a journal can be. Do you journal? I am an erratic journaler but I love the shared project because it means get a suprise in the mail and a reason to do a page (which reminds me I must do one!).

I hope the winner of the Journal and Pencil give-away has fun with their gift. Without further ado, the winner of the prize pack, drawn by a random number generator is...

Mary!

Congratulations!

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Are you sitting comfortably? A guest post by Ashleigh Young

Monday, 27th June, 2011

Ashleigh Young

Picture via Old Chum.

 

Sometime last year my dad and I were sitting in the backyard of my old flat in Wellington, drinking cups of tea and sharing our traditional “parents visiting” silence, when suddenly the chair he was sitting on just disintegrated. The wood crumbled, the fabric gave way, and Dad folded up and fell through a hole in the middle where the seat had been. “My god,” he said. He hauled himself out of the hole, a bit breathless, and peered at the pieces of rotten, porous wood and torn vinyl lying on the grass. “Look at that! It’s just completely … gone.” After I’d finished laughing, I wanted to write it down. Not the most sympathetic response, I know. Well, every writer has a chip of ice in his heart.

 

Here’s my conundrum – I’ll see or hear something I find interesting or peculiar or funny, and I’ll think that the thing holds great creative promise. “Whooee, I’m definitely going to talk about that,” I say to myself. The hands of my brain are rubbing together at this point. Then after a few gung-ho attempts, looking for a home for the thing in the form of a poem or essay or article, I flatline. The bright shard has no apparent connection with anything else. I can’t find any meaning to couch it inside. (As you can see, I’ve cunningly solved the problem of the homeless scene of my dad busting through the chair – it lives on this blog now, so it’s Helen’s responsibility. You’ve got to give it away …)

 

I’ve been thinking about a book called Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson in which the central argument is that “Eureka!” moments – moments of dazzling, goggle-eyed clarity – do not happen. Johnson argues that you have to stalk those moments, bait them, wire-tap them. I don’t think he’s referring to disintegrating chairs when he talks about the spark: he’s referring more to a sense of connection; the feeling that you’ve discovered the links between seemingly disparate elements, or that you’ve realised the wider significance of a moment. And the spark is also about the excitement of possibility. No matter how quiet and routine a day, there’s always the possibility that a hole in the middle is about to open up and you’ll fall through (see how the chair comes back to resonate there?). You have to keep the proverbial eye out.

 

Johnson has a basic (I was going to say “helpful”, but one writer’s helpful is another writer’s hamstring) strategy for courting the spark of connection. “I have this Microsoft Word document that I call my spark file,” he says. “I’ve been keeping it for about six years now, and that’s where I write down every little half-baked, quarter-baked idea I have for anything … I spend no time organising it, but I try to reread the entire document once every couple of months.” An idea that once seemed cryptic or lacklustre may unexpectedly gleam weeks or months or years later: “because it connects to something else – and suddenly, it’s ready.”

 

Incredible: “Suddenly, it’s ready”! Almost without registering it, the simple act of collection becomes an act of creation. In the same way that big discussions and debates and ideas tend to come out of great cities – anywhere a multitude of connections are available – so too does story out of a network of fragments. Maybe the close proximity of elements allows us to better comprehend the possibilities. Johnson has a tidy way of putting it: “Chance favours the connected mind.”

 

The man makes sense! And in some ways I’ve been keeping an ad-hoc spark file for years, too – in notebooks, ancient Word documents, bookmarked pages, emails – and some of the connections I’ve made from these have become pieces of work that, for a time at least, feel meaningful.

 

But still, the anomalies haunt me.

 

The other day my brother JP told me about this old song lyric he’d come across. “Do you expect me to just quote King Lear/ While you hit me with your deck-chair?” When I read those lines I really felt like writing something. I thought about what might’ve led to that deranged moment of conflict. The old high-school copy of King Lear strewn on the floor. The expression on the singer’s face when his lover picked up the chair. The deck chair folded up for maximum impact. And I thought about the 18-year-old who wrote those lines. Maybe I should be worried that I found this scene of domestic violence so intriguing. I sat down a wrote a few lines that turned into a sort of terrible poem. In short, nothing good came of it. Many other lines and scenes and characters have failed to connect, have failed to become whole. They’re the lost souls of our manuscripts, trapped in some kind of purgatory.

 

You could call these things part of “the garbage heap” of experience, as Natalie Goldberg puts it in good old Writing Down the Bones (the garbage heap she describes is really more of a compost pile, where the eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and “old steak bones of our minds” become fertile soil), but I think more than enough analogies have been drawn between composting and experience and the fertile soil coming out of the fingertips etcetera.

 

Not everything we experience can be part of our work. Some things are homeless. They flicker in and out of view but do not light up what surrounds them. Maybe the trick is to reflect this understanding in what we write – to acknowledge the broken chairs but to not, every time, attempt to rebuild them. (The one my dad fell through – a beloved old red chair from the basement of an early Wellington flat – was irreparable.)

 

 

You can read more about Ashleigh here. She is an amazing poet and essayist and now has her own blog. She has appeared here before with a Tuesday Poem.

 

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