Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Taking a break

Slowly working my way through Maxine Kumin's essays in Always Beginning, Essays on a life in poetry (2000, Copper Canyon Press) - not always understanding. An introduction to two poets whom I shall read soon: Frost and Wallace Stevens.

No writing on my part, except for this blog. Nothing new since One Red Sofa was sent out, though some unfinished poems which were set aside are calling out... The weather is good for gardening.

Am reading PD James' latest detective story, (2008, The Private Patient, Faber and Faber). She spins a good yarn, her characters are a little old-fashioned, but am absorbed nevertheless, though wanting to cross out some of the adjectives.

It's good to have a change. Next week I start on the next project, fun.

Monday, 17 November 2008

See, there she is in her natural habitat

The MS took shape, the strong anti-terrorist poem came first, blasting the door wide open (!), then poems about WWII and violence, followed by a slow movement to a more personal space, more intimacy and then the Black Lake poem. The whole thing entitled One Red Sofa, because the sofa marks the turning point.

Since then have read - am still busy reading - Lynn Davidson's journal, of a similar one-year long journey into poetry during her MA work at Vic (I surmise that, it does not actually say so.) Deep and thoughtful. I feel chastened, I should have tried harder.

I have also read Mona Van Duyn's book of poems Near Changes (1990, Alfred A Knopf), after my own heart. She was quoted by Maxine Kumin, whose essays I am still reading.

My favourite poem of the moment is this one by Mona van Duyn. The title seems mysterious at first:

The insight lady of St.Louis on zoos
(a found oral poem)

The other day I had an insight.

I suddenly realised why I hate zoos.
You know how they build those enclosures
for an
animal or two, and if the animal
is the kind that lives in a rocky country
they put one rock with it, and then they say,
see, there it is in its natural habitat?
And if the animal is a forest animal
they plant one tree with it and then they say,
see, there it is in its natural habitat?
Well, the handyman had put up the new bookshelf
on the only wall of the house
that isn't already covered with bookshelves,
and I organised all the books I had used
to write my book on Svevo, and then
all the books I had used for my book on Kierkegaard,
and then I saw myself as a zoo animal.
They would build a bare room with three bare walls
and put me and one book in it and then they would say,
see, there she is in her natural habitat!

And that evening I went to a party
and when we left I went upstairs to get my own coat,
and you should have seen that upstairs-
how can people live in a mess like that?-
it looked as the drugbusters had made a raid
and left every drawer half open
with the clothes and stuff dumped out on the floor,
and there was one book lying on the floor
and I picked it up to see what it was,
and then I had another terrible insight.
I knew what book they would put in my zoo pen.
It would be that book, Building Bicycles.

The tone of indignation, the and then they say, See, there she is..." the feeling, nay the fear of being taken over by an institution, where other people know what is best, it is all familiar.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Looming deadline

Working on the manuscript, which is due tomorrow, routine is ON.

Reviewed the re-written Meeting the house poem with Lynn J., she noticed a problem with what she called grammar and I call POV, never mind the name, she was right, it caused a jolt, remedied as usual by radical surgery, poem shorter now but healthier.

This cutting can become habit-forming, am doing it to some other poems too, more confidently.
It reminds me of the line about the man wanting to make a small fortune - you have to start with a big one.

Putting together the MS means deciding the order of the poems, for the flow, where each poem fits best. The one about terrorism is powerful and sticks out a mile from the others which are ostensibly domestic. How to deal with that.

Reading Lowell and Kumin, her essays very interesting, also stuff about writing, no time to go into that now. Except that she keeps a card system for her poems, to keep track of where she sends them for publication, told P and he said, Excel spreadsheet, without looking up from his book.

Looked for more Kumin poems at the library, but none. Found some other good poetry, more about that later. I have not finished the Waste Land, but shall get back to it.

After the BOW wow is done (Body of Work presentation at Whitireia) shall send off some poems to magazines etc. but only on Friday, after MS handover and the last reading completed.

My friend B visited, old comrade from working days, with lovely CD of his singing, we might try something together. One day, not now. Other projects.

A friend asked me about Toni Morrisson and remembered wanting to read her, but no recollection of her books. Thought I had not read them, but in fact I have.
I might have another look.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Nothing to do with writing

NZ has a new Prime Minister elect, John Keys.

Most of the election campaign passed me by because I focussed on the US .

US (Obama) influence detectable in the final NZ speeches: 'graciousness' of bearing - John Keys overdid it. Helen was good, as usual.

Friday, 7 November 2008


Hinemoana suggested I use architectural terminology in the poems, since the house is the starting point (increasingly not, but that's another story).

I liked the idea because it might lead to something fresh, at the same time wanting to avoid using different words for the sake of the change alone. It should give a deeper meaning.

Thinking about it helped me realise that I see the house as a being, with a heart. I would like to use words related to human beings - the face of the house, its heart, its eyes - that's just the physical body - and its ability to welcome, to protect.

As I am writing this I think about the Maori concept of the wharenui...the wharenui representing the physical body of the ancestor.

I did not think this fitted at first- but now I realise maybe it is more so than I thought: my mother exclaimed when she first came in - It's like my parents' house.

A house in New Zealand is a whare.

I think of my sisters' house overseas: walking through the door is always a home-coming.

Thursday, 6 November 2008


I like the US for the first time since I saw Midnight Cowboy in the 70s.

A great acceptance speech, such a relief after the spin upon spin, the manipulations of the Bush regime.

The BBC correspondent in Iran says that they can't understand what is happening in the US, they are confused by this choice of a black President with Hussein in his name.

* * * *

Howltearoa went well, particularly the singing poem and the one about appearances.

A man in the open mic section recited a long poem by heart, a vigorous poem. He was Armenian and called himself Double Zero. Someone said that our group came across as 'polished' - Hinemoana's experienced hand there: each of us introduced the next speaker, that went smoothly. The song all together at the end was neat.

* * * *

Am working on the tricky poems and on my final MS for submission on the 13th. After the Body of Work presentation on the 18th, the year will be over. The BOW is apparently not important for a mark, but the MS will be reviewed by an external examiner.

Reading CK Stead's My Name Was Judas: Excellent start to it.