It was a bit different – this time there was no guest reader, and everyone was to bring along three poems to read – one by themselves, one by a New Zealand poet and one by an overseas poet.
Not everyone followed this strictly, but that was fine. It was a good friendly bunch. I enjoyed what everyone brought, and there was quite a variety. Though, two people did both bring poems from The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy – one about Mrs Darwin, and the other about Mrs Midas.
Jennifer Compton had left most of her poetry books in Australia, where she ordinarily lives, so she gave us two poems from memory: one of the Sings Harry poems by Denis Glover (which she recited so beautifully that I’m inclined to read them again) and that Shakespearian sonnet (I now think of it as the ‘Sense and Sensibility’ sonnet – you know the one ‘Let not the marriage of true minds’ … etc), which she said helped her through a particularly difficult labour. Jennifer was the Randall Cottage fellow for this year. It was lovely to have met her in person (she’s a regular contributor to JAAM, so I had met her ‘virtually’), and she’s been a committed supporter of Wellington poetry events while she’s been here.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to read a poem by Mark Doty, and I was going to select my NZ poem from my post-launch-poetry-book-splurge books.
I decided to read four short pieces from the long poem/sequence ‘Appointment with Sophie Calle’ by Paula Green, from her new book Making Lists for Frances Hodgkins. I enjoyed most of this book very much, but I’m totally taken with ‘Appointment with Sophie Calle’, and it seemed to me that it summed up a lot of what she was doing in the book as a whole.
In her endnote, Green says that her aim for this book was ‘to write an autobiography in the light of art’. Being a poet, it isn’t so straightforward: ‘I have erected all kinds of walls around these things I withhold in other words my autobiography is selective’.
I wasb't at all familiar with the work of Sophie Calle, but I now know that she is a conceptual artist who often uses the lives of herself and others in her works. (One project involved being a maid in a hotel, where she went through guests’ luggage and based an exhibition on it.)
It appears that what Paula Green is doing in her poem/sequence is taking a title of one of Sophie Calle’s works, and using it as a starting point for a prose poem. These are quite gorgeous, weaving what I assume are personal revelations with funny little stories and a breathlessness created by the lack of punctuation. This is a poem that I will read over and over and over. It’s always a delight when you come across a poem like that.
If you have a better internet connection than me, you can watch her reading some of the poems from this book at the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre website.
Another poem I’ve discovered lately, which I’ve read over and over, is ‘Demolition’ by Mark Doty (from My Alexandria). I hadn’t read anything by Mark Doty until a few months ago, though I’m told he came to the Wellington arts festival a few years ago (must have been while I stopped paying attention).
I was talking to a work colleague of mine, who is also a writer, about what I’m working on at the moment – poems that take a film, or films more generally, as their starting point – and he told me I had to read this poem by Mark Doty. He was kind enough to photocopy it for me, and I seem to have misplaced it but it was called ‘The Hours’ and is a musing about watching the novel The Hours being turned into a film. I really liked the poem, and it sent me off to the library to find more.
I came away with My Alexandria, and the first poem totally blew me away, and so this is the one I read at the Poetry Society. ‘Demolition’ is sort of about watching the demolition of a building built in 1907, but it’s also about how ‘We love disasters that have nothing to do/with us’ and the fall of Oscar Wilde, and Robert Lowell, and war and really all sorts of things. I read it to Sean, and he said it was like chocolate nemesis cake (the most amazing cake in the world, which we devour at our local Aro Cafe – basically it’s made of chocolate, with more chocolate, and then some eggs and some more butter perhaps, and probably some more sugar – it’s basically like cooked chocolate mousse – it’s delicious and you really need to share it) – basically its language is so rich that you wouldn’t really want any richer, but it’s delicious just how it is.
Some of my favourite lines:
"The unreadable," Wilde said, "is what occurs."
It's strange how much more beautiful
the sky is to us when it's framed
by these columned openings someone meant us
to take for stone.
But really, you should read it – it’s online here: http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/mark_doty/poems/14751