28 April 2009

That Chekhov, he was a smart guy

Chekhov to his editor: "You are confusing two notions, the solution of a problem and the correct posing of the question. Only the second is essential for the artist."

23 April 2009

Journey poems, and revisiting past self

Last Tuesday, while having a late lunch, I was rereading Martin Edmond’s chapbook, The Big O Revisited (Soapbox Press, 2008). The ‘Big O’ of the title is both Roy Orbison and Ohakune, the town where Edmond did his early growing up.

The poems in the book are about a trip he took around New Zealand when working on his book about artist Philip Clairmont. The poems are discrete – they work individually – but together they make up a journey.

I was thinking about this, and thinking that sometime I’d like to write a series of poems about a journey. Then I thought perhaps we’d better go on a trip soon, so I could write about it. But then I thought, why don’t I write about a journey I’ve already taken. And I knew immediately exactly which trip that would be.

So, by the end of lunchtime I’d already written several sections/poems for a poem/series of poems about a road trip around Northland Sean and I did a few years ago over New Year. It was a short but intense holiday – we only stayed in one place (Paihia) for more than one night, we drove for a lot of every day, and I visited Cape Reinga for the first (and, so far, only) time. (If you've never been there, it's way cooler than suggested in the pic to the left. But this is a Wikipedia Commons pic, and I couldn't be bothered finding another one I could use to brighten the blogpost)

So, later at night last Tuesday, after an evening of not doing too much (so far as I can remember), I sat down to write some more. By 11 o’clock I’d written 17 pages in my notebook, and decided that I’d written my first draft. I think that’s the most poetry I’ve ever written in one day. (Thanks Martin Edmond!)

That’s not to say it’s any good, but I think it will be a good basis for something. I haven’t read it over yet, but I think when I rework it I’ll want to pare it back a little, draw some of it out, and add more tension and subtext.

In search of the latter, I decided to have a hunt through my journals from that time (2003/2004). I found I hadn’t actually written anything during the trip – except the date and time of when we were at Cape Reinga (1/1/2004, 7.15 am), which we held up when taking photos of each other.

I also found that immediately after the trip I’d started trying to write a poem about it, but I’d abandoned it. There were some bits I really like now, and will be able to use in my new poems (I think I’ve just accepted that it’s a sequence), but I think it must have just been too soon for me to reflect on my experiences – too soon to mythologise it perhaps.

So I read in my journals about a year on either side of the trip – which didn’t actually take that long because I wasn’t writing all that much then. But I gained some really insights into what was going on with me then, what was going on with Sean, what was going on with us, what was bothering me, and how I was feeling – things I hope to incorporate subtly into the poems.

But it was also really good to see how far I’d come, how far we’d come. I was often unhappy, I was getting sick of my job, I was finding it hard to write and when I did I was usually disappointed with what I’d written. Looking back, I was actually writing mostly things I like now, and in fact that period was the beginning of what became My Iron Spine – I wrote more of it before I took time off work (2005) than I thought.

How quickly we forget our old selves – it’s good to be reminded sometimes. I’m glad I have this record (even though it often shows me to be a bit shallow and whiny). And now that I’m about to embark on typing up and reworking what I’m tentatively calling ‘Heading North’ (perhaps it will become a chapbook!), I’m hoping the journals will help me bridge then and now, the 2003/2004 me with the 2009 me.

19 April 2009

Video poetry, part 2: New Zealand Poets on Video

It isn't that I actually need another project - I always have lots on the go - too much probably. But late last year I got interested in making little films. I guess I'd kind of been interested in it for a while, but I was spurred particularly by two things. The first was the poems I've been writing that are inspired by films and film-making, and the second was reading a biography of Kubrick (the frustrating one that ends before he's died, because he hadn't died yet when it was published).

I started wondering what it would be like to look at things through a viewfinder, to frame the world in a narrower way. I started to think about the parallels between metaphor in poetry and the metaphor in film.

Then I started thinking about how it would be cool to video poets reading their poems as a kind of resource and as an archive for the future. A few years ago Jan Kemp and Jack Ross organised the mammoth Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive project - basically all the poets in New Zealand were recorded for this. I don't plan to embark on something so big, but I'd like to video poets around about the place reading some of their work, and perhaps do some interviews with them too.

I'm also interested in what I (and some other people) call video poems, which are kind of like music videos for poems. My first video, 'Calling you home', which I blogged about recently, is one of those.

I'll make these available on the net, and I thought it would be cool to pull together what else is out there that other people have done. So, to this end, I've set up a YouTube group for videos of NZ poets and/or poems: http://www.youtube.com/group/NZPoetsonvideo - please join and contribute if you're doing this sort of thing.

I've also started a directory of NZ poets on video on the net: http://nzpoetsonvideo.wordpress.com/. This is very much in progress - in fact not really started, but I think it will be a good resource. I've found a few more relevant videos on YouTube, and some on the NZ Electronic Poetry Centre website that I haven't added yet, but if you know of any, or you've made some, either add them to the YouTube group or email the links to nzpoetsonvideoATyahoo.co.nz.

15 April 2009

Cool things part 1: Me anthologised

Am very excited. I have poems in not one, but two anthologies coming out this year.

The first of these is Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand Poems about Animals, edited by Siobhan Harvey, and published by Random House/Godwit. My poem ‘In wolf’s clothing’, was selected for inclusion. Based on the section titles, I suspect mine will probably be in ‘Creepy – crawly’. Our Own Kind is being published late April, and launched early May.

The other anthology is Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, edited by Mark Pirie and Tim Jones, published by Interactive Publications. My poem 'Tabloid Headlines', previously only seen in the inside front cover of JAAM 2, is included. Interactive Publications has an online shop thingy, so if you're interested it can be purchased from the orders page: http://ipoz.biz/Store/orders.htm.

As the title suggests, the editors have trawled through pretty much all New Zealand poetry, and found enough science fiction poetry to fill an anthology. Tim Jones has blogged about this process over at his blog: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/02/voyagers-new-zealand-science-fiction.html.

The only anthology I’ve had work in before now was The NeXt Wave, edited by Mark Pirie, back in 1998, which was a very special anthology to be included in. It was an anthology of up-and-coming writers, mainly generation X– hence the big X in the title – almost all of whom have gone on to be significant in NZ’s literary scene. I’d kind of forgotten about The NeXt Wave, but looking at it again now, it’s a pretty cool anthology!

April Poetry Society Meeting with guest reader Clare Kirwan

From the national coordinator:

This month's Guest Poet is Clare Kirwan, a performance poet from Liverpool. Clare is on her first World Tour, which she has named Dead Good Down Under, a reference to her membership of Liverpool's Dead Good Poets' Society. She is a comedian as well as a poet, and this looks to be a great evening.

"Welcome to a world where silence speaks many languages, bones grow in gardens, and the birdsong is only in your head. A world where all things are made of glass but breakages need not be paid for, where moments are crystallized: the lollipop man murdered, the iron statue running for it, and your mum planning world domination."

Clare is doing other gigs while she's in the country. Last month she did Poetry Live in Auckland, and later this month she appears in Thames. She spent Easter in Christchurch, so she's not far away, and has promised me she won't lose her voice to a bungy jump.

See you on Monday 20th April, 7.30pm (for open mic) at the Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St.

13 April 2009

Putting the X into my holiday

I always feel a bit pressured during holidays. Time is so precious to me, and I always feel the need to do something really useful with my time off. So I often don’t feel very relaxed, and sometimes I get a bit down. There’s the pull between relaxing, hanging out with people and having a nice time; and doing some ‘work’ – there’s always have lots of writing-related work to do, in between my own writing, blogging and other internet stuff, JAAM, Seraph Press stuff and other projects I get up to.

I realised this morning though, that what a good holiday is, and in fact a good day in general, is a day that is distinguishable from other days, a day that you remember as: ‘The day I did X’, X being something significant or new or out of the ordinary. X doesn’t need to be an enormous thing; just something different.

So today I decided I needed to do something different. We didn’t do anything of world-shattering significance, we just decided to go for a walk and explore some paths around our neighbourhood that we’ve never been down (or, mostly, up) before.

So off we set, down our hill. Our first stop, of course, was for coffee. Being caffeinated can only help with X. Then we headed up the steps to St Johns Hill, then through Te Aro School, then down a secret magical path to the end of the gully at the bottom of Devon Street, which is overgrown and always seems damp, but wasn’t today because it’s been so sunny (and windy) lately.

Our last adventure was to attempt to get to our place via the mythical ‘other end of the path’, which required sneaking through a gate, and through some bushes that haven’t been cut back in a while. I knew we were going to make it all the way through when I caught a glimpse of our house from an angle that I’d never seen it from before. I guess that’s the thing about going to new places – you often see things that are familiar from new angles – metaphorically and literally. And your eyes are so much more open, you take so much more in.

Later in the afternoon, the other new thing I did was interview Sean on video about the film script he’s working on. We’ve decided we’re going to do this every now and then to have a record of its progress, and how he was thinking about it at different points. And maybe one day we’ll be able to use some of it as a special feature on the DVD! (I filmed him sitting in front of our bookcases and the Wonder Woman figurine pictured above, which Jenny gave me after I published Locating the Madonna, was behind his head for the whole interview.)

So, today was the day that X was exploring new paths, and videoing Sean talking about his movie for the first time.

I hope tomorrow X will be something too. Every day should have an X.

11 April 2009

Video poetry, part 1

Last weekend I made my first ever movie, and you can now watch it on YouTube: http://tr.im/iAQ3. (It’s very short – 2 mins, 6 secs)

For both days of last weekend I was on an Introduction to Film and Video Production course. I thought we’d muck around, learn how to use video cameras, get taught some theory, get shown the editing software. We turn up at 9 am on Saturday, there’s only three of us in the class, and the tutor (a young up-and-comer) tells us the best way to learn is to do, and that we’re going to make a film each by 4 pm Sunday, so time to start brainstorming.

I decided to make a movie based on one of my poems, ‘Calling you Home’, which was in my first book, Abstract Internal Furniture. (I also helped out with my classmate/colleague’s short documentary, ‘B&B Lady’, which was fun, but another story.)

First I recorded myself reading the poem – just on the video camera – I later kept the sound but abandoned the video track. Then in the evening, after the course finished, I took the camera away and filmed the images.

Thinking about what images to use was a really interesting process. I wanted to use images that went with the poem, but weren’t too literal. I guess in the same way a poem is metaphorical, I wanted the film to be metaphorical. The poem is about a flat I used to live in, but it’s also about my relationship with Sean, which began while I was in this flat.

So my first on-location shoot was at that flat, where, fortunately, my friend Brian still lives (and probably always will). I shot so many different angles of the outside of that house, and I didn’t really know how I was going to use them. I also shot some things inside, and some stuff that I knew exactly which bit of the poem they were for.

Then, later that night, back at home, I shot some other footage – if you watch the movie – it’s the stuff with the teacup and my souvenir teaspoons. I’m especially proud of that sequence – it’s kind of like stop motion (except I actually kept the camera running the whole time, so the raw footage has my hands moving things around).

So, I had my footage, but wasn’t too sure how I was going to use it. Some of it seemed a bit dull by itself, but then I had a brainwave – I’d layer it. Most of the way through there is a main image, with a ghostly image behind. I’m very happy with how this turned out – especially the bit with a duvet being pulled forward over a shot that zooms/pulls towards the window of the house. The two movements seem to me to work together really nicely.

I used a piece of instrumental music by a friend of mine who often goes by the name of Lucan as a soundtrack, which fortuitously fitted. He gave it to us as a wedding present, and the poem was read (by Anne Marie) at our wedding, which all ties together nicely.

It was all a bit of a rush at the end, so I didn’t have the chance to fix a few odd things. But, as a first film goes, I’m really happy with it.

10 April 2009

More other places to send stuff

Blackmail Press 25

Bill Nelson and Sarah Jane Barnett are guest editors of Blackmail Press 25: The Rebel Issue, and they’re looking for work that resists tradition, breaks the rules, and broaches subversive topics, politics, authority or the experience of rebellion. They aim to ‘give New Zealand writers the opportunity to showcase interesting and original work about being different, unique or just plain disobedient.’

The deadline for submissions is Friday 15 May 2009. Contributors may submit up to three works as MS Word compatible attachments to rebelissue@gmail.com.

Landfall 218

Submissions are being sought for ‘Islands’, guest edited by David Eggleton.

New Zealand Aotearoa is located on the map as one point of the Polynesian triangle - part of an oceanic scatter of islands. It is a nation characterised by dual settlement - Polynesian, then European - which more recently has welcomed a global diversity of new migrants and settlers.

'Islands’ will suggest something of this variety, this heritage, as a celebration of binary oppositions and harmonic dualities, of the bicultural and the multicultural, of the pro and the con, of tensions and resolutions.

While submissions are being actively sought from contributors of Maori and Pacific Island heritage, 'Islands' also implies communities, villages, self-contained entities, and even margins moving into the mainstream, the world currents of culture. Consequently the issue flings the net wide and keeps the definition broad.

This issue will also publish the winner/s of the Landfall Essay Competition 2009.

The deadline for submissions (fiction, poetry, personal essays and other non-fiction) is 10 June 2009.

Submissions to: Landfall, Otago University Press, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Email correspondence (no submissions, please) to: landfall@otago.ac.nz

09 April 2009

Poetry publishing 101

If you're interested in poetry publishing in New Zealand, I recommend a recent post by Jack Ross: Poetry Publishing Degree Zero.

It isn't all doom and gloom, just don't expect poetry to make you rich. Or even famous...

08 April 2009

Hail! issue one, or, other places to send stuff

If you frequent downtown Wellington, you might come across this colourful wee zine. It’s published by a friend of mine who goes by the name of Fluke. I met him when he very kindly let me organise the launch for Scott Kendrick’s Cold Comfort, Cold Concrete in the middle of his photography exhibition at Thistle Hall.

Fluke, being an enterprising chap, decided he wanted to start a zine, and so got a bunch of his friends to write things for it. This issue, being the first, was the Virgin Issue, and inside is an eclectic bunch of pieces, by an eclectic bunch of people, including a poem (prose poem really), by me. There’s also recipes for virgin (ie non-alcoholic) cocktails, photography, essays-ish things, and other bits of writing.

Fluke is inviting submissions for the second issue, which has the theme of DIY (as in, do it yourself).

He says: 'If you would like to contribute to the next issue of Hail!, simply apply the theme to a story, poem, photo, illustration, cartoon, review, recipe or anything else, and email to me on fluke.info@gmail.com.'

I’m already working on my masterpiece. The deadline is the end of this month (31 April 2009).

07 April 2009

JAAM 27 closed, 28 on the (still fairly distant) horizon

Submissions for JAAM 27 (2009) have now closed. We’ve had heaps and heaps of submissions, and guest editor Ingrid Horrocks will be very busy reading through them all!

I hope you all submitted work, because it’s ages until submissions open for the next issue. But planning for JAAM 28 is already underway. It’s going to be special and exciting – or at least we think so, but more about that in due course.

In the meantime, I'll be slowly working on developing the JAAM website.

02 April 2009

Snails coming to a screen near me

I blogged earlier about my friend Ed's movie, The Last Great Snail Chase. Well now it's coming to Wellington.

It's being shown at The Film Archive tomorrow and Saturday at 7 pm. And, according to the Film Archive website, if you dress as a snail, you can see it for free!

The movie was independently produced - the result of a mammoth effort by Ed and a whole team of others. As I said before: It's very imaginative, very odd, and full of cool things. It's set in the present day, around a group of friends. The sky is cracking apart, turtles are swimming in the sky, and a colossal tidal wave threatens to destroy the planet. Despite that, everything is going on much as it always does. The tag line is: 'In a world where whales walk the streets, you still gotta go to work'.

For more, you could read an interview with Ed in/on Lumiere.