23 April 2012

Tuesday Poem: from marionette by Jessica Wilkinson

Continuing my theme of young Australian poets who impressed me at the Short Takes on Long Poems symposium, these are a just a few of the sections that make up a long poem, marionette, by Jessica Wilkinson. Last week I wrote about Toby Fitch's 'Rawshock', which Jessica helped perform, and Toby also helped Jessica perform some sections from marionette. And they were performances rather than readings I think, they were more stylised somehow than a straight reading, more expressive.

I had been looking forward to this session, which was one of the last of the symposium, after reading this in the programme:
In this talk-performance, I discuss and read from my long poem and poetic-biography of early cinema actress Marion Davies, who was the lover of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst. In my opinion, Marion’s silencing by the early cinema screen was strangely metaphoric for her being silenced by Hearst, who largely controlled her career and (as much as he could) her actions in public.

While there are countless biographies, factual and fictional, of Hearst, there are very few accounts of Marion Davies’ life. Indeed, in some of Hearst’s biographies, she is barely mentioned despite being a prominent figure in his life. As a woman who lived the prime of her life in the early 20th century on the Great White Way (itself an erasure machine), Marion Davies is waiting to be spoken. Rachel Blau DuPlessis says in The Pink Guitar that such a gap in discourse cannot simply be ‘filled by a mechanism of reversal’; rather, we must ‘pull into textuality […] the elements of its almost effaced stories in all their residual, fragmentary quality.

marionette, then, is an attempt to pull together the stutters, fragments and strings of Marion’s story.
This ticked quite a few of my interest boxes - cinema, biography, silenced women's voices. In My Iron Spine I had a large section of poems about women from history, and one of my motivations was because many of these women, even those who had been really famous in their own time, were forgotten and unvalued now. They'd been silenced. One tension I had was that, while I was kind of giving them voice, I was giving them my own voice, or my version of their voice. Except perhaps when quoting them, I couldn't really give them their own voices back.  It seemed to me that this tension is something Jessica is also exploring in marionette - Hearst had been Marion Davies's puppet master, and now Davies is a marionette for this poet, even as she tries to breath life back into her. On this subject Jessica said: 'I'm very aware of/interested in that - the writer's frame around the work etc. I like to make it obvious that this biography is my biography - a series of fleeting encounters, and heavily influenced by my personal interrogation.' I suspect that the lower-case m on the title also reflects that lack of power that puppets, and the dead, have.

I've included three of these pieces (the middle two images are one piece), to show the varying styles and voices the poet uses in the different sections of this long poem. As she says, it's a 'series of fleeting encounters', which I can see will slowly build up a picture, perhaps much in the same way as a cubist portrait which shows someone from many different angles at the same time. (I couldn't find a super good example of what I mean, but this is on the right track.) I enjoy the different tones, even in just these three pieces: there's humour and seriousness, playfulness and stammering awkwardness, and very different shapes. I'm looking forward to one day reading the whole sequence, which is a book-length poem.

(Sorry if you can't read the top piece in particular. You could try CTRL+ to zoom in a bit. Maybe it's time to redesign my blog to a wider width.)

Jessica Wilkinson has recently gained PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne, and lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. She is the founding editor of RABBIT: a journal for poetry. Excerpts from her long poem marionette were published by Vagabond in January 2012. She is developing marionette with a composer and chamber ensemble for live performance in mid-2012.

As always, check out the other Tuesday poems via the hub blog: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/.

16 April 2012

Tuesday poem: 'Rawshock' by Toby Fitch


This week I'm not actually posting this poem right here in my blog, but rather linking to it on the Meanjin site, where you can see it in all its glory (click the link above).

This poem, or more specifically the reading of this poem by the author and another poet (Jessica Wilkinson), was one of the highlights of the long poem symposium I went to a couple of weeks ago. I found out later that this was the first 'paper' Toby had ever given, but you certainly couldn't tell. It even included audience participation: he showed us some Rorschach inkblots and asked us what we saw in each of them - a fun and revealing exercise in a group of people you barely know!

If you go read the poem, you'll see that each section is in the shape of a Rorschach inkblot - difficult shapes to recreate in words. They also echo the inkblots not just in shape, but in images transformed into words (ie bats, wolf masks, animal rugs - all things that can be seen in the inkblots).

Lest you think this poem just clever wordplay in a clever shape - it is also a modern retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, one dripping with symbol and resonance. On the page, it isn't an entirely easy read - the way some of the words are broken up makes it difficult to know how to read them, but it's fun to try. I don't think it's essential to know this, but each section is written in the voice of either O(rpheus) or E(urydice): E, O, E, E, O, O, O, E, E, O. Hearing it read out was amazing - especially cool were bits where the two readers crossed their voices over each other. It was all videoed, so when it's up on the NZEPC I'll share the link. My garbled explanation does it no justice.

I was stunned by some of the beautiful lines in this poem, and kept writing bits down. Both Emma and I independently wrote down this phrase that occurs just after Eurydice enters Hades: 'a man pushes the weight of his suicide up a hill'. We wanted to include it in our beach poem somehow, but we ran out of space (and I was relieved, because out of context it is just too tragic - not that it's not tragic in context!).

And in the final poem it all starts to break down: the words are literally pulled apart, as O(rpheus) is pulled apart by maenads, and his head floats off down the river, still singing.

Toby Fitch is currently working on a creative writing doctorate at the University of Sydney 'on Rimbaud, Mallarmé and various poetic tropes, including mistranslation, concrete and absinthe poetry'. His poetry collection Rawshock is being published this very month. You can find out more about him, and read more of his work here: http://tobyfitch.blogspot.com.

On a different topic, the last lines of the Tuesday Poets second-birthday collaborative poem are being written. Ah, I've just checked back, and Mary McCallum has just rounded it out with the last lines before midnight. Hurrah. You can read what we've written here: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/ and you can also check out other Tuesday Poems from the sidebar.

15 April 2012

Joanna Preston at Poetry Society tomorrow

Monday 16 April, 7.30pm
The Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave Street
Poetry open mic for all poets and performers. Please get your name on the list by 7.30pm. The open mic will be followed by a short break and then a guest reading from Christchurch poet Joanna Preston, winner of the inaugural Kathleen Grattan Prize, and the Mary Gilmour Prize (Australia), for her first collection, The Summer King.

12 April 2012

Farewelling Adrienne Rich

Last night I went to the loveliest poetry event. It has been organised fairly rapidly and via Facebook to celebrate the life and work of Adrienne Rich, who died a couple of weeks ago.

Last night around 20 of us turned up at Meow, armed with books of Rich's poetry, and read to each other some of our favourites. Some people talked about her life, and what she and her work had meant to them. I had only recently discovered her 'Twenty-one Love Poems' and was struck by them. I chose to read III, which had stood out for me. I'm a sucker for a good love poem, by which I mean a genuine love poem. I also kind of wanted to read XIII, but was a bit shy to read two. Actually, I had kind of wanted to read 'Diving into the Wreck', but it's very long and I wasn't brave enough. But I was really pleased when Harvey Molloy did, because I wanted to hear it.

In the second part of the evening we read a long poem together. It was a later poem I think, and not one I'd come across before. A quick Google search of the lines I remember suggests that it was 'An Atlas of the Difficult World'. Everyone who wanted to participate read a section before passing the book on to the next person. It was a really lovely and collaborative thing to do. And the poem had a killer ending.

After she died, I had realised that, while I've read her poems (though mostly some years ago) and a collection of her essays, I was actually not as familiar with her work as I thought I was. Hearing other people's favourites made me want to read more of her work. So I will.

The other thing it made quite a few of us want to do, was something similar. Perhaps celebrate the work of another poet, possibly someone who is still alive. Though I have to say I have been having fantasies of a collaborative reading of 'The Waste Land' (ha, I started typing 'The Waster Land'), because that's probably the poem more than any other that I love to hear out loud (except perhaps 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock').

Thanks so much to the organisers, Maria McMillan and Cathy Blakely, for coming up with the idea, bringing it to fruition, and bringing us together.

03 April 2012

Tuesday poem: Our bit of a long poem on the beach, and Adrienne Rich

diving into the white berries,           pushing up

This is only a fragment of a poem. It is the fragment that myself, Emma Barnes and Ya-Wen Ho came up wth to fill our assigned 100 metres of beach. I think there were 10 groups, which means our collective poem was a kilometre long. Long is appropriate - we were at Oneroa, which means long beach, and we had all been at a symposium on 'the long poem' organised by the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre.

That isn't very much text for such a long stretch of sand, but our letters were very big. And very attractive. They were expertly crafted by Emma, Ya-Wen and our rake. I made things with shells and stuff.

There was more we wanted to say. We wanted to reference Adrienne Rich, who had died the day before. 'Diving into the wreck' is the poem of hers I know the best. And being by the sea, it seemed appropriate. We also wanted to reference a phrase from Bernadette Hall: 'I weep white berries'. It's the from the first of her 'Tomahawk Sonnets', which she had read the day before. Both Emma and I had been struck by that line. I just did a google search, and see that it's (most likely) a reference to Freya, who cried white berries which brought Balder back to life in Norse mythology. For us, it was salt water, sea water, white bubbles of sea water as air leaves your lungs under water.

I've just come across this video of 'Diving into the wreck', which is rather lovely:

And, for more poetry, check out the Tuesday Poem: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/ – you'll see that another collaborative poem is taking shape there to celebrate the Tuesday Poem blog's 2nd birthday.