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.

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