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/.


Mary McCallum said...

Fantastic Helen - thanks for this - provocative and interesting as always. You got so much from that symposium...

Michelle Elvy said...

really interesting post. Am so glad to read the poetry here and your commentary.