29 June 2014

Does New Zealand poetry have a voice?, and 32 statements about writing poetry by Marvin Bell

Recently Harvey Molloy (poet and poetry editor of JAAM 31) wrote a short piece about whether New Zealand poetry has a national voice on Awkword Paper Cut. You can read it here (scroll down to the third piece, after Australia and the UK): http://www.awkwordpapercut.com/writers-on-writing/national-identity-and-writing.

Of course it's an enormous subject to tackle, especially in such a short space, but I really like the four generalisations Harvey makes:
(1) We are much less concerned with experimentation and anything remotely ‘theoretical’ than some of our overseas’ counterparts – there’s a tendency towards understatement and a suspicion of all grand styles and schools of thought which stifle poets willing to take risks.

(2) We are increasingly aware of ourselves as located within the Pacific; this offers the promise for a truly diverse national literature. We have just started to talk to each other.

(3) We are a people haunted by our past; our tipuna (‘ancestors’) call to us and ask to be recognised. If we are from descendants of settlers or immigrants we have shadowy memories of other voices, other lands. There’s a temporal dimension to our environments. We know what it is to be haunted.

(4) Earthquakes, heavy weather, intriguing landscapes all occupy our poetry. There’s a sense of hazard or calamity in our relationship with nature. Our landscapes include Auckland traffic, car park buildings, Antarctica, volcanic plateaus, the Canterbury Plains, Wellington suburbs. 
They feel pretty true to me. What do you think? What would you add? Do you think this is a worthwhile conversation to be having? What can we learn from this? Perhaps we can see our boundaries that we should then be expanding?

Also, on a whim I clicked to join a MOOC (massive online open course) about 'How writers write poetry'. This is kind of unlike me as I'm not really a writing-course person (I did one two-day poetry course and one two-day short fiction course 19 years ago), and I can't see myself joining in on the workshops and forums, but I'm expecting the videos of different writers talking about different things pretty interesting. And also it will hopefully be a good introduction to some poets I don't know.

Anyway, I've already found the first, introductory, video pretty interesting. Poet Marvin Bell makes 32 statements about writing poetry (you can skip the first two minutes of introduction). A few things he said that struck me are:
  • If you're in a writing group, especially with friends, you should decide at the outset to welcome surprises - when someone writes something that is experimental and outside what you'd expect from them.
  • Read something, write something, read something, write something, and be influenced in your writing by what you read. (He also said, 'Garbage in, garbage out.')
  • You don't learn as much from work like yours as you do from work that is unlike yours.
  • Poetry is poetry because of what it leaves out.

22 June 2014

Truth or Beauty: Poetry and Biography conference

One thing I'm doing this year is organising, with Anna Jackson (celebrated poet and senior lecturer in English literature) and Angelina Sbroma (PhD student and all around awesome person), this conference, about biographical poetry. It will be held at Victoria University of Wellington from the 26th to the 28th of November. I am very excited.

It has its genesis in me suggesting to Anna, seeing as she had recently finished writing a long sequence about Ancient Roman woman Cloda Metelli (who is thought to be Catullus's 'Lesbia', if you are familiar with Catullus's poetry, which I wasn't), that we should do a poetry reading of biographical poems (I have written a number of poems with more or less biographical elements, most of which ended up in My Iron Spine). Anna said, enthusiastically, 'Yes, but it should be a symposium'.

We very quickly got a bit more ambitious, and now the symposium has become an academic conference - well actually kind of more than an academic conference. It's a conference where academics and poet practitioners will be able to get together and talk about and reflect on this shared space - the poetry. I am particularly excited about this, because I have been developing a really strong interest in better connection between the literary community and the academic community, and also in the academic community sharing more with the interested wider community. In the case of this conference, I hope the mixture will lead to a reflective, vibrant and sparky few days.

We realised, after hunting around a bit, that while biographical poems are not uncommon, there isn't a great deal written about them in that light - that the field of biographical poetry is just waiting for exploration. And we've found some people who want to explore it with us. We have three keynote speakers already lined up, our Auckland poet and creative writing teacher Robert Sullivan, and two academics (and poets) from Australia: Jessica Wilkinson and Toby Davidson.

In any case, the deadline for proposing papers or discussions or readings is coming up at the end of this month, and while we already have many interesting proposals from great people, there's still time to send in yours. You can read the call for papers here: http://poetryandbiography.net/ and we've just put out some more detailed guidelines for proposals: http://poetryandbiography.net/2014/06/22/guidelines-for-proposals/. Or you can just come along, without giving a paper, and enjoy the talking and readings that I know will be stimulating, thought-provoking and maybe even inspiring. The fees for the conference are a total bargain: http://poetryandbiography.net/2014/06/15/conference-fees/.

16 June 2014

Being away, being a New Zealander

I've been away - from this blog (for longer) and also from New Zealand, for a little bit.

It was wonderful being away. We went to some amazing places, saw some glorious things, ate some wonderful things, and spent some time with wonderful people. It has been a bit hard coming back, what unpredictable life, but I think it's going to be ok. Actually, I think it's going to be good.

Anyway, I wrote this thing about some thoughts I had when I was away about being a New Zealander: http://blog.teara.govt.nz/2014/06/16/whadarya-some-thoughts-on-being-a-new-zealander-overseas/.

If you are interested, there are a few travel pics and travel ramblings here.

And here is a picture of the Parthenon...