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.


Ben Hur said...

I especially like the statement: "•Poetry is poetry because of what it leaves out."

I submitted a couple of poems to The Press a while back and editor, James Norcliffe, rejected them because he said they didn't make the reader do any work. I found that really valuable criticism.

Michelle Elvy said...

I missed this a while back. Great to see this post and the links you share. I also like how Harvey tackled the large question of national voice in NZ poetry. Also, I like the other bits of advice you share, esp these two:

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.