Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Equation with X and A and I

I saw an old flame on the weekend and suddenly I was adrift in a strange time in my life.  I have a beginning and it might take months or years to wrestle but it is good to know where I am going to start.

The Equation with X and A and I

I come to this through that.

That moment when flat space folds around the passing of time and there is a second
A brief overlapping of a face
Like to like
And although they are different it is clear in this moment
That they are part of the same equation. 

So now I rob one to pay the other,
Not knowing who is Peter and who is Paul
Little fragments of my history
Weighing equal in each startled palm

This here in real time. 
My eyes widen.
I see him. 
Like the mark to indicate treasure in the ground.
And his face is whorey as a pirate who has basked too long
In salt and sun
His smile as wide and furtive as at first
When all would sleep
And I 
awake to hang on every note.
His fingers
The smoke
From out of a mouth that whispers song
And in that instant
In memory
I was gone.

I come to that through this. 

Seeing him again.
That flat slap
And knowing that
Must have felt this way.

X is to I
What I was to A
The eternal equation of obsession
Eating it’s mirrored tail.
The fold in space 
And time
One face suddenly transposed onto another

Long gone 
Used to be equivalent to

I come to this through that

Friday, August 29, 2014

Winning a prize. A speech.

Ok so tonight I won the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Award. Very crazy. So happy. I was going to read this speech but I didn't. It is here instead. I said most of the bits anyway.

This is the first award I have ever won for my writing. It is such a surprise. Such a wonderful surprise.
I was raised by my maternal grandmother. When my grandmother died earlier this year it changed me. I was in the middle of writing a novel and suddenly I couldn’t write fiction anymore. I couldn’t write anything except poetry.  I had never written poetry before, and now, suddenly I was writing it obsessively. I was waking up in the middle of the night with words in my head. I slept fitfully. I wrote like I was possessed. I was writing poetry about my grandmother. I was trying to make sense of my grief and poetry seemed the only language available to me. 
There is an episode of Rake where a women suddenly starts speaking Indonesian. She can no longer speak English. It is a strange and surreal part of that story, but I thought of it often as I continued to write poem after poem.  When I was done I had something on paper, but I had no idea if it was any good. The only way to find out was to read more poetry.
I discovered Ann Carson, Miroslav Holub and Sharon olds. I re-read old favourites, Elliot Weinberger, Michael Ondaatje and Simon Armitage. I began to feel more comfortable about my own strange place in all of this. 
My friends Katherine Lyall Watson, Ellen Van Neerven, Asley Hay, Kris Olsson and Michelle Dicinoski and my wonderful boy Anthony Mullins encouraged me to finish what I was working on and to enter what I had into the Thomas Shapcott award.  I was away in Tasmania in an isolated shack writing and Anthony printed it all out for me and carried it down to Tasmania in his luggage so I could enter it. I would like to thank these people for making me do this. I would also like to thank the Judges of the award, the Qld Poetry Festival supported by Arts Qld, and UQP. This is a crazy new journey I am on but it really has opened up a new world for me to explore.

I am only just beginning my journey in this new language but I love what I am discovering on the way. I would also like to thank the poets of Brisbane for always supporting me and accepting me. I have a lot to learn and you are the most fun teachers. Poets are always the most outrageous people to be with at any festival and it is really great to join your crazy crew.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Poetry revisited

What is poetry?

I was just asked what my favourite poems were and it was not quite as easy as I suspected.

My answer:
1: All of The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson,
2: Lacandons by Eliot Weinberger
3: You're Beautiful by Simon Armitage
4: All of Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds read very fast
5: Daddy by Sylvia Plath (old favourite of mine)

But I wanted to include a short essay that feels like a poem but is not divided into lines as a poem would be. I wanted to include other Weinberger essays, similarly rhythmic and amazing but looking like prose.

What is a prose poem?
What are the rules?

I have so much to learn.

Where do I go to find this out?

On Writing too Quickly

I write quickly. I put all my available time into the work. I work with a breathlessness that makes the work flow more easily. I race into a project and cling to it until it is done.

One of the reasons for my speed is because I am afraid I will forget. My memory causes me terrible anxiety. I forget people. I forget conversations. I forget I have written something. Sometimes I come across an errant file on my computer and it is as if a stranger has written it. I have no memory of that particular short story. I don't remember putting those words down in the file. Maybe this is a story sent to me by someone else? Only I recognise a turn of phrase. It has my accent. Therefore it must be mine.

It is worse with a novel. A novel has so many disparate parts. By the end of a book I have no idea where I started. I will have forgotten almost everything about it.

And don't get me started on having to answer questions for an interview. Really? Did I write that? Of course I must have because the journalist has done her research even if I have forgotten what I actually wrote.

Sometimes I wonder if I have an actual medical condition. My memory is so bad that I will bet to the last scene in a movie and suddenly find it almost familiar. Yes, we have seen that before, my husband will say, don't you remember?

I don't remember.

So I hop on a book like a runaway horse and cling on till the ride is over. This is how I have always worked.

The problem now is that I am frightened the books will grow stale before they emerge into the world. I do understand why my publisher will only consider a book by me every two years. We don't want to wear readers out. If a short time has elapsed they may not be ready to read another book by me, particularly when each book seems to be so different from the last. Maybe readers don't want to be confused by my tendency to leap across genres with each new offering.

But in my panic to finish a book before it shakes me off I tend to do a draft in a matter of months. A second draft in half a year. Subsequent redrafts can be fast and furious. Sometimes I have two books written simultaneously done in under a year. This is what happened with Steeplechase and Triptych. Steeplechase was a longer, more fraught process. Between the beginning of the first draft and the final redraft I had interspersed my writing with two other books, A YA book that has never seen the light of day, and Triptych which ended up being published two years before Steeplechase came out.

I am working on two books at the moment. Holding Hands is still giving me grief. It is not yet done. I have a second draft and it is 8 months since I started. In that time I wrote a book of poetry, Eating My Grandmother, and two drafts of a horror novel called Half Light. I have been racing to get a perfect draft of Half Light completed but I realise that my next book, Holly's Incredible Adventures in the Sex Machine, will not be published till February next year, 2015. After this there will be a two year gap as there always has been. Half Light probably won't be out in the world till 2017. Then, of course I will have to wait till 2019 to put out Holding Hands.

I have three other ideas on the boil at the moment. I have Crawl Space - a surrealist novella, tapping at the back of my head, and then I have the sequel to Holly's Adventures mapped out in my brain.  I am also making notes for a book on writing sex and and a sexual adventure with other writers. Given the pace of the publications, Crawl Space will be out in 2021 and Holly's sequel in 2023. Who knows when the two sex projects will find their way into the world. In 2023 I will be 55 years old.  I don't know how many books I can fit in before I die but I know I can write way more than will be published at this rate.

Is it any wonder I write fast? How can I contain all those characters and all those plots unless I tackle them at a run?

I do know this is a good problem to have. Better too many ideas than no ideas at all, but perhaps one day it will dry up. One day I might sit down at the page and realise I am done.  Until that day I must continue to write in a fury. I must race myself. I am a ticking clock. I will die. There will be an end.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On Poetry

I have never spent much time thinking about poetry.

I read novels, short stories and occasionally memoirs and non-fiction books about science. This keeps me going.

When my grandmother died a few months ago something strange happened in my head. Nothing in the world seemed important. It was like I had suddenly actually understood that we will all die.  Nothing we do in life will mean anything. Not now. Not in the long run.  Even the great writers will die with the human race. Art, literature, kindness, none of this matters in the wider scheme of things. One day everyone will die. Humans will become extinct. Nature really doesn't care about Shakespeare.

I couldn't write. Suddenly there was no urgency. Everything I create will be less than the best literature in the world and even that will be worth nothing at the end of our species. It seemed like a waste of energy to write. It seemed like a waste of energy to live at all.

This is when I started writing poetry.

There is an episode of the Australian television show Rake, where a trauma causes one of the characters to suddenly speak in a language she never knew she could speak. She could no longer speak in English. I felt like this had happened to me.

I started to write poetry. I didn't know anything about poetry so I couldn't judge if it was good poems or bad but there were poems. I wrote one after another. I woke up at 2am and wrote poems because I couldn't sleep. They were all about my grandmother. After a month of this I had one hundred pages of poetry. I had a book of poetry all about death and my grandmother and loss and pointlessness. I am still not really sure what to do with that document.

I needed to know if it was any good. I started to read other people's poetry to figure that out.  I already loved Simon Armitage's poems along with Adrienne Rich and  Sylvia Plath. Now I began to hunt, to see what kind of poems I actually like and to try to figure out why.

Anne Carson was one of the first people I uncovered. I read The Beauty of the Husband because other people had talked about how wonderful it was. It is wonderful. It seems to say something true about separation and love and human need. I moved on from that to The Autobiography of Red. Reading this verse novel changed me in some way.  There are poems in that book that reach inside a person and shake them . I discovered feelings I could not name. I began to have ideas again.

I have recovered from whatever demon broke my sentences up into short detonations. I can write novels again - I think. But my foray into the world of the poets has stayed with me.  I have gobbled up E. E. Cumming's erotic poems. Lewd, often funny, sometimes romantic. I am not yet sure what I feel about these poems but I keep going back to them and reading some of them over and over. And now I have discovered Sharon Olds. In particular I am reading Stag's Leap, a verse novel about the end of a marriage.  What I love about this book is that the poems have no subtext. They are honest admissions on the page. I feel like her words have given me permission to take the poem cycle about my Grandmother out of the draw. She has explained to me with her own work, that my work can be just that. An exploration of feelings, grief, life, written simply and eloquently on the page.

My exploration of poetry does not seem to be over. I wonder where it will go to from here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Messy Writer

Some writers are careful. Their prose forms with glacial precision. I have friends who labour for a week over a paragraph, replacing individual words, weighing the new form of the sentence changing the word back.

I am not one of those writers. I write furiously. When I have a sense of where I am going I sprint. Five words would be equally useful in one place and I reach for any one of them. I am happy, in an edit to replace a word with another, ripping it out and filling the gap without hesitation. I have been known to hack out twenty thousand of those words in a day, deleting whole chapters as if I were using a machete on an overgrown garden, ripping out the bushes with the weeds.

I am jealous of the careful writer. I am reading Favel Parrett's latest book and here is all the care in each breath. Here is a writer who hones a chapter down to a slight, resonant thing. It shows, this careful consideration. It makes a little gem, forged by time and concentration.

My books are wild places. They have forward motion, pace, flow. They dance erratically. I know there is beauty in a rubble and I suppose that is what I make, a beautiful disaster held together by hot glue and wire and spit. But when ever I read a book like this one I am reminded of the photographers I like the best, Tomatsu, Sugimoto, Paul Strand. I long for the kind of order that Favel can create, a line drawing sketched by the hand of a careful crafter.

Favel told me that she carefully read her last edited draft and even the first proof of her book. I am ashamed to admit that I am often too exhausted to give more than a cursory glance at my proof pages and if there is a bound proof, it goes in the drawer. I have never once read a manuscript I have written after that final struggle at an editorial level. A wrestle with a beast that I wish was already dead. I don't really care if I use one word or another. The thing has raced away from me and by that time my attention is already drawn and held by the next project. The current book is dead. I failed to achieve what I wanted, maybe next time, maybe with the next glimmer of an idea, maybe this will be the one. And so I go off chasing another whale, letting this one bleed out towards publication.

I wish I were a Sugimoto kind of writer, a Chris Somerville, a Favel Parrett.

The grass is always greener in another garden.

There is nothing to be done. I can read their books with delight and wonder but I will always, irrevocably, be myself.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dreams and monsters

I dream of a tiny house in the cold and all the configurations of laying two mattresses. The compromises and the final disappointment of a squeeze for space. I step into another cabin and there the beds are stacked three high and there is room for a chair and I realise I will not be able to work in my own cramped version of a home.

I dream that my father is not home when I visit him. The door is open and the snow blows through onto the carpet. I dream of my own confusion and when finally I find a cafe where someone knows his name they tell me he has gone to a different valley to recover the body of his child. Not me then for I am alive, but my sister, who has taken her own life.

Awake I wonder about meanings. Not real things but imaginary beasts that stalk my sleeping mind. I have thought of my own death so much this year and my relationship to the idea of end has changed since our familial grave was dug. There is no longer the sharp relief of it for I can see now that the endless trudge goes on and that death changes so little. The tedium. I have stopped walking up to the bridge and gazing down because there seems to be no relief in death.

In two weeks I will go away, to speak about writing and then to write. First I will write alongside someone, the shared pain, the promise of a new perspective on our work. Then I will fly south. I will find that too-small cabin and I will face the bitter winter of our southernmost point.

This is what I need and want and yet I fear it. Every step towards Tasmania makes me more afraid. What if I have all the time and still cannot write it. What if my eyes are open now, post-death, to the true pointlessness of life and what if I cannot capture it in words on a page. What if I am not a better writer now but I have leaped forward in my own clear-sighted judgement. What if I can see into my own soul and know what I suspected, that I am withered, talentless and bitter, a dried up fruit, all potential leaked away in sticky years of nothing.

I wake from dreams of monsters knowing that they are dreams of myself.

Under the bed, there I am. In the scratch of branches against the wall there is my thin cold voice. To go away to write is to go away with my monstrous self and yes, I am afraid.