Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rhythm in writing

The rhythms when I write - poems, fiction, other sorts of prose - are fed by what I've read and been read since childhood. Of this I'm sure. A certain beat in a poem feels familiar, right, and I wonder what, where...? And then it comes to me, often some time later - Dr Seuss! Rupert Brooke!

The same is true of prose. A word often needs to be changed because it makes me uncomfortable for some reason, it might be the wrong word - too strong for the sentence or paragraph, not necessary, inappropriate, sentimental ... Or it could be that it doesn't have quite the right rhythm. The sentence or paragraph is a body and this word is the dicky hip. I keep coming back to it, I can't leave it alone, I know it needs changing. I try another one - and it fits. Ahh.

I know that my sense of the rightness or wrongness of a particular word is informed by my own interior sense of rhythm, and I often wonder what it is about a particular rhythm that feels familiar. It rarely comes immediately. I sometimes think I've stolen the whole thing (words and rhythm) without realising, and wake in a cold sweat.

Nervous - I focus on some of the likely writers I might have raided e.g. my prose favourites - Janet Frame, Colm Toibin, Anne Enright, Paul Auster  ...  It may not come immediately, if at all. When it does, it can be the oddest thing sometimes, not what I expected, not always literary: an advertising jingle, for example ... but there is no doubting that the phrase has lodged in me and been revived.

This happened this week with a poem I spent a few days on. When I got to the end of it,  there was a penultimate line missing. It finished too quickly. Reading it aloud, the line came: whole, intact, absolutely right. I wrote it in, and then worried. Where had it come from? It felt too easy, and somehow familiar. I fretted over it (and about the ultimate line, which was also the first line ... had it come from somewhere? It seemed a double concern now the new line was bouncing up and down declaring itself from somewhere else unknown.)

I googled the ulimate line, nothing popped up. I tried variations of it - nothing.

I walked around with the poem for days worrying at it. I tried relaxing my mind (like I do when I'm trying to remember people's names) and flipped through some possible poet's names. Nothing came that sat easily with what I'd written. Perhaps I was imagining it. Then again, I read so many poems these days, it could come from anywhere.

Then after four days, the penultimate line clicked into place without fanfare. I realised its rhythm and its sense came from a poem written and read by a character in a not-so-recent Hollywood movie, that my daughter and I enjoy and have watched a few times together. Who would credit it!

With that revelation, the genesis of the final line (also the first line) announced itself. I realised it had come from a well-known scene in a play of Shakespeare's, one I've known since I appeared in it at the age of 17. Not the actual words, but the sense of them, the urgency, the rhythm.

Crazy huh?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tuesday Poem for Anzac Day: Eliot's The Hollow Men

Monday was Anzac Day in New Zealand - somewhat overshadowed by Easter this year -  but still attracting growing numbers to the services, including the young. I couldn't go to the local service outside the memorial gate at the school as I was helping a friend move to Christchurch (I know, I know ...)

Anyway, This reading of The Hollow Men with images from World War One seems appropriate for today. (For those far away, Anzac Day is when we commemorate fighting with the Aussies in WWI & gaining our nationhood).

If you haven't time to listen to the whole video, move forward to 3.43 where you have the stunning ending from 'Here we go round the prickly pear' to 'This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.'

Interestingly, these lines open the play Osage County by Tracy Letts that had me on my feet last week at Circa Theatre. Beverly Weston quotes them in the opening monologue prior to his suicide, dwelling on the lines 'Life is very long.'

Life has seemed exceptionally long this week with sick parents and a very dear friend and neighbour heading south. But, you know, I still had a Happy Easter. Mine began well with double yolks  - not one but a whole dozen -

and there were red eggs too.

But most of all it was the company of family and friends that made it. I hope you had a Happy Easter too.

For more Tuesday Poems click on the quill in the sidebar. At the hub is a poem called The Heiroglyph Moth by Welsh poet Pascale Petit selected by UK writer Kathleen Jones.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Food by Fiona Kidman (and other treats)

The writing desk at Rakau RoadMy friend and writer Fiona Kidman has a new website up and running. It's not your common and garden writer website, this one has all sorts of interesting stuff in there e.g. the places she writes - like the gorgeous desk pictured.

On the home page, you'll find the cover of an upcoming short story collection, and details about a fiction/memoir writing course, then how can you resist the 'Food File' with recipes Fiona's written about in her books or simply likes to make. She says,

'I am sometimes asked for the recipes my characters make and whether I have prepared them too. Yes, if my characters have made a dish I will have made it.'

I am tempted by the tomato soup, the zucchini slice and the oriental chew because the ingredients for those recipes are hanging about the kitchen at the moment (the zucchini is verging on a marrow in fact).

After relishing the food, I advise a sortie into the News file for Fiona's views on a cell phone tower in her backyard (a sobering story for us all), a photo of the street named after her, a photo of her grandson's wedding, the launch speech she gave for Sue Orr's (fab) book... and there's more...

Then there's the publications page, the 'About Fiona' page etc etc. Well worth a visit.

The webmaster is Jane Harris of Three Hats who also does the website for Randell Cottage which Fiona and I are both trustees for.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Hairless by Jo Shapcott

Can the bald lie? The nature of the skin says not:

it's newborn-pale, erection-tender stuff,
every thought visible – pure knowledge,
mind in action – shining through the skull.
I saw a woman, hairless absolute, cleaning.
She mopped the green floor, dusted bookshelves,
all cloth and concentration, Queen of the moon....
poem continues in this article  (scroll down to the bottom) 
Unfortunately, I don't have permission to post the whole of Hairless, or of Scorpion or any of the other poems in Shapcott's incredible collection Of Mutability (Faber), but I am working on it. The book is the first purchase I've made with the incredible $500 I won last week in the Caselberg Poetry Competition (see previous post). It feels like the right first purchase before all the other clamorous less glamorous things get a foothold.

I admired the beautiful hardcovered Faber book in the bookshop where I work for three weeks before purchasing it. It was the lovely olive green slip cover, it was the sticker that said Shapcott beat off all other contenders (fiction, biography etc) to win the UK's prestigious Costa Award, it was poems that opened: 'Can the bald lie...?' 

A Telegraph article describes this poet's background: 
Shapcott read English at Trinity College Dublin, and later studied poetry at Harvard under Seamus Heaney and Robert Fitzgerald, “a great classicist” and a “very strict teacher” who taught metre and form and whose highest praise was “NTB – not too bad”. There, she says, “my ear was tuned up for language”. These days, she is president of the Poetry Society and teaches creative writing at Royal Holloway.

And there's a great video interview with Shapcott here 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Caselberg Poetry Prize

My news  ...  !


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Heaven

a bulldog called Angel is
outside the polling booth
and who is her owner?
someone called Fiona
gone in to tick the slip
say hi to the old lady
with the poorly hip, ask
after Jack who canned
out skating Rona Street
fold the slip, drop
it in the box – and that’s
it, except for this:

she walks into the bright
day, shading her eyes
and Angel is waiting 
a demented wiggle of white --
and off they go, the two
of them, side by side   
             around the bend
in the road

                        mary mccallum 

Another poem that's been around for awhile. I realised as I went to post it, that I've written something with a similar theme - which was posted here and on the Booksellers website - called How she holds her head. It's about my friend Christina at the carpark in Pak'n Save ...

arms swinging unhurried and wide   nothing in her hands but rings
no child
no wallet   no cell phone  not a damned thing
and a back so
straight and strong you knew it could   without any
support a pair of wings

Go figure.  And while you're working out why I see angels everywhere, go and check out the communal birthday poem at the Tuesday Poem hub. It's a fantastic creature written by 26 of us - line by line - over the week. It was so much fun to be part of and the end result is astonishing - no angels but lots of gods in that one. And then cast your eye to the sidebar with a whole host of wonderful poets from many countries - with their own poems and poems they love. Worth a visit for sure - and while you're there have a piece of cake. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Soundtrack: Sneaky Feelings, Space Waltz, Straightjacket Fits

6031: Read the most amazing book over the weekend waiting for the final lines of the Tuesday Poem communal birthday poem to be posted. (It's all up there now, by the way, awaiting a final edit - an astonishing multi-national effort that does my head in, and of which I am incredibly proud. More on that tomorrow...) But back to this amazing book Soundtrack which does my head in too: a passionate, provocative, idiosyncratic, hilarious, moving paean to NZ music. The stellar writing - by Grant Smithies, and guests like Nigel Cox, Damien Wilkins, Sam Neill, Jolisa Gracewood - makes so many other reviews (book reviews included) look dull as ditch water. This is about music that's unashamedly LOVED. The music and the words rush out past you as you read and hang in the air - you just have to go and find the artists and play them. Some of it I know, alot I don't, and there's so much I wished I'd been there for ... The delighted spark of recognition - yes! the moment when Space Waltz blew our socks off on TV's New Faces with 'Out on the Street' ... the phenomenon that is Chris Knox ... that is Crowded House ... that is Straightjacket Fits ... and mention of that little-mentioned Dunedin garage band Sneaky Feelings - hey we billeted David Pine at our flat in Aro Valley when SF was doing its thing. We were so impressed that he was in a bandSadly, I don't have the vinyl to put on the record player but there's always youtube ... three great tracks here... enjoy (and oh, that Dunedin footage in the Sneaky Feelings video!) 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday Poem: hey sweet day

hey sweet day
sky so clear and blue

red-headed swallows
swoop to the red roof

kids mad for chocolate
watch them swoop too

hair drying in the sun
hot coffee and a book

time to pull on boots
take a basket to collect in

pile high the table and
eat up together the garden

                                     mary mccallum

It's the First Birthday of Tuesday Poem - and this is a celebratory poem to add to the general euphoria. Hey sweet day, indeed.

Over at the Tuesday Poem blog, we're celebrating with a communal birthday poem that is unfolding over the week - poet by poet, line by line. I guess you'd call it a sweet week.

It is an exciting moment reaching the First Birthday of anything, but Tuesday Poem's birthday is especially exciting for me because it started here on my blog. I wanted to have place to put my poems up, and thought if I made it a weekly thing a. I'd remember b. blog readers would remember and c. I'd be driven to write or hone new poems to meet the deadline.

I asked other poets to join me, and they did, most especially Dunedin poet Claire Beynon; and we linked up, but it quickly became obvious we needed a central hub. So we created the Tuesday Poem blog, with each of us taking turns to select a poem to post at the hub, and all of us linked to it via the sidebar.

Each week, we Tuesday Poets post our own poem or one that we like (and have permission for). And then we read, we comment, we share, we're good to each other. We're a community - we like hanging out.

Claire became my co-curator, bringing with her South Island and US poets, and one Irishman. We had about a dozen poets at the start, and it grew to 30 (our limit), and currently hovers a little below that. We span four countries - NZ, Australia, the UK and the US - the Irish poet (hi John) has joined the alumnae list now but keeps visiting.

I've got a tremendous amount from Tuesday Poem - more than I ever expected: the community for a start.  I have also written and polished a number of poems I am pleased with -- my writing no doubt stimulated by the 30 or so poems and poetry-related posts I read a week, and pushed into shape by the regular deadline. There is also something wonderful about the immediacy of the medium, and the direct and generous feedback.

Happy Birthday TP, I am looking forward to another sweet year.

Click on the quill in the sidebar or here to get to Tuesday Poem.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tuesday Poem First Birthday!!!

Tuesday Poem is One Year Old this week. We poets from NZ, Australia, the US and the UK, who are part of this wonderful community, are posting a communal birthday poem to celebrate.

It's called 'Tuesday' and I'm first up at 12:01 AM on Tuesday morning posting my 1-2 lines, followed by my co-curator Claire Beynon with hers in the early morning  ... and off we go from there, line by line, poet by poet (26 of us are taking part at last count) until the poem is done one week later...

The idea being that we all get a go, and our blogreaders get to see a poem unfold. And why 'Tuesday'? Well, you'd be surprised how many people end up on our site looking for a poem about Tuesday.

The tricky thing is the different time zones - Philadelphia is different from Seattle which is different from Melbourne which is different from London which is different from Wellington. To add to the difficulties, we've just come out of Daylight Saving in this neck of the woods. But everyone seems amazingly sanguine about it all.

Tuesday PoemI have a spooky feeling this might be a world first. So do pop along to and catch a glimpse...

We're an amazing bunch really. Happy Birthday to us! And thanks to all of you who have been part of TP this first wonderful year - visiting, commenting, sharing our blog on yours, donating your poems ...

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Poem: the movie

A Poem

can stray like a hair on a cardigan

curl like an ear, insouciant, clean

can close like a mouth, thinly

and deepen those lines going nowhere

or coming from nowhere and finding

the lips there, for much is made of lips 

can howl like that mouth left alone in the house

can open like a wrist

                                       Mary McCallum