Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Hush

In the sweet of the morning,
would barely fill a palm 
or china cup, is a mouse
curled up asleep in the bread.
Hush, or it will waken and
I'll have to do something.

                      Mary McCallum

The dilemma of a mouse in the house. Note poem revised since first posted.

And today at the Tuesday Poem hub, you can find more mice in a poem by Lindsay Pope – but his narrator is a little less circumspect in dealing with his mouse problem. Lindsay's book Headwinds I published under our Mākaro Press Submarine imprint. It's a marvellous collection and it's great to see Lindsay on TP, thanks to editor Keith Westwater.

Have a lovely day. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I say to horror, 'What do you look like under your hockey mask, your bloodstained cocktail frock?' Elizabeth Knox

Elizabeth Knox writes movingly and insightfully on caring for a loved person through a long illness – and how caring for her mother has changed her world view and introduced her to the experience of despair. She talks too of how having a sister who was different from the norm made her write differently:  fantasy and horror instead of 'literature'. This from the inaugural Margaret Mahy lecture delivered this year and published by VUP
For instance, I say to horror, 'What do you look like under your hockey mask, your bloodstained cocktail frock? Show me your body. Your bones.' I walk into the house-of-horror-genre and melt away its grossly figured wallpaper, the shadow on the alcove of its stairs, its dirty glass, its shuttered windows. I melt away the walls themselves until what is left is the frame, a stark figure around an empty volume, and then I call into it my own storms; outer, other darknesses; the real things in life that aren't reconcilable with living rationally, happily and confidently. Such as what illness does to us – to our selves – before we die. And how, even with all the organisation and energy, and goodwill in the world, there is only so much effective help we can offer one another. And in the end how careless a world bursting with causes is with all those devoted to the long cause of care... 
.... So why do I write non-realist fiction now that I'm all grown up? Today's answer  has to be that I can best make sense of the sadness I feel by acknowledging what catches you when you're in despair – then laughs about it. 
Elizabeth Knox read at the wonderful Litcrawl in Wellington last night. People packed into venues around the a small area of the central city and heard poets and storytellers read their work, and then walked to the next event and the next. Yes, packed!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Renée and Anahera: writers must take responsibility!

Renée is a writer who lives up the Kapiti Coast about an hour and a half from me. She's in her eighties and has been a professional writer for the past 30 years after a lifetime of working in various jobs since leaving school aged 12, the daughter of a solo mother, and always trying to fit in her writing.

Yesterday she walked into a seminar I was attending as a writing mentor. The air changed, there is no doubt. It was something about her bearing, the way she took us all in: fearless, compassionate. She came to speak to us to encourage the writers there: all Māori writers, part of the Te Papa Tupu incubation programme (we writing mentors are there in support but get as much out the sessions).  She came to speak to these writers who are trying to live their busy lives while fitting in time to write their novels and poetry and short stories – she was there to tell them it could be done – that there is always a way. 

Even as the mother of young children, even as someone holding down a full-time job, even when life becomes overwhelming and pulls you in every direction except towards your desk, there is always a way. And discipline helps (she has it in spades), and humour and compassion and self-belief (those too). 

"It's stories that make ideas live. And we're the ones who have to tell the stories."

"Take responsibility for your writing, for telling these stories." She talked about looking writers looking after themselves: their health, their lives, their families so they could write.

Writers are readers first and foremost: "I was a huge reader, I vacuumed up the books in the library. When I stop reading it'll be because I've died … my hands have dropped from the keyboard ..."

How to write: "You've got to find your own way in – writing puts up a bit of a battle at first, but in time it finds you." 

Be disciplined. Yes, Renée writes every day to the clock. "I've always used a timer to write. If I hadn't had it I'd have forgotten to do things like check on the children ... when the timer went off I'd go and see what they were up to ...  I had to catch the 8 o'clock train today, so I put the timer on. I still have it. "

Finally, she told us that she wrote her famous Depression era play Wednesday to Come in honour of her mother who died aged 42 from a broken heart – she had battled to bring up three children after their father committed suicide. What's more the play was written for a competition, and Renée wrote right up to the deadline. To occupy her children, still young then, she threw coins in the garden and told them to go looking for them and pull out the weeds while they were at it. The garden was weeded (and so were the flowers). The play was writ and continues to be a favourite. It was pivotal for me in the writing of The Blue set in 1938.

Renée finished speaking and then listened with interest to a young upcoming poet and fiction writer Anahera Gildea. Anahera hadn't so much walked into the room as exploded inside it: smiling and hugging everyone like they were old friends. Like Renée, she was a funny and charming speaker, and her insights echoed hers nicely, except that Anahera confessed she'd lacked the older writer's discipline. She said she'd struggled to write a novel until she found her own discipline by discovering how her creativity worked.

Anahera describes her process as working through from the place of te Po and te Ao Marama – a place of stillness and darkness to light.  She sits for two hours every morning thinking about her novel, if she writes, fine, if not, that's fine too. This way she progresses by working with herself not against herself, and in three months wrote an astonishing 30,000 words towards the draft of her novel.

Anahera's other tips gleaned from her life so far as a writer, including being part of the MA in creative writing at Victoria University's Institute of Modern Letters: 




In other words (excuse the pun): better to write than not write, to get it down and then craft the thing into something, and yes – make the time and the words will come. 

Finally, Anahera echoed Renée: "Being a writer is more than just writing to a word count every day – it involves looking after your health, it involves balance, it involves battling addictions ...' Taking responsibility, in other words, for being a writer and telling the stories that need to be told. Something both these inspirational women do. Thank you for reminding the rest of us. 

Renée's blog is at www.wednesdaybusk.com where she is posting a novel-in-progress every Wednesday! And you can find one of Anahera's poems here on Tuesday Poem.