My Wall of Failed Things

How do you know when a poem is a Poem? This is a question I have found myself asking since I started writing poetry seriously (with an idea to becoming established in it, to occupying this mode of thought and being as much as possible) and to which I’ve only recently begun to form an answer.

How do I characterise a poem with a capital P? Well, as a successful poem, a published poem, one that is of value to those who read it. The reason I began to question it was not due to any perceived qualifying ‘literariness’, or lack thereof, but mostly because of the reactions I received in my workshops at Sydney Uni and in general, elsewhere. Many of my classmates had been published and the tutor, Judith Beveridge, is a celebrated and successful poet.

Some poems I’d submit, thinking they were middling, only to have them received with delight. Other poems I’d submit, thinking they were brilliant and revealing, only to have them received with disinterest. Which ones are the true poems? Which ones do I keep?

I remember asking Judith, quite earnestly one afternoon, this very question. ‘How do you know which ones to keep, which ones are great?’ And she sort of shrugged, with a bemused look in her eyes.

‘You don’t,’ she said.

‘Do you ever throw any away?’ I said, and she laughed.

‘Oh, god, yes. Thousands. See behind you?’

I turned, and behind me was a bookcase stretching from the floor to the ceiling, an easy two metres of shelving packed to bursting with large folders and boxes, all of them on the verge of letting loose their paper prisoners.

‘That’s what I like to call my Wall of Failed Things.’

Continue reading

I’m A Wonderholic (Or Was)

Sometimes – often – I feel like my skull is on fire & my chest is full of stampeding horses ready to leap over the next gorge.

When this happens, I start spitting lyrics, lines, ideas. Fragments. Pieces of nothing. They can always lead to something interesting or special later, of course, so here I am recording today’s (the last few days) madness.

#

‘There’s altogether too much wonderfulness in all of us,’ he said.

‘How can there be too much wonder?’ said the other.

‘Consider: staring at the night sky is enough to incapacitate even the greatest intellect or smallest child with awe.’

‘There can never be too much: being incapacitated with wonder ought to be our goal in life. I’d love to be a wonderholic. Can you imagine? High-functioning wonderholics drunk on wildflowers & the last poem they read, heading into work sans cynicism?’

‘I used to be like that. Now I’m in rehab. The detox was beyond belief: reality poured into my soul.’

#

Some Tweets I sent this week that are stuck in my mind:

If I could synthesise the entirety of who I am and what I know to be necessary, in 140 characters, it would be this: “Read more. Love more.”

@Jeff_Sparrow When tragedy becomes routine under our watch, and suffering the norm under our hands, what new words should we use for them?

@Jeff_Sparrow Because, honestly, I don’t think those words are working anymore. They’re broken. We need a new language for this despair.

@mariekehardy Big is overrated. Dream slow, dream hard. Dream strong, dream long. Dream love. Never stop. That’s all that matters.

@amandapalmer Do you ever feel like you’re vibrating so hard inside you could disassociate into chords of music & melt into the universe?

#

WARNING: This poem contains no poetry. Ingredients include: moon rock, nostalgia, a token smile, and formaldehyde (14%). Do not consume.

#

Twitter Poems:

Just so you know,
I copyrighted our love
circa Feb 2013. You
can’t share its like
with anyone else &
I have the paperwork
to prove it. #poem

#

I see so many people
With keys round their neck
To which locks, I wonder;
The doors they own
Mother’s home
Local shop
Or yesterday’s dreams?

The Poetry in Hope

Rather than provide another lukewarm writing update, I’m going to share two poems that inspired me today.

The first is this post: The World Needs More Poetry.

It includes a short but great poem, and specifically references the beauty of hearing a poem read aloud, which is encapsulated in the video below. Sometimes, all it takes to wash away an awful week or month or year is one incredible poem, and I very much needed this one. Watch it: you cannot fail to be moved.

 

 

I will build a better me.

Week 4: Stumblin’ Forward

So, I have to be honest: I got less done this week.

Technically, I’ve written over 3000 words. I wrote a personal statement for my Boston University application, which actually contains some of my better writing and I’m really proud of, and I started work on a new short story. Now, I’m beginning to think my brain is doing that ‘it’s been too long since you wrote for the novel, something’s wrong there, but we’re just going to avoid it and pretend everything’s fine’ thing.

And yes, that’s a real thing. I need to work on the novel, but I think I’ve put too much pressure on myself as far as completing it, or even working on it, so I keep finding other things to do. I’m still writing, still working on other projects, so it’s not as bad as it could be but it’s a real problem nonetheless. I need to relax and get back to it, maybe write a fun short story set in that universe, and see if it can revive my flagging spirit.

As to the reason I’m not sure if I should count the 1700 word personal statement, or even the last blog post, it’s because I’m beginning to wonder if it could become a crutch. It’s always going to be easier to write about myself or what I’ve just finished reading or what my plans are, etc, than it is to craft great poetry or vivid stories in exciting new worlds. I know how important it is to keep writing, no matter the subject, to keep my mind sharp and my prose muscular but there comes a point where content has to matter more than output.

Otherwise, I’ll spend too much energy on this here blog, or on bits and pieces that won’t help advance my goal, and despite the word count, it’ll actually be counterproductive. So, let’s just say for now that I’ve written 1500 word of this short story, which I’m incredibly excited about – one of my best concepts backed by some of my best writing, so even though it’s a little less than I’d have liked, I’m still okay with what I’ve done.

And who knows, there are still several hours in the day and might still stumble across my 2000-word minimum mark. If I don’t, that’s okay. That’ll just incentivise me to work harder these next few days and hurtle clear of next week’s bar.

’til then, adieu!

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

One of the wonderful things about reading is that though you may finish a book, that does not necessitate it being finished with you. You come to recognise the times when they dig their paper hooks into your skin, come to be so familiar with it that you know even before the first page has slipped into you – you feel yourself tightening and expanding, contracting as you read it. 

I have just finished the first volume of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and it is, without a doubt, one of those books.

It is an effortless read, a languorous swim in calm waters. I cannot, in this short space, convey just how incredible a feat that is – to take a life this rich, this complicated, and synthesise it so well. To tackle subject matters like rape, race, segregation, poverty, and not once waver into melodrama, yet never flinch from the hardships faced by a woman of colour growing up in the South in the 30s. The prose is, in a word, sturdy. One has the distinct sense of the writing being unyielding, filled with every bit as much resolution as Maya herself.

Her voice is warm and deep, or so it seemed to me. It is inviting, yet removed. Intimate, yet distant. If I was to have any complaint about this book it is that, if anything, Angelou writes with too much clarity. She is too serene – an eagle flying over the troubled browns and greens of her childhood, the peaks of her adolescence. Chaos is tamed, and while you bless the narrator for the rendered perfection of hindsight, you wish you had more of a chance to live in the moment, to feel the heat of the emotion, the tension of an ugly encounter, or wild joy of a liberty taken or indulged.

This is, however, as she was. Maya was, from the outset it seems, ever the flaneur – the watcher of the crowds, observing but always a little distant from the real action, so much so that even pregnancy is a thing that happens to her. She is as much surprised by it as we are, and it passes in a blur, in a barely ruffled wing-feather as she ghosts over her own landscapes. It is, however, true to life as far as my own experiences go. Everything pales in remembrance, can take on the simplicity of a cinematic scene casually narrated, and even the most traumatic experiences can seem like blips – no matter that, at the time, they had the likeness of eternity.

Here now are the last few lines that struck deeply:

To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision. Few, if any, survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity…

The bright hours when the young rebelled against the descending sun had to give way to twenty-four-hour periods called ‘days’ that were named as well as numbered. (pg. 291)

I doubt anyone should require my own recommendation to read so celebrated a writer and poet, but let me add my voice to the chorus, however feeble, and suggest most emphatically that you read her work.

You will not be disappointed. It simply isn’t possible.