Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Disappearing 2.0

Last year the Red Room Company commissioned me to write a poem about my connection to Western Sydney and the theme of the disappearing. To complete my part of the project I travelled to Parramatta to record the poem and an interview about the process I went through in its composition. All the poets involved were sent the below series of questions. Because I like to prepare I wrote out some answers. What you will hear in the recording will no doubt be different as they sprung a few unexpected questions on me and I didn’t use these notes while answering, but I hope the sentiment remains the same.

What is poetry for you?

·        What made you start writing poetry? / Why is poetry important for you?

I started writing poetry when I was in primary school. The first poem I remember writing was about school desks chasing and eating people. It was published in the school newsletter. Mum still has it up on a board. I guess I started writing as a means to understand the world and how my imagination was engaging with it.

Poetry is important to me because it is something we can all engage with as reader, writer, performer, listener and critic. I also like the diversity of forms of poetry, from highly structured pieces, to works I find arcane, to free verse, direct and didactic narratives to protest pieces.  I like that poetry is studied at schools and universities, in pubs, in bedrooms and food courts. That authors from ancient civilisations wrote it and that their words live on alongside newly written work that may soon vanish forever. I like that people give away and sell poetry on streets, that they perform it in quiet auditoriums and noisy pubs, that music and visuals and live performance can lift poetry but that at its best for me it needs nothing but shape on a page and a reader, that at its best it doesn’t need its author and that it can be so layered that different readers will find different things in it.

·        What does The Disappearing and this project mean to you? What message did you want to convey through your poem?

The Disappearing started for me with my poem the Max and the vanishing of childhood, of memories of people, and that is still there in (En)Joy Rides in Police Cars, though I think it is more advanced or maybe more discernible in this new poem; that disappearing childhood does not come through age but through experience, and that experimentation with imagination, words on a page, with history, can capture something fleeting, or maybe portray something fleeting so people can examine it through time and space.

I like to keep away from explaining and conveying messages directly but what I did want to do was explore some conversations I’d had about Dad with Mum, to explore some vivid memories, but also explore how memories can be false, distorted, fractured and fuse with imagination in an effort to escape or survive.

·        What was it like writing on the theme of ‘disappearing’?

I enjoyed the research component. I spoke with my mum about dad several times to get a better understanding of my memories of him and what had occurred while they were married and during their divorce and custody battles. This poem is part of a group of three about my family and focussed on my dad and two grandfathers. You can find another with Cordite and a third was a commission for the Canberra Glassworks. So it was a useful opportunity to not only research and write the poem, but link it to the other works, to the location of some of the events it depicts, and to have it published for people to read. As part of the research I went back to Lakemba where my grandfather owned his shop, and to Auburn to investigate where I was born and lived the some of the early years of my life. Throughout this I kept in mind something I’d read in the Tate Modern while I was travelling in 2013, an artist’s statement about his portraiture talked about embracing the distortions and inaccuracies of memory while creating an image of something, hold onto the memories, don’t refine them in the hope of the true image, instead interrogate for meaning. For me that allows imagination to come into art, so while this and the other two poems are autobiographical, imagination is in there.

·        How does the poem begin for you, with an idea, for or image?

Poems begin for me in different ways. I have written for a long time with a writing group and we have a range of exercises that generate the start, middle and sometimes the end of a poem. I also write to prompts such as books, graphic novels and visual art. I really love travelling for this reason. In 2013 and 2014, I travelled in the US, Spain, the UK, France and Italy and visited galleries and museums in every city and town where I could find them. Travel really kicks my imagination into overdrive and combining that with art and architecture in a new place will lead me to write. I also really like to dwell on an idea, research it, and delve into a concept to develop a poem.

·        How do you improve or edit your poems? With the help of a workshop, a reading group, a mentor?

I will constantly edit poems. Every day I will work on something, testing the images, experimenting with the structure, looking for gaps or weaknesses with what I am writing, taking notes of ideas and concepts I would like to explore, collecting images. I work to make sure that where I want the poem to factually and scientifically accurate it is, where the untruth is, it is there for a reason.  Editorially I put my poems through a taxing time. I will run drafts through the writing group I mentioned earlier. With this group I feel like I have received and given a lot of useful critique, hearing other people’s poems and ideas on your and others’ work makes me question my own style and approaches. I don’t always take on board critique but I do always consider it when it comes from a thoughtful place. I also have two close friends in Canberra who will give me constructive and thoughtful feedback on a poem I am developing, and I find their feedback incredibly useful in pointing me to areas of weakness in a poem. In 2015, with the support of an ArtsACT Project Grant, I had several months of mentoring and editorial development with Queensland poet David Stavanger in Brisbane and Canberra, his considered input has improved my overall writing but also given me confidence in the choices I make to break rules and push boundaries.

·        What is the impact of being commissioned and published in this project for your writing career?

I always enjoy when a poem exists without me, as it will through this Red Room Company commission. I usually avoid publicly unpacking my process or the poetry I write but being interviewed for the commission has been a useful process in having my articulate my writing process and the importance of poetry to me.

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