Monday, 31 March 2008

Lucky number

Lucky lucky - yesterday's obligations fell away and I spent several hours at Paraparaumu Library studying for my review, and I chanced to find a perfect book about how to write critiques. David Hill's On Poetry; 12 studies of works by New Zealand poets, (1984, Heinemann). And one of those critiques was of La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Rex Fairburn, which I'd read about only the day before. The entire text of the poem was reproduced for each review. Two birds.

David Hill was fun, clear and helpful - enjoyed Viv Joseph, whom I'd never read before. All this talk about 'domestic' poetry, it's a put-down. They say it of Jenny Bornholdt too. And somewhere of Wislawa S.

To go back to La Belle Dame, I was very happy. I'd found some of RF's poetry too remote for me, but this felt direct and simple. The simplicity being the art, together with having something worthwhile to say. Observation and the ability to express it well make a good poet, but not a great one, it seems. (Cricket: pompous. Suzannah: Sorry. Couldn't work out how to say it differently; it's something that matters, and which I'd suddenly seen.)

Read a poetry review in an issue of Landfall. I will give no details, it deserves to be lost. Such poison, such vigour in the nastiness. No one was safe, nothing was good anywhere. The author alone remained standing, sword in hand, amid the charred ruins.

Am re-reading WS for the sake of the review, the third time, to select the poems I want to focus on.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Short and pushed for time

First task in the morning- almost - am getting back to routine - holidays and visitors are mostly behind us. Colette is away for a few days. She's coming back, then will go again for another while.
Today am attending to business things which are in the way of writing.
Yesterday enjoyed a readathon, two books, Bernhard Schlink's Homecoming (which I'd started the day before) - surprised to find myself back on topic without any difficulty, with regard to my novel, I mean - and rather wonderfully, Rex Fairburn A Kind of Biography, a big illustrated book by Helen and James McNeish, which was lent to me by a friend. Plenty of poetry there. I'll write more about that next time, maybe tonight if I can manage it, if not tomorrow.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Acte de Presence

A busy day, worked on the poem about Mason's Bay and posted it on the blackboard at Whitireia (this is for the short Year 1 course). No time to work on WS, but had a good read about her yesterday, including her recommendations to poets, which are ironic without being scathing . Apparently people could send her their poems and she would respond.

I am keen to read her book of reviews of non-literary books. She apparently reads widely in all subjects. Also found out she knows no English, though she does know a bit of French. Her speech at the Nobel banquet was in French, not very good. Poetry is what she does best, and that she does excellently.

Still reading Sir Vidia's Shadow before going to sleep, the book is working towards a break between the two men, Naipaul and Theroux, I am dreading it.

The title of today's entry reflects my concerns: I am over-committed at the moment and this writing started off just being a dutiful entry without having much to say, just doing my duty is I suppose a way of putting it, but the French expression says 'acting as if present', acting presently, and that is all , not being fully there.

I don't think there is an equivalent expression in English, which brings me to one of the points I want to make about WS's poetry in English, that the translation is so superb, that there is no trace of an accent, by which I mean use of language in ways that are un-English, as far as I can see.

More tomorrow. Two of my guests are leaving. Colette will be visiting someone else over the week-end and someone else again next week.

Good night, it is late.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Rejoining the dance

Arrived home the day before yesterday, late, worked all day yesterday, happy to be back in front of my computer, that left Colette on her own, but I think she coped.

We were on Stewart Island, in the nature reserve, Rakiura. On Mason's Bay beach watched the seagulls and oyster-catchers dancing a sort of minuet with the waves, a la Lewis Carroll,

will you, won't you,
will you, won't you,
will you come and join the dance?

The beach extended far into a haze, and you could see the black dots of the birds all along it within a narrow band, like a ribbon.

Not much reading during this time, except for finishing Jeanette Winterson's Art and Lies. It was an effort, her prose is so rich and poetic. Sometimes she goes off on a rant, which can be a relief.

When I got to the end, the last chapters which explain so much, I felt a bit sick and it took me several days to get over it. All the people in her book are warped in terrible ways, either doing evil or bearing the results of it on themselves, within themselves. Or both. Two babies are born in this book, neither wanted. The only good man is emasculated. Sex is mostly perverse.

Once we got out of the bush and had washed the mud off, I found two books in a Salvation Army shop, Zadie Smith On Beauty ($5,-, hardback, good condition) and Bob Jones' Letters ($3,-, hardback, with author's signature).

I laughed out loud all the way through Bob Jones' book, though I do not like him at all as a person. He'd probably say I was dumb to spend even $3,- on his book. Peter said that the letters were petty and put the book down after a few pages.

The Zadie Smith I could not read, that was the second time I tried. I skipped the first part and went straight to On beauty and being wrong, because being wrong interests me particularly. I stopped at a scene of a man having sex with one of his students. Not that again, I can't be bothered. (The Cricket: You're jealous. Suzannah: Yes, ZS looks gorgeous (and young) on the dust cover.)

I left both the books with the lady who ran the B & B where we stayed. I told her where I got them, she shouldn't feel grateful.

Bought the latest Henning Mankell in Twizel for under $10,- (why am I writing about the price of books suddenly?). No good either, though I finished it. He is crusading on behalf of Africa and Mozambique. It does not make for good writing. Cliche-ridden, not enough editing.

Have just put the timer on for the last ten minutes, have probably written too long anyway.

Spent yesterday reading greedily about Waslawa Szymborska again, researching her on the Net, it was fun discovering poems I had not read in other people's blogs. I shall write a review of her book for Thursday week (1000 words). Had thought it had to be finished for this Thursday until Hinemoana emailed me that we're on holiday. Relief. At night picked up Theroux and Vidia again.

Started writing a poem about the seagulls and the oyster-catchers on Mason's Bay. It has to rhyme.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Poetry about socks

Bad scene (the internal world) too tired to do anything worth while, it is now Wednesday even though the blog says otherwise. Have spent the day packing and preparing for our trip away, plus cleaning the room for additional overseas visitors arriving here almost as soon as we're back. The literary part of my life has fallen by the way side (except for carrying on reading about Naipaul and Theroux). Colette is very helpful, she's a dear.

The poetry I read yesterday, standing in Unity Books by the poetry section, was in another of Jenny Bornholdt's books, where I found a very good poem about the value placed on limbs that are lost, (presumably by ACC, but that is not mentioned) and comparing limbs and senses like sight to other losses, like loss of self-confidence. I can't remember exactly but it made compelling reading.
More so than many of the other poems which may be whimsical - like one about lost socks, 3 lines only on a page - but too thin in content. I want the poems to say something to me, to lift me, carry me to somewhere new and interesting. One poem had the lines arranged in a non-regular way, the lay out being an important part of it. I felt that I couldn't be bothered to pay thirty dollars for it. Or to have it on my bookshelf.

(Cricket: - How categorical you are, Suzannah, how sure of your rightness.
Suzannah: - It is true that if I could write poetry like that I would be very happy.)

I'll be back on the 23rd, or maybe before if I can get onto a computer somewhere.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008


Only 10 min today, the timer is ticking beside me, Peter and I have to attend to some business which will take all morning. I had tried to not be part of this, but in the end I was needed, so there you go.

Have been reading the required readings for the e-course, at the moment to do with rhyming, I must get a rhymed poem on the blackboard before we leave on Thursday. Read The Lady of Shallott, had heard about it so many times but never read it before, found I could predict some of the rhyming words, which was comforting, I can remember the time when we were playing some sort of game with friends and everyone had to write a small poem, some doggerel, and I was unable to do it, paralysed. This seems achievable.

What is harder is the mutilated poem, finding the lines because what is given does not make enough sense. Am giving it my focussed attention this morning before we go, a breakthrough is required so that I can carry on with other stuff. Can't hope for too high a standard, must just do it, when the e course is finished it'll be easier to hone and work on the poems I write for Year 2.

I have been absorbed by Vidia Naipaul and Paul Theroux. Someone from his publishers' sent Naipaul a letter with his name misspellt, and he responded in kind - it was an Anthony Mott, and he made it into A. Mutt. How to make friends.

Reading Larkin is such a pleasure, it feels simple and good, it was the same when we went to the cello concert the other day, we listened to what was for me far-fetched modern music, and then they played two older pieces and it was a relief of hearing something which I think of as melodic. Glass' music for Leonard Cohen's poems was also melodic and satisfying, and yet I think not rehashing old stuff.

Time to go.

Monday, 10 March 2008

The Book of Longing

I always start the process of blogging by re-reading what I wrote yesterday. I want to edit out some of the mistakes I make, if I finish today early enough shall do that. Mistakes in grammar mainly, not many.

Naipaul made Theroux swear that he would not write poetry. Theroux was unpublished at 24 when they met. Naipaul recognised his talent, Th was writing and had shown what he wrote to no one.

Here's what Naipaul said about keeping a diary (or a journal like this?):

...he analyzed my keeping a journal and rejected the idea. I must abandon it, he said. It was just a way of anthologizing experience. A writer was not a writer because things happened around him. A writer did other things. A diary, more detailed, was worse - I should not even think about it. (p.114)

Part two of the book which I am now well into and where the above excerpt is from is called The Writer's Writer. Maybe I'll understand that at the end.

Regarding poetry:

I went to The Book of Longing performance last night at the MFC, we had cheap cheap seats overlooking the stage and it was fabulous, we could see everything that was happening and why and how, the conductor's image relayed via VDUs, the people coming and going, even read the writing around the drawings by LC and of LC that were projected on the backdrop - the poetry came out well, the Philip Glass music was faithful to LC, I felt it was related to Suzanne and I liked as well the solo performances by the musicians, (the drummer didn't get one), the music was lancinant that is a word I first met as a description of Beaudelaire's poetry, and of course longing is lancinant in its essence, the dictionary I've got - not the best - says that it translates as shooting (for pain), haunting (for obsessive) and insistent (in the case of a monotone). I think haunting is the best here, though lancinant is less ghostly. Translation of literature is a huge responsibility, almost like writing a new book.

Towards the end came the poem about LC's Roshi dying and right at the end LC's thank you poem said thank you to us, To my teachers and to everyone, it did not feel like a pose. Best of all they issued everyone with a little pamphlet of the libretto of the show, except that there were no names of performers, only Leonard C as author and Philip Glass, who was there in person playing one of the electronic whatsits, looking Jewish and a little dusty.

The 20 min are up.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

One idea per poem

Sunday morning - Finished reading Waslawa Szymborska yesterday, something happened and her poetry became suddenly much more accessible, re-read some of the early ones and found I understood them better, in fact could not understand why I had not understood them before. She sometimes tells you in the first line what the poem is about, or maybe in the second line.

I think I should write a review of this book, prepare it for later. So here is what I've got in addition to what I've written up to now: this book is a collection of works she has written over the years, starting in 1957, the latest ones being from a book called The End and the Beginning, published in 93, which includes the war poem of the same title which is the one Maxine Hong Kingston read out, with the lines:

Someone has to shove
the rubble to the roadsides
so the carts loaded with corpses
can get by.

And later:

No sound bites, no photo opportunities,
and it takes years.
All the cameras have gone
to other wars.

I was glad to find that poem there, I would like to learn it by heart.
Have read only this morning about an attack in a yeshiva in Jerusalem, 8 dead. I read the names. The youngest was 15. It happened on Friday. I didn't see it reported in the DomPost, and I must have missed it on the BBC. More Palestinians will be killed in retaliation and the situation will become worse. The cameras will be there then. More rage, more fear.

Back to Szymborska. Each poem encapsulates one idea, strictly. I noticed that because of one exception: a sweet poem about her sister, where she deviates ever so slightly, and in that context, it jarred. The poem starts from Szymborska's POV, saying how wonderful it is that no one in her sister's family writes poems - her sister, her sister's father and mother, her sister's husband - she explains why - and then there is a slight switch to a more universal tone and she really writes about her sister, and describes her as good at talking

she has tackled oral prose with some success

and writing postcards from her holidays:

when she gets back, she'll have
so much
much to tell.

It seems to me that the switch from the first part, about the family, which she relates back to the sister, is in reality about herself, and the description of the sister as a talkative person is a portrait and different in tone. So the two bits don't quite fit as well as they might. The only reason I noticed it, I believe, is that all the other poems are so beautifully of one piece.
They are often - always? - about abstract notions.
The sister poem is more whimsy-ish.

Apart from that, have greedily started Paul Theroux, Sir Vidia's Shadow, (1998, Hamish Hamilton), got it from the library, and the first 70 pages are already so thought-provoking about many things, Africa, the Indian caste system, the notion of elites of various kinds, and on every page, about writing, Theroux's and Naipaul's (sorry forgot to mention, the Vidia is VS Naipaul and it is the biography of the friendship between the two writers.) I must ration myself, too much prose.

Friday, 7 March 2008

A thousand words

Colette arrived yesterday, Thursday. I have to say the day because the blog is on the wrong date and I haven't got time to sort it out, I have given myself 20 min a day to write this blog, why do I think that Hinemoana would say, Far too long, do it in less. And I probably could too, so shall try.

Reading the Polish poet, still can't remember her name, looking at the adjectives - not many - and the comparisons, and more than anything marvelling at the depths she achieves in her writing. A poem that resonated with me, called Home, 11 lines, 2 adjectives, one of which is a number ( seven walls). The words are all simple - an eight year old would understand them, they belong to Elef milim.

One thousand (elef) words (milim) is the number of words taught a new immigrant upon their arrival in Israel, with which he or she can talk to anyone about matters of every day life.

Wislawa Szymborska (I ran to the bedroom to get the book from beside my bed) - Wislawa uses elef milim words in preference to others, except for three in this poem: 'homeostasis' and 'megagalactic cosmonautics'. The poem is about home and the mundane - she writes about an astrophysicist who "For now [...] has curled up and gone to sleep."

My favourite reading remains prose writer Julian Green, comparing the craft of writing a novel to watch-making, the problem being that you cannot explain a novel by taking it apart:

"A good novel is a living organism and when you take a living organism apart and put it back together again, all you have is something dead."

Taking only one sentence from the paragraph does not do his writing justice.

It's from The Apprentice Writer, Essays, published in 1987 by Marion Boyars (London & NY), and it is a translation. No translator's name, so I imagine that he translated it himself. Who better. He was still alive in '87. Shall check him up on Wikipedia.

Wislawa's book is View with a grain of sand. (A grain of salt?) . I've mentioned the bibliographic details earlier.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Domestic poetry

Managed to get hold of three slim poetry books written by women, the first I read was Jenny Bornholdt, the only poetry book by a woman in the whole of Cummings Park Library, entitled These Days (2000, published by VUP)

Read her with great pleasure, not always understanding, but always liking. Domestic poetry, a domestic goddess. What was the name of the goddess of the hearth?
(Thanks to faithful CleverKeys, it was Hestia, tho I don't think she'll do here, as she was very attached to her virginity...I don't think so.)

Am mystified by poems such as this one:

Treats from Dorothy's:
Wanganuis and Ginger
Kisses, Eccles Cakes.

Read it out loud, but none the wiser.
Shall send it to Libby, we were at Dorothy's just the other day.

A friend lent me two books of poetry, the first I read was nga kokako huataratara, the plumes of the kokako, by Arapera Hineira Kaa, a cousin of her husband's. Lovely poetry, also earth-bound. (1995, Waiata Koa, Auckland)

What I liked most was some prose that was slipped in near the end of the book, an article she wrote about cultivating kumara, a reflection on Pakeha influence on Maori social structure and mores. It won a Mansfield BNZ prize in 1959.
(My friend tells me Arapera had a bad stroke and lived with its consequences for ten long years.)

My favourite poem was one entitled Freedom -

If I could
I would live instead
in trees -
like a bird!

especially the last two verses:

I'd be free
to care for
those who need me.

Full of mystery for me, how come she was not free? Or did her body let her down, her strength not up to it?

The third book is The Hare that Hides Within, Poems about St Melangell (2004, Parthian,A. Clusenaar and N. Schwenk, eds.), a collection of 10 poems by both women and men.

Melangell was an Irish mystic who fled to Wales rather than marry and lived in a deep valley in isolation until a prince hunting a hare found her, the hare having taken refuge by the hem of her dress. The prince gave her protection and she lived there many years, establishing a convent for women who wanted to retire from the world.
I've only started reading. The book is very attractively produced, a lovely etching of the hare on the cover, and use of black and white, the white creamy and only a little red, the right kind of blood red for the purpose. I forgot to mention, the foreword is by Rowan Williams. A good start. I've only read the first one, more about this tomorrow. Also shall get to the library today and get some more English female poets. Maybe a compendium, if that's the right word. I need to focus more, in the direction of Jenny Bornholdt.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Jeanette Winterson

Read her book Oranges are not the only fruit, which I did not like. I'd bought it at The Ferret together with another one of hers entitled Art and Lies.
I am being stretched, her writing contains so much, both the thinking/feeling underlying it and the style, that I'm left a little breathless, as if I was walking with someone whose legs are longer than mine. She makes no concessions. Writing about the library in Alexandria, she puts in a half-page paragraph quoting Pliny the Younger in Latin. It doesn't feel as if she's showing off.

I haven't understood the shape of that book yet - its' subtitle is A piece for three voices and a Bawd, published by Vintage in 1995. The table of contents reveals that the three voices are Handel, Picasso and Sappho in alternation, but from reading up to page 39, I know that most likely the Handel and Picasso and Sappho are not the well-known ones. The Bawd has already appeared, called Doll. She is taking shape slowly.
All Winterson's prose is a kind of poetry.

I am also reading a translation of Julian Green's The Apprentice Writer, the title was irresistible, and I was in the section of the library that deals with translated literature. All wrong, I should be looking among the English poets. Next time.
In the mean time am enjoying Green who wrote in the 20s in France. I remember people talking about him, I wondered about the English name since he wrote in French. I read him before going to sleep.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Foreign poets

It's just 8:30 am,the blog has to be a part of morning routine or it does not get done. Now I've got to write my first monthly report based on it. That gives it more of a purpose.
Hard fight to keep the writing time intact. Gusti said Would I please visit her, she's never asked before, so must go. She looks smaller than ever.
Took out several yummy looking books on poetry from the library, including the unpronounceable Polish Nobel Prize winner. Shall get them from my bedside.

Wislawa Szymborska. The book is called View with a grain of sand, Selected poems, (Harcourt Brace and Co, translated by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh, 1993). I read among others Conversation with a stone, which repeats:

I knock at the stone's front door
"It's only me, let me come in".

Her language is simple. The poetry is in the originality of her imagery. I recognise the feeling of knocking on the door of a stone who won't let anyone in, can't let anyone in, a person or a group, for the stone also says: "You lack the sense of taking part", writers are mostly observers rather than joiners in.

Also took out Akhmatova, since reading about her elsewhere. (Poems of Akhmatova, selected, translated and introduced by S. Kunitz with M. Hayward, Collins and Harvill Press, 1974). The first one I read is called Reading Hamlet and I don't know why she wrote it. Shall ask someone who understands Hamlet better than I do. The one called Pushkin - again, it leaves me cold. It's about him, A swarthy youth rambled... maybe the translation is too old, it reads Victorian-ly. Akhmatova was not Victorian. The next one was just as bad - "I wrung my hands...", (their quotation marks, not mine.) It's about a lover's quarrel:

He smiled at me - oh so calmly, terribly -
and said "Why don't you get out of the rain?".

I cannot like it.

I do love Amichai, maybe because I know the original language.
From Quick and bitter:

Slow and sweet were the nights
when my hands did not touch one another in despair
but in the love of your body
which came between them.

The book is entitled Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems, A Bilingual Edition, The Sheep Meadow Press, New York, 1981.

Lovely, but nevertheless this is all wrong for my purpose, this foreign-ness. I need poems by women whose original language is English.

There is more to say, more has been read, but enough for today.

Saturday, 1 March 2008


The days in my blog are mixed up since I changed the look of it. I wrote the last blog on Thursday, not Wednesday.
This look is twee so shall change it back to what it was before. It takes a while to get used to something and decide. I like the cloudy sky on this one but not the other frilly bits.

Horrid day, accounts the whole day through and nothing to show for it. No writing except this, not even the fast practice which I love.

I must go, agreed to a movie tonight, a mistake, I could have used this time better staying in. Peter at the rugby.