Friday, September 16, 2005

My Next Book

I've not been much around computers this week, what with starting teaching next week. I haven't been doing much in the way of writing either, not since a poem what I wrote called "Every Planet Has A North." But I've been doing a little thinking, in particular about my next book. I have given it a title now; a very provisional title, but a title nevertheless.

It's something I learnt from a week at Totleigh Barton with Sheila Murphy and Rupert Loydell: don't just think in terms of individual poems, think in terms of books, or collections of poems. So many of us just write lots of poems then put them together in a book when we've got enough. It worked for my last book, though there's a few poems that didn't get in that didn't really fit with the feel of that book that were still good poems. But I think for the next one, I'm already beginning to shape the idea of the book, so that when I have enough, I can present a package that works, rather than one that has to be found.

Ron Silliman and others write what he calls the "longpoem": the poem that goes on and over several books, like the Cantos, or in his case it's the Alphabet. I don't think I'm capable of that kind of organisation; but I think I can try and see some general shapes. For instance, there are a lot of poems that involve travel in some ways: trips to Prague and South Africa, one that comes from Barcelona. Even the poem "The Westerner" about a man I knew who wrote Westerns and had never visited America is a kind of mental journey. Which brings me back, of course, to "Every Planet Has A North", a poem sort of set in space.

Planning the next book, even in the general terms in which I'm doing so at the moment, does give me the opportunity to look a little closer at what I'm writing, to see what it is that interests me, where I might be going. At the moment it's called "Travelator"; but watch this space; that title might well change yet.


Todd Swift said...

While I agree that some poetry books lend themselves to meta-narratives or themes (such as my last, Rue du Regard, which was about whiplash, desire, and crossing the Channel between French and English culture)it is also the case that one of life's true pleasures is randomly flipping through a collection of poems and finding a poem that one enjoys reading - and then closing the book again. Many collections are just one damn poem after another - exactly as the poet wrote them - and that seems about right, too - life is a series of exquiaite and chilling events - and poems take part of their measure from approximating to the weather of how things happen.

In otherwords, I am all for some constraints, forms, strictures, grands projets and over-arching schemas, but the happenstance of 40-50 poems just side-by-side in a book is good, also.

I suspect a lot of the opposition to poetry books without such form is a sideways jab at "mainstream" poets like Larkin who just happen to collect a bunch of good poems; but, in fact, Larkin carefully chose the order of the poems; and, in fact, many so-called Mainstream poets, from Hughes to Heaney, also select their poems to reflect various thematic or other concerns.

In some ways, random offerings of poems is the more subversive and radical aesthetic, non?

Scalljah said...

I too am thinking along the lines the longpoem, the structual idea on how it can be acheived coming after reading Derek Hines's Gilgamesh, although I have to confess at this point to being shockingly unread, as I haven't ingested Heany's Anglo Saxon translation or Hughes's stab at narrative poesy, but Hines (surely the best Canadian poet by a very long stretch writing today) has opened the door and given me an understanding of how to go about attempting to acheive this.

As for the three names mentioned the common link between them all (in my mind) is Charles Bernstein, the godfather of langpo and the posters on Ron's site seem to be collectively emanating from the Bernstein impulsed vibe, although with varying degrees of success, much of it what I would call the "Wardrobe, table chair" "poetry", which to all intents and purpopses, reads like random words thrown together, processing text into "poems" by the recipies or protocols an odd genius or two from the academy dreamed up. Slagging off those who have meter and then going and writing stuff using, what is essentially, the same process but in different forms. So instead of having a go at writing in recognisable ryme schemes and such, they will write a 12 line poem, with 12 words in each line, only using the first 12 letters of the alphabet 6 times, to reflect how world peace has been cut in half by global warming.

Tossing words into the bowls of their brains and imitating the very few genuine avant garde artists, in the hope that their lack of natural ability can be concealed behind confusing syntax and daft precepts of composition. Desperately wishing to be a cutting edge poet and only managing to be crap, unable to suss out what the real deal is due to the majority of charlatans and bores on cyber boards wielding the keypad, pontificating on what's what in serious tones devoid of all humour; or worse, the fey forced titter one hears when a fooled wannabee, thinking s/he is in the prescence of the real thing, nods along frantically in pitying displays of ingratiation to the non-pukker poet's monologue about why such a one is this great or that bad, using the babble, jargon and bullshit which passes for contemporary criticism.

Below is what I mean

tamato, leek
come outside
the meta story
see me in my distress
such is the torture of chliche
clinched in war torture
when Aron was my best pal in fith grade
we wrote stories
and cut our legs off

sort of thing.

I first heard this type of "poetry" in the subterrainean depths of the UK's dead centre of poetry, in the Betterton street basement, at the all comers Tuesday night gathering, where the full range of talent appeared weekly, from those busting out at the edges with raw linquistic energy, right through to the oddballs bursting into therapy outpourings more suited to the shrinks office. Two students who were attempting irony and acheiving the self awareness of realising what idiots they sounded and looked, like when one adjourns to a foreign land they found out they "were the question and not the answer" they "supposed."

But that's enough of that rant, I am in a prickly mood, it said so in the Daily Mirror str sign section, and I have been advised to wait until later in the week to offload anything too heavy, but I can't help myself.

I met Bernstein a couple of months ago when he did a last minute appearance in the Writers Centre; a whistle stop gig as he breezed through on his way to thes principal reading at a festival in Cork where the Langpo and Lingo innovative crew wove their po-mo magic (or madness depending on how straight laced you like your verse)

I caught him at the top of the stairs, half an hour after he stepped off the plane and extended my hand to him as he was lumbering up the steps with the poet director of the centre, telling him of what a fan I was and so was the second Irish poet he had met on the ground. I ended up spinning him one of mine and asking if he fancied adjourning to the Tuesday night Warble in Gogarty's pub, but he decided against it, going instead (I presume) to Burdocks chip shop to sample the stodge from one of Dublins best known insitutions.

It was important to meet him in the flesh as I got to see the man behind the writing and measure my own sincerity in the process, just by being in his prescence. I find that Waling is also bound up in this measuring of myself as is Sheila Murphy.

Murphy posts on the collaborative blogspot I am involved with, As/Is and I can recognise her stuff by sight now, and she is the best one on it. As for learning from her I "nicked" a stylistic trick from her and found a use for itl.

The trick is




A star symbol dividing up the line breaks


Like this


And when I wrote a piece using




and inverting them


like this


I knew I had come to possess it as my own. As for Loydell, I learned how to write in a room with music playing. I met him when I was a 36 year old student in my final year of writing school. I did the warm up for his reading, along with some MA students and the following day we had a session with him, which had an air of very controlled energy about it. The room was somewhat cramped and I arrived just after it started and realsied straight away that Rupert likes to keep an orderly class. He didn't tell any gags and it was a mathmatically based group composition, as I remember. However it went there was lots of toing and froing od paper from person to person scribbling downs words as different music played. So a snippet of wagner would play and he would deliver in a whispered bark

"Write down your favourite memory"

I seem to recall that he was forced to use a tape recorder as the usual state of affairs, vis a vis the technology, was not running to the usual script, and so there was lots of manual interjection and clicking sounds registering the change in sound.