Some thoughts on the process of Melinda Smith

Hello poets and readers,

In our recent podcast, Australian poet Melinda Smith gave us a wonderful variety of insights into the processes that make up her writing practice. Can we learn from poets such as Melinda and adapt ways to update or invigorate our own writing?

Melinda talks about having to be in a semi dream-like state when putting pen to paper, and with it the need to get strange things out of the subconscious. For her, time in nature helps activate aspects of the subconscious, as does an awareness of one’s own bio-rhythms and how they relate to optimum times for writing. There are other aids too, if you can’t get into nature: listening to music, perhaps something you don’t normally listen to, can have a similar effect, as can reading someone else’s poetry. Being sleep deprived might also activate the dream state, and here she references the teachings of Susan Hampton (from a workshop in 2004), who talked about writing as a limbic state.

Melinda is particularly receptive to the use of fragment and found material, and her project on misogynistic language (see the Ernie Ecob poem here) will form the core of her next collection. When asked what found material offered her writing she answered that it gave her a liberating feeling of playing with words that aren’t hers and arranging them to say things she doesn’t yet know she wants to say; she sees this as another gateway into that playful dream-like space.

Melinda’s practice is collaborative. She values a collective approach to editing very highly and enjoys discussions of new works with a poetry group that meets each month. She also improvises spoken word with the Australian Dance Party’s Co-Lab project, led by Alison Plevey, which includes members of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra improvising on electronic instruments. Dancers, poet and musicians respond to each other, and Melinda keeps snippets of the text generated. They act as unusual poem prompts, taking the brain in different directions, and she saves them up for dry moments. What’s useful here, she says, is bouncing off the energy of another creative consciousness.

My next blog will be about accessing the subconscious, but there are a number of ideas here that one could easily try out. Awareness of one’s own biorhythms may be particularly important at a personal level, but at a much less personal level using found text can be equally freeing. Collaboration, and the work of other kinds of artists, pushes us to explore otherwise unknown possibilities, insights which can help us develop as poets.

What resonated with you? How do you access the subconscious? Do you use fragment or found materials? Have you collaborated with other poets, artists or technology? I’d be delighted if you posted your comments and thoughts below.

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