need to be able to inhabit the place of unknowing, in order to bring new
realisations, techniques, forms and processes into the known world. In an article
recently published in TEXT, ‘A New Suite: The Process of Knowing through Poetry’,
I highlight the fact that the noun ‘knowledge’ is unnecessarily
privileged in western writing, compared with the verb ‘knowing’, and emphasise
that knowing how to do something is the most important aspect of knowledge.
That knowing how to do something is what matters most is an idea found in
various forms in writers as diverse as Aristotle (the knowledge of how to make
things); William Carlos Williams (knowledge as ‘a living current’); Mark
Johnson (knowing as a process of inquiry); and Jen Webb (poets offering ‘new ways
of knowing and doing’). These are all descriptions of active states
characterised by the verb ‘to know’. But we don’t always know how to do
something until we’re doing it and working it out in process.
In the article, I show that articulating a full description of poetry composition from inspiration to the final stages of editing demonstrates that artistic knowledge is best defined as a process of knowing. The essay is a hybrid which presents a group of poems I wrote in response to the second Poetry on the Move festival at the University of Canberra in 2016. I discuss poems and approaches by Samoan-born, New Zealand-based poet Tusiata Avia and Simon Armitage, Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, who were poets-in-residence at the festival. The article tracks the drafts of my poems and the editing process, reflecting on the ways in which I work with unknowing and how knowledge emerges through the poems. The poems concern the topics of knowing and observing the world; knowing memory and integrating the past with the present; and knowing the body. They embrace embodiment, imagination and biography, conscious of antagonisms between memory and the present. You can read the full article here.
In an interview with transnational poet Lisa Samuels, she suggests that at the heart of her poetry and her process is a multiplicity of reference and background. When asked by interviewer Jack Ross, in the first issue of the revamped Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, which writers inspire her she answers in terms of categories, and says that she is as likely to be inspired by, “patterns, sounds, place histories, images, philosophy, statistics for a country’s fabric imports, dictionaries, encyclopedias, poetry, experimental drama, strange comics, physics hypotheses, theory, and manifestos,” as writers (41).
In this exploration of poetic process, I’ve been gathering what can be gleaned from existing interviews when the subject of process bubbles up. Jamaican-born US poet Claudia Rankine responds to a question from interviewer Katy Lederer about the differences between her first two collections Nothing in Nature is Private and The End of the Alphabet by saying that, from her point of view, part of the problem with her first book was that, “the subject did not determine the form” (in Henry & Zawacki 2005, 147). This, she says, led to a situation where the point of view of the book started to “typecast itself” into a pre-conceived portrait of blackness and immigration which meant that her own consciousness seemed to become lost (147).
I come across a great poem that shows originality of form or content, I often
wonder how it was made. The process of making a poem is often not fully
articulated and in my interviews with poets I will aim to be as specific as
possible about the writing process to elucidate how they work. I’m also on the
lookout for existing interviews or essays which may tell us something about the
writing process. I want to create a resource that other poets may use to
invigorate and stimulate their writing and that readers will find illuminating.
I recently revisited the text of UK poet Philip Gross’ keynote speech ‘Together in the Space Between: Collaboration as a Window on Creative Process’ given at the Poetry on the Move festival in 2015 and later published in Axon. Gross has had the advantage of a number of productive creative collaborations, both with artists from other media and, less commonly, with a fellow writer. Early in his career, he worked in a mixed group of painters and musicians from several traditions gathered around John Eaves’ huge charcoal drawings of Stonehenge, a collaboration which was extended to include the artist FJ Kennedy. The topic of Stonehenge is one shrouded in unknowing, which was deemed inviting to creative adventure, to leaving behind preconceived notions and to improvising.
I came across a fascinating interview with Indigenous poet Alison Whittaker in a recent issue of the Melbourne-based journal Rabbit. Whittaker is both a lawyer and a poet. She believes that poetry and law have much in common, since they both “litigate meaning and try to persuade people,” and both have rules and codes. They differ in their degree of formality, and Whittaker’s progress in both domains has become less about balancing and more about harmonising. This has resulted in the emergence of an intriguing process at work in some of her poetry.
One of the first pieces of writing I remember reading about process is Amy Lowell’s essay ‘The Process of Making Poetry’ (from a book originally published in 1930). Lowell was an early shaker in the Imagist movement, and experimented with lineation and what we now call prose poetry. She also wrote haiku and is anthologised in the recent Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years.
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?
Hello poets and readers. Have you listened to the podcast with Melinda Smith yet? Don’t forget we’d love to hear any comments about what resonated with you. Today Poetry in Process is excited to bring you one of the found text poems Melinda referred to in the interview, about Ernie Ecob. Hope you enjoy it!
Ernie Ecob . . . was arguing against providing bathroom facilities in shearing sheds for female shearers because he said women only want to be shearers for the sex. My mind melted at the number of levels on which that was the weird and wrong thing to say. Melinda Smith
Smith makes a lot of art. She is a poet willing to experiment, and, invariably,
the experiments pay off. Whether with form, or seeking out incisive and vital
new content, her work interrogates language and society. It’s reaped the
rewards of recognition in the form of the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary
Award for Poetry and in being viewed as a poet who balances openness and play with
a concern for social justice.
We have a society . . . in which artists are free to do and say mostly what they like without being . . . thrown into jail for it, and we should celebrate that fact and use it to aspire to be a society in which there is a lot of art for everyone.