Introducing our podcast with Filipino-Australian poet Merlinda Bobis, I mentioned her poem ‘siesta’, an innovative multilingual work. In the podcast, she spoke about her writing in Filipino and English, and the way in which it is mediated by her first language, Bikol. Thanks to Merlinda’s generosity, we are able to reprint her poem ‘siesta’ in this blogpost so that readers can enjoy an example of her multilingual writing.
take me not
only to thaw the frost
of your old bones
imagining how stallions rear
in the outback,
hooves raised to this August light,
kakaibang liwanag,kasimputla’t kasinglamigng hubad na peras.*
but take me
on a humid afternoon
made for siesta,
when my knees almost ache
from daydreaming of mangoes,
and just right,
at higit sa lahatmas matamis, makataskaysa sa unang halik ng mansanas.*
as pale and cold
as a naked pear’
plucked from my tongue you have wrapped
in a plastic bag with the $3 mango
while i conjured an orchard
from back home — mangoes gold and not for sale, and
sweeter, more succulent
than the first kiss of the apple.’
From Summer was a Fast Train without Terminals (Spinifex, 1998, 8).
our recent podcast with poet Merlinda Bobis, she notes that consciousness of
process comes about after the fact. While writing, she is too busy leaping from
one thought to another to allow for this kind of reflection. Something captures
her and makes a poem possible. She describes the initial impetus as an accident
–her book title Accidents of Composition reflects this – the poem has to
retain an element of surprise. The poem leads her, and further accidents happen
as she writes, through associations; the poems seem to compose themselves. Analysing
her own text, she remembers what gave rise to it, an act of contextualising how
the work happened, and of looking at it as a reader. Even her return to poetry
from the novel was accidental. Her writing often begins with strong images;
sometimes she takes photos to use as prompts – the sense of ‘something else’
that is in the image becomes the poem.
Canberra’s Poetry on the Move is coming
up soon: 17th-21st October! On Friday 18th
from 1.00-2.15pm I’ll be hosting the panel ‘Poetry and Process’ at Gorman Arts
Centre. This event is free, but you need to book because space is limited. I’ll
be talking with national and international poets Angela Gardner, Judith
Beveridge, Alvin Pang (Singapore) and Katharine Coles (US) about their process.
Christian acknowledges that his ten rules discussed in the podcast build on centuries of knowledge about writing, and he notes the particular contribution of Ezra Pound to this kind of schematic for poetry. Christian’s rules are concise, illuminating and full of great examples, some of them from his own students. It’s best not to take the word ‘rules’ too seriously – there are really only guidelines for poetry – and to focus on what’s useful about them. I’d long been aware, for example, that using the verb ‘to be’ tends to flatten expressions and take the energy out of them – I’ve been writing, at this point, for 38 years, but it’s easy to forget, and I badly needed the reminder that Christian’s guidance offered. Christian talked in our first podcast with him on his process about formulating a set of principles that amount to a ‘periodic table’ of activities for writing poetry, and the scientific analogy is especially apt for his approach. Here is a summary of the rules with examples from his account of them:
our recent podcast with experimental poet Christian Bök, I spoke with a poet who
has a truly scientific approach to poetry, who ‘conducts experiments through
language.’ He accepts that some experiments won’t work, but is committed to
seeing them through, even if they represent decades of work through complex
processes. His poetry can be termed ‘process poetry’: work where the act of
creating becomes part of the content.
How does one become a poet? This
perennial and intriguing question is in part answered by recent research in
Australia. Interviewing 76 poets, Jen Webb, Paul Magee, Kevin Brophy and
Michael Biggs isolated key factors which help to foster excellence in poetry.
Although my research here emphasises process rather than end results, this
group’s study has implications for process more broadly: it’s about the making
of the poet rather than the making of the poems and can tell us much about what
behaviour contributes to good writing.
Sometimes I’m amazed and delighted by other forms of art and want to respond in poetry. I want to go further than simply responding through the content of my work. I want the dynamics of the other art form to effect the structures of my poetry, to help invigorate and update my poetry, in what I call a radical ekphrasis. In a recent article, published in Axon, I address the popular topic of ekphrasis – writing in response to other forms of art, and show that the close association the word has with visual arts is an entirely modern one, and that the ancient understanding of ekphrasis was one of the general ability to make a scene vivid.
Have you read the Poetry in Process blogpost about Lisa Samuels and multiplicity yet? Don’t forget we’d love to hear any comments about what resonated with you. Today I am excited to bring you one of Lisa’s poems that experiments with sound as meaning and was featured in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook. This is a revised version included in her latest collection Foreign Native (Black Radish Books, 2018). Hope you enjoy it!
People talk about the vanguard takes a turn its conscript energy acts on macro-particles as though you choose or Resolute you’re given mesh back to the deal your limbs eye dim harmonics rise for tiny ones Crash at you crash at me “give us a family look”
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 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).