Category: Embodied writing

Some thoughts on Alison Whittaker’s process

Alison Whittaker, pictured at Poetry on the Move 2019.
Photo by Kendall Kirkwood.

Hello poets and readers,

Our podcast with Gomeroi poet and lawyer Alison Whittaker was full of insights. We introduced the podcast by quoting her comment about the similarity between the law and poetry, in terms of reducing things to essentials: “The logics of law and poetry boil meaning and power down to their barest components.” The issue here is clarity of language. Commenting on the law without doing further injustice to the people affected by it motivates Alison. She wants to demonstrate how settler colonial power is exerted through language in a legal context. In three poems from her collection Blakwork, she uses tools developed for search engine optimisation, including trigrams, and searches court and coroners’ reports for these commonly used three-word phrases. Arranged into stanzas, the phrases exhibit what Alison describes as a certain rawness without the evasiveness sometimes found in law; the poetry deals purely with the mechanics and logics of legal decisions.

Alison explains that her process consists largely of employing poetic restraint. She eliminates some choices to be able to make other choices more fully. Interestingly, she says that these poems resonate most with readers.

She describes herself as an increasingly collectively driven poet, because of the way she learns from others. The power of teaching poetry has also strengthened community connections. She explores the usefulness of poetic restraint here, too, in workshops where participants are provided with restriction and stimulus and have to adapt in ‘controlled panic’, producing the raw material for a chapbook of poetry in just three hours. The writers’ willingness to adapt to the process creates surprises valuable to poetry. The concept of authorship can also dissolve in collaborative ventures in healthy ways. Writing for the stage has also informed her writing.

She often uses movement, particularly walking, to help establish the rhythm of a poem. Her poems ‘many girls, white linen’ and ‘murrispacetime’, for example, were shaped by being spoken aloud whilst pacing the sections of a tiled kitchen. She also describes walking through the snow for an hour each morning in preparation for writing on a stay in the US.

Sharing her insights into these specific aspects of process gives other poets opportunities. Her ideas about narrative nonfiction, experimental memoir and reportage raise important questions about the journalistic capacity of poetry. It’s an aspect of writing she’s keen to continue to explore, perhaps in a verse novel – we look forward to seeing how these drivers of Alison’s creative process continues to develop.

Creativity and Innovation Short Course Online

Owen speaking

Hello poets and readers,

If you’ve been following Poetry in Process and would like to delve further into some of the findings of this research, I’m running a short, intensive online course based on the findings of Poetry in Process called Creativity and Innovation, from the 27th-30th July. The course takes the form of four three-hour workshops over four days, and is run through the University of Canberra.

It highlights the following factors that have been found to contribute to innovation:

  • The need for physicality, play and movement
  • The importance of experiment, especially with different points of view, as a way of enhancing understanding and empathy
  • How using novel creative approaches, including collaboration, helps us generate creative ideas and tackle problems
  • The value of other disciplines and genres, and how creativity can become a way of managing diverse tasks

Details here.

Some thoughts on Merlinda Bobis’ process

Hello poets and readers,

In 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.

Podcast: Merlinda Bobis’ process

Poetry – “Most of the time, it’s an accident of composition.”

Hello poets and readers,

We’re delighted to be able to bring you an interview with Filipino-Australian poet Merlinda Bobis. Bobis’ assertion that the writing of poetry is accidental is reflected in the title of her most recent collection Accidents of Composition (2017). Her poetry is characterised by a sense of universal connection with the natural world, reflected in the use of other voices and points of view, including the fishes and birds of the air. Writing is part of that whole, with art as natural an act as the world spinning (2017a, 65).

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