Poetry in film – January – Bright Star

As far as tangents go, I’m liking this poetry-in-film ‘project’. It offers time out but also structure. The fun part is that I can share the films with friends and family, but not necessarily the poetry. This is an important point since not everyone in my world is a fan of poetry. Here is potential for a spot of poetry by stealth.

Stealth poetry. It could be my new thing.

I can’t say that I’ve made a great deal of progress exploring Keats as a poet. I don’t often work with strongly rhyming forms and I can find them a challenge to read.* Yes, I know. This is odd given many of the texts I’m working with for my research … That said, I’ve dipped into the new volume I picked up at my fave secondhand bookstore and I’ve cruised around some websites.

With this being as far as I’ve gotten, my position in relation to Keats is going to have to remain as peripheral for now. What follows is, therefore, a general reaction rather than a considered comment.

A toe in the water

In my reading around the place I came across some observations about Keats being an uneven poet and from my toe-in-the-water effort I can see how this would be true. There are poems that just don’t work for me (‘A Song About Myself’ comes to mind even though I can see that there is a progression in there which I might enjoy looking at at a later point) but others are beautiful. I enjoyed the repetitions in ‘A Prophecy: To George Keats in America’. ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’ is a favourite, as is ‘Ode to Autumn’.

I remember attending a talk on ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’ and feel I should hunt out my notes from that day. Unfortunately, hunt in this case is not a euphemism. I can’t remember ‘when, where or who’ at the moment so I’m stumped as to where to go in search of the notes. I do remember that my curiosity was piqued and I spent some time looking at the poem and Chapman’s Homer for a bit.

(And now, as I write that, I remember what it was that was happening around that time. There was chaos. At least I know which set of notebooks to go to …)

I think the poem that I am most likely to keep coming back to is ‘Ode to Autumn’. As far as an anchor for working through the body of work goes, I don’t think this is a bad choice. I have wondered (idly) whether I might like to write out a copy of the poem to have on a board near my writing space.

Then I think of the state of my writing space and … I turn my attention to other things.

Hello, domestic avoidance.

A tree in the Patricia Crawford Court last autumn
One of my autumn memories

Back to the film

Of course, what has brought me to this point is Jan Campion’s film Bright Star. The film is visually lush and I love it. Obviously, there is a fair bit of embroidering on the details of Keats’ life in order to construct a story for a ‘mass’ audience. I don’t mind a bit of embroidery in a film. It isn’t as though I was watching it for a true representation of Keats’ life. If I want ‘the truth’ I’ll find a biography or engage with primary source material. What I found particularly satisfying is that, in a stroke of serendipity, the film has been useful not just because of the pleasure factor of beetling about the place thinking of poetry but also because of one of the narrative’s strands: Fanny Braun’s obsession with (perhaps that should be reliance on) fashion.

My research topic is focused on late-medieval English texts and the connections between clothing and women’s personal agency. I’m starting to build up a little list of films that have statements about clothing/fashion which have nothing really to do with my topic but are interesting in terms of how personal agency is connected to dress. The most obvious of these is The Devil Wears Prada (David Frankel, 2006) but there are some others that I am sure are going to come up at some point.*

In Bright Star, Fanny talks about the connection between originality, or singularity, of dress and how that connects with personality. It comes down to the idea of the making and marking of an individual. In addition, Fanny’s skills in design and tailoring are presented as useful. Clothing, for Fanny, is not the frivolous whim that is dismissed by the character of Charles Brown. Rather, it a statement of self and a practical means of survival. She might make money from her creations but Brown (and Keats) is unlikely to.

Fiction it may be but, as a reflection point, this has been incredibly useful in the past few weeks in terms of considering how modern audiences and readerships make meaning of medieval and early modern texts. I’ve been thinking about the relevance of production and reception contexts – in general terms of theory but also as part of what the forces are that are shaping my own readings and the direction of my research.

Three scented stars intended as pomanders in place of the picture of the night sky was planning on using but couldn't because, really, where is Perth's summer?
Stand-in stars

*I mention this dot-to-dot connection between recreation and research now mainly as a warning to those in my life who may find themselves participating in research-by-stealth activities when they really think they are just ‘catching a flick’.

 

Between the lines – taking a break to be able to read and write more

This has been a better week. Taking some time out last week was well worth it. I’ll admit to still being tired but not like I was last week. I was, to be frank, wiped out by the time the weekend came around.

This week has been slow but I’ve been more productive. I had a particularly good night of revising the draft of my introduction on Thursday. For a while in the mid to late afternoon I was worried I might not settle to the page and then, in a rush, I did. It was great.

I must get back to that page soon because there is still a (frightening) lot of work to do. However, in the spirit of recognising that I’ve been pushing too hard for too long, I took Friday night off to catch up with a friend and take in a movie.

We saw The Brand New Testament (Jaco Van Dormael, 2015) at Somerville. I enjoyed the movie. It featured a misanthropic God, his downtrodden wife and his daughter who dreams of a kinder world. It was irreverent, surreal and thoroughly enjoyable.

Somerville and tea

I suspect that I’ve mentioned the Somerville before. If you don’t know Perth (and as I’ve found out recently, even if you do) you might not have heard of the Somerville. It is an outdoor cinema at UWA. The Perth International Arts Festival presents a season of films there (and at the Pines at ECU) every summer.

Going to the Somerville is always lovely. Even on the nights when the films are not particularly to my taste.*

An outside movie on a balmy summer evening in the company of good friends goes a long way towards giving me joy. On evenings when I choose to go alone, I find it is a great place for reflection, getting some notes on the page and then having some time out. Because I know the time out is definitely coming I end up staying on-task pretty well.

The Somerville was packed, brimming with happy movie goers enjoying a picnic ahead of the screening. (And some who were not so happy because finding a seat – even on the grass – got to be a challenge.)

The resident kookaburras were also happy. The picnics made for a delightful smörgåsbord that they couldn’t resist. The murmur of hundreds of picnickers chatting over their dinners was punctuated by laughter and the occasional scream as morsels were snatched from forks. It seems that food being between plate and mouth makes for an easier target.

So long as you weren’t one of the ‘swooped’, the swooping made for some light entertainment. (I should note that this activity is not limited to the Somerville and the ‘burras make good use of the outside dining at other places on campus.)

Two kookaburras at the Somerville
Plotting the next heist
Kookaburra perched on lighting rig at Somerville
All he surveys

There has also been some pretty serious café writing with many pots of tea and the occasional LLB.

This weekend alone has featured Bread in Common, Natural Light Photography Gallery Café, Matilda Bay Tea Rooms (which may have changed name…) and Little Way. There was Tiamo as well as the UWA Club during the week … I don’t know what it is about writing in cafés but it really does work for me. A lot.

The promise of reading

Progress towards the revisions has meant that there wasn’t the reading that I had been doing last week. That aside, there was a moment when a colleague asked me about what I had been reading and I was excited to be able to reel of the titles of not one but two books-for-fun and have a quick chat in the tea room.

It had been too long since I’d been able to pull a couple of purely recreational titles out and talk about being a reader.

I also caught Spare Parts Puppet Theatre‘s version of Margaret Wild’s Miss Lily’s Fabulous Feather Boa. that gave me a chance to talk a picture books, reading AND puppets with some of my favourite young people. All of which was joyous.

I’m not sure what I’m going to read this week. With the Perth Writers’ Festival – and its attendant flurry of book purchases – on the horizon I expect I should prioritise one of last year’s purchases that I haven’t quite made it to yet. Due to my appalling lack of control in such bookshopping situations, I have a fair selection from which to choose.

I’m deliberately scheduling some reading-for-fun as part of my conscious carving up of time. (It ties into one of those beautiful planning sheets I am so fond of.)

There is also some more Keats to read this week. I’ve been dipping in and out of his work since watching Bright Star. I haven’t quite fallen in love with him yet. Perhaps that will come. I’ll let you know next time we meet.

There is also a book about sorting through clutter. For now, I’m going to head to my (blissfully air-conditioned) desk at uni and the delights of connecting Derrida and Foucault, et al with medieval fashion and gender studies. I am loving this part of the work but I need to get it done and move on soon.

OWC Poetical Works of John Keats and Banish Clutter Forever by Sheila Chandra
On my list for this week

*I found Zentropa (Lars von Trier, 1991) harrowing, for example, but it was still a great night. A Mongolian Tale (Fei Xie, 1996) and Departures (Yôjirô Takita, 2008) are among my all time favourites.

 

Letting go – giving in to the pleasure of reading

It is Sunday afternoon and on the way to my desk at Uni I succumbed to the temptations of the delights of a pot of tea (or two) and a seat outdoors at Little Way, an eatery near campus that opened a week ago.

It felt good to be outside in the fresh air. I fluffed about with some work but not much. The tea really was very good and I enjoyed the crumbed squid I opted for.

On reflection, tea and squid doesn’t make a lot of sense as a combination and I will be more thoughtful with my ordering next time but each was lovely in their own way.

Mostly, I was excited by the coolness of the fresh air.

Newly opened eatery Little Way, on Broadway in Nedlands
Fresh and inviting

 

A cool change

I seem to be inside all the time of late. This is partly because Perth has been so hot and the air outside has been like warm soup but also because I’ve either been at either my day job office or at Uni. To be outside with a cool breeze against my face was delicious. To switch off, frankly, joyous.

I don’t often goof off on a weekend afternoon. Even over the Christmas – New Year period, I kept the work going as much as I could. I’ve studied part-time while working full-time for most of my working life and, as a result, my weekends have been ‘golden’ for years. If I haven’t been studying I’ve been writing.

Catching up with friends and family punctuates the routine.

Knowing how I ‘should’ be spending my weekend time and not doing so tends to leave me uneasy. Last week, though, I’ve realised I’m at peak capacity and I felt I needed to step back a little. The year is just a couple of weeks old and I’m thinking of a holiday; just a week away, somewhere quiet, somewhere without a library.

I tend to measure a good holiday by the quality of the libraries I spend time working in. The idea of a library-free holiday feels unusual. I’ve also been weighing up the idea of making the week technology free. I don’t know how that will go. Surely it couldn’t be as hard as it feels it would be? I

’m also not sure how I’ll put together a week away. I suspect it will come down to a compromise. A week off with just a couple of days away may do the trick?

While this will go down as one of my most ‘unproductive’ weeks on record, I have made some inroads. While reflecting on my thesis topic, I’ve made links between a range of unexpected sources and influences that will be useful for further exploration. This is more exciting than I can explain, other than to say it is always heartening (yet also, on some levels, disappointing) to identify connections between the world today and what I’m looking at in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

My next step is to confirm how to make them work. They aren’t ready for public consumption but I’m looking forward to developing my explanations of the connections. That my awareness of these connections has emerged through serendipity is a bonus. What seems to be serendipitous may, of course, just be that I left my mind free for some processing space.

Using poetic forms as a means to make notes and work with ideas continues to be helpful. I haven’t ‘finished’ anything but I have jottings that are promising. At the very least, they are useful as notes and starting points for the next piece of work. I’m still in that space where any words on the page are exciting; that those words might take on a pleasing shape gives me joy.

The calm of reading

I love reading but I lately I haven’t been reading fiction for pleasure. With so much else to be doing I just let it slide. This weekend I’ve indulged in some pleasure reading. I (finally) finished A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale and I’ve nearly finished Careless by Deborah Robertson.

I enjoyed the Gale and can’t explain why it took me so long to read it. The practical reason is possibly that I put it down for a minute and it got buried under papers for a bit, languishing until I uncovered it. I had been meaning to read Careless for ages. This morning seemed like the perfect time to crack into it. I’m expecting to finish it tonight.

The thing that has pleased me about this weekend’s reading is that I’d (somehow) forgotten how different reading for pleasure is from reading for information. It is wonderful to remember that reading can be calming. I love what I’ve been reading for Uni but, for the most part, it hasn’t been relaxing of late. This weekend I have revelled in immersing myself in stories and how refreshing that can be.

As the weekend comes to a close I am still tired. The dream of a modest holiday lingers as a necessary goal but I have to admit that I’m feeling more relaxed. I let go of the routine and, while I may later be tempted to rue the day that I did, it is delightful to feel this relaxed.

Lilies in the moat at the Reid
Memory of calm

 

The long and the short of it – the usefulness of short poetry forms

When the idea of writing overwhelms me, I remember the beauty of short forms. There’s a part of me that sometimes feels a bit guilty when I do this. Why? It is not as though short forms are cheating.

Putting aside the novels I’ve started and left fallow, the 80 000 – 100 000 word thesis I’m working on sometimes freaks me out. It is not because of the word count but the need for cohesion. The pressure for coherence bears down. Faced with pages of notes and (some rather beautiful) planning sheets I still find myself beset by questions such as ‘can I sustain a sensible argument?’

Now that I’ve worked my way through the first 10 000 words – which I suspect will end up as somewhere more like 5000–7500 by the time I get to the next incarnation of that chapter – I’m feeling more confident that I know what my argument is. Or, at least, what I believe it is going to be so long as I can come up with the evidence to support it.

Short forms

A lot of my writing is image based. This works well for me when I’m working with short poetry forms. I like the way these forms call for a compression of language. Haiku, tanka, cinquains, Ezra Pound couplets are among my favourites. The constraints that short forms impose are comforting.

The example of Pound’s use of the form that comes most readily to mind is probably ‘In a Station of the Metro‘.* I find Pound’s juxtaposition of the human/metropolitan with nature works beautifully. Those two lines do a lot of heavy lifting.

Ages ago – the century was still fresh – I spent some time purposefully working with short forms. They fitted well into my routine. There were one or two poems from that period that I quite liked. One was based on the structure suggested by Ezra Pound couplets…

By the Pound

Red cherries in rich globular pairs;
Words arranged in tight bundles.
Lovers entwined on the river bank;
Images wrought with measured breath.

It isn’t just the poem I’ve been reflecting on but how I was able to fit writing into a crowded schedule. Among the short pieces – which helped keep me focused – were some extended pieces, mostly short stories, that were cohesive (even if not always coherent…I need to remember that I might achieve one without the other). Writing fed into writing that fed into more writing. It was a case of filling the well to be able to draw from it.

The bigger project

For the past few weeks I’ve been revising the draft of Chapter 1. I’ve also been reworking the (beautiful) plan I had drawn up for the shape of the whole thesis. My ‘super symmetrical structure’ has shown itself to be nothing but a dream. The whole approach has changed, too. I should also be well into the second chapter. I’m not.

Looking back over the work I handed in I can’t help but see that I need to be careful with how I use images. Perhaps I shouldn’t be using images at all. I know I can’t mix metaphors in the writing (which I have done terribly in a couple of past essays…) but I do want to use some images in the course of the discussion. I like writing with images but I need to keep them sharp, especially in the context of academic prose.

The discipline of short forms needs to come into play in my extended pieces of writing. While aiming for the 80 000 words, I need to keep control. The language needs to be compressed, ideas well focused. Images might help express the ideas. While it could be fun, it is probably not appropriate to slip a haiku or an Ezra Pound couplet masquerading as prose into analysis and commentary.

Not only do I need to be making use of the discipline of short forms, I think I should be working with them. I have three reasons for this:

  1. I need to working on practicing concise language and compressed images.
  2. It is good to have a routine (and expectation) of producing contained objects.
  3. I find short forms can be effective memory keys.
Fresh cherries in a bowl
Sweet cherry pairs

The plan evolves

I think there is space to integrate short forms into my daily practice. Not as an add-on but as a part of the work that I’m already doing. Page after page of bullet points and flow charts have not been working that well for me. A few haiku and cinquains might be just the ticket. They can unlock all sorts of emotions and ideas in ways that are much more effective (for me) than straight notes.

Notemaking just got a whole lot more creative, and fun!

*I have no idea of whether he thought specifically of these as a form, and that’s a research rabbit hole I’ve no intention of tumbling down. I must not tumble down that rabbit hole…

Another new beginning – thinking about what I want to write

I saw in the New Year watching Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009), one of my favourite films. It was a quiet start to the year but I have to say I was more than happy to end 2015 calmly and ease my way into 2016. 2015 was relentlessly busy. There was so much thinking to be done, so much musing, I could have been thinking out loud on this blog a lot. But I kept thinking the better of it. The result? Just the one post for 2015. There were many words elsewhere and along the way but I found it hard to commit to them.

Something of a love affair

Perhaps ‘affair’ is not the right word. It was more a love-hate scenario, I’m afraid. I found myself really quite liking the delete button on my keyboard. I spent more time that I ought to have communing with the delete button. Not just the delete button, I’m afraid. There were also untold numbers of erasers (I started writing in pencil specifically so I could rub words out), shredders and wild ripping of pages in half and then half again. … Not a lot of what I wrote in 2015 survived.

There was writing for work, of course. I’m not thinking about that. The main issue was writing for uni. That was fraught, more so than I expected. I danced about my ideas for everything, finding it all frustrating and didn’t really want to bring that to this space. I’m only bringing it up now because I’m in the process of regrouping and making some plans for changes.

This is not just about the New Year

I’m not just posting this today because of it being 1 January. That is a nice coincidence. Today also happens to be a day that I have taken off. I wasn’t going to. I had planned to head to uni and get some work done. In the end, I just couldn’t resist. A day off is golden, such a beautiful thing and I’ve fallen into the trap of the public holiday. They can be so alluring, so glamorous – in its archaic sense of casting a spell.

Ensnared I may be but I’m pleased that I have not frittered the day away. I’ve pottered about in my study which is not before time. As I tend to race in and out there is a lot of ‘sorting my environment’ to be done. Filing and cataloguing books and DVDs are tasks that I know should be routine but … Let’s just say it is good to have dealt with a couple of the piles that were teetering precariously. I’ve been able to tick off a few jobs and tomorrow beckons as a productive day back at my desk. Yay. Seriously.

Refreshing this blog has  been on my list of things to do for months. Some of the planning I did for the 2015 revamp that never happened is sitting nicely in a file, ready to go. I sketched out a project last night for the year ahead.

The plan – as it stands at the moment

I acknowledge it is possible that I don’t need another project. I’ve just handed the first 10 000 or so words of my thesis and they need to be radically reworked before I head into the next chapter I’m writing. I’m looking at it more as a recreational pursuit. It is sort of ‘studyish’ but also my kind of fun … Have I mentioned before that I’m a bit of a nerd? I am.

I’ve started the year with Bright Star. I’m thinking it would be nice to watch a film that links to poem on a regular basis. Read the poem – watch the film – engage in some related (but not too much) associated readings – write about it a bit. As I’ve already indicated, I know this is my sort of fun and certainly not for everyone. I haven’t sourced copies of all the films yet so there might need to be changes. I also don’t know how I’m going to go for time. That said, here’s my list so far. You may notice I’ve gone for an eclectic mix and am open to versions that received less than glowing reviews…

  • January Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
  • February O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2000)
  • March Jabberwocky (Terry Gilliam, 1977)
  • April The Raven (I’m not sure which version … Charles Brabin, 1915; Louis Friedlander, 1935; Roger Corman, 1963; James McTeigue, 2012?)
  • May Howl (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, 2010)
  • June Lady Lazarus (Sandra Lahire, 1991)
  • July Winter Days (Kihachirō Kawamoto, 2003)
  • August Beowulf (Robert Zemeckis, 2007)
  • September Beowulf and Grendel (Sturla Gunnarsson, 2005)
  • October Under Milkwood (Andrew Sinclair, 1972 … or, Kevin Allen, 2015?)
  • November The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton, 1993)
  • December How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Ron Howard, 2000)

My year is packed already but I’m looking forward to knowing there is poetry on my horizon.

Ducks in a row
Ducks in a row