Blue skies – writing and the pleasure of simple things

I’ve had a great week, even if the weekend did get away from me. There wasn’t a lot of time for blogging but plenty of writing nevertheless.

It may not have been quite the writing I wanted to do but it was writing that I’ve needed to do.

I guess you could call it survival writing? Or, perhaps, utilitarian? Work-a-day?

More on that another time.

Perhaps. I’ll have to think about it…

What does stand out for me about this past week – and what I’ve been wanting to sit down and writing about all weekend – is the awareness of the pleasure there is in simple things.

Yellow, orange and red nasturtiums
Spicy nasturtiums

Spoken words

Monday featured a lecture at uni and Voicebox in Freo. I’m not a fan of double-booking and I admit I was a shade late getting to Voicebox but it was worth making the effort to get to both events.

I slipped into that dim room just let the words flow over me.

Arriving late meant that I missed part of the opening set, presented by Siobhan Hodge. I would have liked to have caught it all. Carol Millner and Randall Stephens were both wonderful.

The memory of some poems are still with me. One of the open mic in particular stands out.

It was Annamaria Weldon’s ‘My Father’s Ikons’ was mesmerising. The room was hushed and still. The images that ran through the poem were just beautiful.

 To be held in thrall by the spoken word is exquisite.

I can’t find the notes I made at the end of the evening. I expect I’ll come across them tomorrow. When I least expect it. In an unlikely place.

It is always the way.

The right place

My other joy for the week ties in with study.

It has been a week of making progress and I was just happy to be working through ideas and making plans.

I’m not sure whether I’ve shared previously about how good it feels to be on track with the project. After prevaricating for a bit after finishing my Masters last year I’ve been a tad nervous.

I  figure that new actions and directions can be unsettling at first.

Settling back into a formal study routine has been tricky. I’m aware that I need to tweak my schedule. My environment is still not quite right.

All that taken into account, the ideas are starting to take shape and it is exciting.

I’ve asked my friends and family to remind me that I was this blissfully happy when I start to moan about how hard it all is and ‘no, I don’t want to talk about my thesis’.

I’m sure it will happen. It must be inevitable.

Friends seem at pain to regale me with horror stories about the process.

For now, though, for now it is a balm and I feel blessed and I can’t wait to get back to the books tomorrow.
A blue sky behind a jacaranda
Blue skies above

*But first I need to sleep. When did the clock tick past midnight?

Building slowly – trying to balance writing with all the other things

I’m sure the dogs I’ve had over the years have enjoyed chasing their tail. They’ve all seemed able to turn the activity into a game. One of them – Gillespie, a bull terrier/labrador cross – could spend hours trying to pin down his own tail. Then again, he also like to try to thump his paw down on the cat’s tail as she flicked it in front of his eyes. He rarely ‘caught’ it. At the end of the day, he was actually her – Jemima’s – plaything.

Working, playing

I finally made it to this post at the end of a busy but good weekend at the end of a long and busy week. There hasn’t been a lot of reading. There’s been a bit of writing – on a project I’m not ready to discuss, but its deadline is looming. Mostly there’s been playing. (Over the weekend, that is.)

After a week of mostly chasing my own tail – and NEVER catching it – a weekend of play can’t be a bad thing.

The highlights have been catching up with an old friend at an exhibition, taking one of my nieces on a belated birthday adventure and wrapping up the weekend with a family dinner.

I’m finishing off the weekend knowing precisely what I need to do over the coming week. I’ve scheduled my time and set my goals. Having this level of clarity is always helpful. Feeling refreshed enough to feel excited about the to-do list is great.

One of the few things I remember from Early Childhood Studies in high school is ‘play is a child’s work’ . (The other thing is that responding to an essay question that asks ‘what are the three stages of labour?’ with ‘first, second and third’ will not cut any mustard…none at all…).

I think play should also be a big part of a grown up’s work.

Would I be happy with work that is child’s play? Perhaps not so much.

I have to admit that I get to play with ideas a fair bit. I love it.

Even driving along today, the chatter from the back seat (I had such a chatsy-patsy as a passenger) was a litany of ideas and images that I think will work as a poem. Something of a further belated* birthday gift I guess.

Finding time to pull it together enough to have it a as a polished product might be a tad tricky. I need to stop thinking about this idea that time is something that can be found.

Time is there. So are opportunities for the type of play that lifts and sustains ‘work’.

Empty swing at playground
Waiting patiently

Levels and layers

Scheduling a specific time for creative writing is something that I have settled on, though. That’s a decision that has come from my extensive, and perhaps over documented, review of the collection of notebooks that I refer to as the scrawl. 

The big thing reviewing the scrawl has done is confirm what I already knew. Although I’ve written thousands of words over the past few years, there was a period between 2011 and 2013 where the only poetry I was able to produce was one sonnet.

Just the one. Single. Solitary. 140 syllables. Flip those syllables into single characters and I’d have a tweet.

I’ve sighed at length over that paucity.

There are all sorts of notes and sketches that are coming together – and will continue to do so – but the actual output of the those couple of years is a lone poem. Anything that eventuates from the notes and sketches counts for the year that they come together.

The dozens of essays and reports don’t seem to count in my work-tally.

There were thousands of words.

There were reasons (some of them pretty good) for choosing not to persist with a number of poems.

Still, I find myself sighing. Despite it being pointless and not making any real sense to do so.

No matter how I try to spin it, I keep coming back to ‘how many poems did I write?’

It’s about as useful and as useless as that.

Not that I really see it as useless.

For now I’m reflecting on how it is just a matter of how everything sits together. How it ties in.

I’ve written most of this post at a cafe in South Freo – Ootong and Lincoln – sitting beside a feature wall of exposed brick.

Thinking about the rough work that lies under painted and papered render hasn’t been a big leap. That said, it has been helpful in providing a visual – as much for me to reflect on as to pop in here.

Working back through the scrawl exposed a lot of rough working that didn’t seem to lend itself to a great deal of substance. Despite what seems to be just rough is, however, a good beginning. Now that I’ve pulled it together, it is a solid beginning.

Exposed brickwork
Brick by brick

The process of rebalancing the different parts of my life may be moving slowly but it is going well.

On that note, I must post and run. Here’s a lesson in the peril of departing from a schedule. Monday morning’s aren’t for rounding off a post. My day-job is calling and then there’s a lecture at Uni and Voicebox in Freo. I’d better get out into the day.

 

* It probably doesn’t count as belated in my family because we tend to run with the idea of birthday festivals. Celebrations can last for up to four weeks. They’re reasonably low key but extensive affairs.

A week of bookshops, mooching and poetry – my readerly-writerly idea of bliss

It’s been a busy week. There has been oodles to do with family, work and study. I may not have been productive as far as outside-of-work writing goes, but I’ve been busy. It’s been good.

I’ve taken a break from the scrawl. Also, I’m nearly done with the jottings I can find in notebooks. This is not to say more notebooks aren’t lurking. My study is chaotic and I suspect that not all the notebooks were in there in the first place. That said, there’s only so much backwards looking I can do in one hit.

Note to self: it might be good to read some of the books on dealing with clutter that are taking up space on the book shelf.

Despite not much to show for it, I’ve been showing up at the page a bit. When I’ve done so, I’ve made a conscious effort to keep the writing on loose leaves. That way I can avoid adding to the scrawl I’ve been working so hard on clearing.

While there’s nothing substantially ‘useful’ in these latest pages, a few lines here and there look as though they might be worth mining for later. I’m happy with that.

Late in the week I found myself writing in cafe. I got so caught up I lost track of the time and was nearly late for a conference/seminar.

I have to admit it’s been a while since I was immersed to that degree.

Photo of poured tea on a metal tray in a city coffee shop
I managed to find time for some cafe writing

Mooching around bookshops

Saturday was a cracker. I made it to not one but two bookshops: New Edition Bookshop (Freo) and Bookcaffe (Swanbourne). I was tempted to make it three when I went to go to the library –  the Coop (UWA) – but I figured I had some work to do.* I kept myself to just the two.

I’m excited that NEB is back. There’s been a bit of an hiatus while they’ve been moving premises. I don’t know what the full story is but I’ve missed them while they’ve been away. I know ‘they’ are a different ‘them’ but I’m sure you get my point.

I like mooching about Freo. I love mooching about Freo going from bookshop to bookshop. That’s been a tad tricky in recent times. The Freo bookshop count is generally in decline, NEB hasn’t been around and my mooching opportunities are decidedly outside working hours.

Swanbourne isn’t too far from Freo. I zipped up the coast to catch up with a friend on my way to uni. Books, chatting, hot chocolate, sitting by the window. It was lovely.

One of the books that made its way home with me is My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak. It is a beautiful, meditative riddle. I don’t feel as though I’ve managed to nut-it-out and I need to spend more time with it. I’m not sure when that will be.

Poetry night

Monday was great because it was, as we say in my family, ‘poetry night’. Yes, I made it to Voicebox again. This is starting to be a habit.

There are worse habits.

Again, I enjoyed all three guest poets. I’m afraid the titles have escaped me but Dick Alderson’s poem about almonds, Dennis Haskell’s about oranges and Kylie Stevenson’s about Deep Water Point all stuck me at the time as beautiful explorations of imagery and emotion and they’ve stayed with me for the week. Rose van Son’s ‘Meatworks, Caversham’ is one of the poems from the open mic readers that keeps coming back to me.

I’ve been thinking not just about the poems that were read, but the usefulness of poetry for narrative . The distillation of words and ideas carries an emotive power for telling story that I find visceral. A bit further along from these thoughts is how much I enjoy the poetic within prose.

That’s led me on to reflecting on novels that I read as poetic. Yesterday I picked up a spare copy of David Malouf’s Fly Away Peter so I could dip into it on the train ride home for precisely that reason.

In the end the train station was a shade too hectic for the way I wanted to read the novel. Instead, I started the copy of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist that I picked up from the same sale shelf.

A stack of books
The outcome of bookshop mooching

I now find myself with two copies of Fly Away Peter. Possibly not the best outcome for book-case space crisis of 2014 (which is very much like the book-case space crises of 2013, 2012, 2001…1975 – when I was given my first bookcase for my birthday…) but that particular thread of thinking – the poetic in prose – is always tantalising. I hope I can hold onto it in the face of a week which, I already know, is going to allow very little time for musing as such.

*I didn’t go into the library either to be honest. I sat in the sunshine while I looked for useful articles online. Being able to work remotely is such a bonus.

Poetry, memory and readiness – daily life and poetry

As I walked back to my car after last week’s symposium there was a kookaburra scrabbling for its dinner in the dirt under a tree. I stood for a while to watch. It was getting on for dusk and the campus was quiet. I was tired but happy. My head buzzed with ideas.

That brief moment watching the bird was calming. I took some time. I breathed.

I’m sure the memory of that moment will find its way into a poem at some point. I tend not to keep a journal as such but some (not all) of my writing contains snippets that are memories I want to keep. They are incidental – loading that word in a way I’ve not considered before.

It would be lovely if I had a photo to share of the kookaburra. Unfortunately, I don’t. (My phone – and therefore my camera – was in a bag of rice at the time.)

A week of poetry

Reading, writing and listening to poetry gives me joy. I think it is the play of words on the page and in the air.

Words were certainly in the air at Voicebox Fremantle on Monday night. Voicebox is a poetry performance event that comes around on the last Monday of the month. The format is generally three guest poets who read for about 20 minutes each.  Then there are about ten five-minute open mic spots that are slotted in around breaks. It’s a format that works well.

I don’t get to go as often as I would like. This time around I was feeling pretty tired with plenty to be working on after the symposium but I dragged myself to Freo. I’m so glad I did.

It turned out it was Voicebox’s birthday – and a year since the Voicebox performances moved to The Fly Trap, the side-bar at the Fly by Night .

The three guest poets for June were Allan Padget, Anne Elvey and Murray Jennings. I enjoyed each of their readings. I would happily listen to their poems again, and read them on the page. Elvey’s poems stood out for me, I think because of the way she was using some complex vocab in interesting ways. She’s reading again this afternoon – at the Perth Poetry Club – but I need to crack into some research and can’t make it.

Some of the open mic spots were particularly good. Anna Minska’s a capella performance of a new poem that ‘insists’ on being sung was outstanding. It mesmerised the audience. I was in awe of the poem and her performance.

After effects

The thing about going to events like Voicebox – even if I am just quietly sitting in the corner – is how they energise and connect.  I had felt so tired after work (and the busyness of the weekend) that I had considered not driving the half hour to get to Freo. At the end of the evening, I walked back to my car – this time well into the night – feeling calm and just that little less fatigued.

I’m back to filling the well really.

In the days that followed I reflected on the performances. I talked about them, and about writing. I also followed up on some poems from the symposium: Byron, Coleridge, Marvell. I thought about Keats for a bit.

Papers, notebooks and text
Bits of poetry taking shape

One of those conversations I had led to a request that I share some poems. I was reluctant but I found myself looking through my ‘finished’ poems. That, in turn, led to something of a mini-stocktake.

On taking stock

My heart sank a little when I saw the hard evidence that I haven’t had a lot of poems make it into a ‘finished’ pile in the last few years. I’ve done plenty of writing (thousands of words for uni, for example) but I’ve steered clear of the personal and the poetic.

That’s ok – it’s too bad if it’s not, to be honest. I’ve made choices and I’ve been aware of doing so as I’ve gone along and not committed to finishing poems. (I also haven’t finished other bits of writing. The poems are not alone in this.)

It strikes me, though, that this week’s stocktake went deeper than just flicking through. I wasn’t simply looking at what was there. I was looking for what I considered to be ready for sharing. It was material that I’ve shared before, why would it no longer be ready for sharing? The question seemed silly even as I thought about it.

I know that there has to come a point where I draw a line under a piece of writing (again, it’s not just the poems) and say ‘enough, it’s done’.

Drawing a line

So, in the spirit of sharing and drawing a line, here’s a poem (from 2009) that I consciously wrote as a memory piece. When I was writing it I really enjoyed the idea I was playing with. I was at the window of a room at the back of the Art Gallery of WA, at the Á propos poetry conference. It might not be ‘ready’, but here it is…

Falling

At the window
a tree lets loose
its blooms

To rain soft white
in overcast
morning

Autumn coming
a touch ahead
of time.

This brief prelude
heralding the
season.