The Rope Walk is launched!

Before I blather on about the launch of this fine, artisanally-produced book THIS IS WHERE YOU CAN ORDER ONE. GO ON. SUPPORT NZ POETRY AND INDIE-PUBLISHING. 

On the weekend, I attended my darling friend Maria McMillan’s (I wrote a bit about Maria HERE) book launch at the Aro Community Hall. This is her first book and it’s with Seraph Press. It was a wonderfully warm-hearted event. The large turn-out and delightful people who attended were testament to Maria’s standing in the community.

This is my favourite photo of the event, because it wouldn’t have been a Maria event without a lot of tea & Maria’s favourite colour is blue – the lovely Crown Lynn colour glaze cups belong to the hall – a lucky coincidence! I associate Maria with tea and then another round of tea and then maybe some more tea but perhaps some toast this time, too….more butter please! I think I would like a giant ‘community-hall’ teapot for one-fill afternoon teas with all my mates. (Having said that – I’d probably have to boil the kettle five times to fill one. This is a teapot designed to go with a Zip boiler. Anyway, I digress….)

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(by the way….two cups of tea were drunk in the writing of this blog post.)

Maria’s partner Joe Buchanan designed and letter-pressed the cover of the book, including the drawing of the ship on the cover. It is indeed a beautiful artifact with great attention played to paper, card, pressing, stitching. Book as objects d’art. But it is not all style over substance….the poems, an invented family history across multiple generations, starting with the first settlers are rich, detailed and poignant. For a chapbook, this collection is dense and satisfying. It has the heft of a full collection in a chapbook size.

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Here writer Pip Adam (right) pulls her characteristic making-a-joke face and Maria displays her new shaved undercut…

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(At the launch, a man called Ian (who I am told used to work at Aro Street Video) came up to me and (gently) accosted me for writing this blog only for my friends and not including enough context and links. If you are reading this, Ian, thanks for the feedback and I have resolved to take more care with both from here on in! Leave a comment if I’ve failed to do so in this post.)

Given our long writing history together, I felt all puffed up with pride during the launch…getting misty-of-eye during Maria’s speech, and feeling outright joy to see her signing books at the sale-table. This is the moment every writer longs for! (I remember how wonderful and weird it felt for me at my launch.)

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There were flowers everywhere – gifts from her friends. These ones on the piano were just a few of the gorgeous bouquets everywhere. Here is Maria giving her speech.

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Here is Maria with Kirsten McDougall who launched the book and gave a thoughtful and celebratory speech.

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Here is Maria talking while Seraph Press Editor Helen Rickerby looks on…I liked this shot because you can see HR’s trademark stripey tights:

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Here is Helen Rickerby again with writer Helen Heath who is doing a bit of unsubtle product placement:

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Congratulations, Maria and Helen, on a wonderful book and a delightful launch. x

(Maria blogs HERE. )

Finally, writer Janis Freegard bidding me (and now you!) farewell in her fantastic panda-with-paws hat/mitten ensemble. Janis always has the best accessories!

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a sudden break

I feel like Easter crept up this year, partly because it is actually earlier this year and also because of the drought/summer that never ends. Although it is starting to cool off a little, I’ve only worn shoes and socks twice this year – most unusual! The hot days just keep coming. But here we are, suddenly it’s Easter and we have five days off our usual routines. We are staying home and I intend to potter in the garden, read books, watch some of Mad Men, season 5, and write.

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My writing has taken off over the last couple of weeks, which is a relief because I was feeling a bit barren and uninspired after the summer hols and obviously needed a good few weeks of thinking time before anything was ready to come out. Writing when there is no ‘flow’ is like trying to get lemon juice out of one of those hopeless lemons which is all dry and fibrous. I write and everything which comes out is either a) a rewrite of stuff I’ve written before b) self-pitying bullshit c) banal repetitious junk.

I don’t know if I ever mentioned it here but towards the end of last year I applied for and was accepted for the 2013 Massey University Visiting Artist programme. When you have kids, it’s pretty near impossible to uplift your whole family to move out of town for residencies, but this one is in my hometown so it works. (I am still hoping I can work out a way to do an out of town residency – homeschool the kids? But how much writing would I get done if I were in Wellington or Dunedin or Auckland homeschooling my children? Answer: not much.) I have the winter residency which starts late April and goes through until late July. The residency comes with a city apartment, which obviously I won’t move in to, but I am going to use it to write in during the day when the children are at school. I can’t wait! I can write at home just fine, but do get distracted by housework, gardening, the internet, visitors calling in….the internet, the internet, the internet. The apartment has no internet connection. Hoorah!

I had to write a proposal of what I would be working on as part of the residency application and (in short) I proposed ‘a creative response to environmental decline’. It is interesting writing down your intentions for writing, because to be honest, who really knows what will happen once you begin? Already what I imagined last November when I wrote the application is changing, but in a good way…my ideas are gathering steam and substance.

I get inspired by odd things – visual art a lot – I’m a very visual-oriented person, snippets of language I note down from disparate sources, texts seemingly unrelated directly to issues of ecology but which have a tangential, emotional link for me….gah, it’s hard to describe. But this beginning phase is very much a ‘collection’ phase. I’m reading a lot and collecting random stuff which is feeding into the writing.

Anyway, I thought I would use the blog as a place to record my experiences of the residency, just as my dear, clever friend Sarah did with her wonderful comics when she was the Frank Sargeson Fellow a couple of years back. I’m not as witty as Sarah and I can’t draw comics, but anyway, it’s as much for me as for you so forgive the indulgence of it.

My first ‘duty’ as a visiting artist is to give two talks, one in Palmerston North and one in Wellington – these happen before the residency even begins, in April. (More details about these to follow.) I get very nervous about reading/talking – despite years of teaching. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it’s always been something I’ve had to overcome some terrified, self-conscious part of myself to achieve.

Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’ is one of the books which is really firing me up. When she started writing it she wrote in her diary: ‘I am writing to a rhythm, not to a plot’ and she was terrified at the beginning of ‘The Waves’, she had a notion of what she wished to achieve but no clear sense of how to go about it. Without wishing to suggest I am in any way similar to the literary giant of VW, that’s how I feel about what I’m doing now. At the moment it is a ‘sense’ rather than a clear plan – every day I try to find the courage to keep working through the vagueness and inscrutability to certainty and clarity, although I suspect the latter two will only come after the project is finished.

Poetry reading in Valhalla

I’ve always wanted to visit the great heavenly hall of the Norse gods, so am very honoured to be not only visiting, but reading poetry there this Sunday. I wonder if we will be served  Sæhrímnir? (A boar-like beast cooked & eaten each day in Valhalla, which then appears whole again in the morning.)

Of course I am just being silly – Valhalla is the name of a cafe in Raumati South which has a monthly poetry reading. I am reading with fellow Palmerston North poet Tim Upperton. I went to hear Bill Manhire at this poetry night when the cafe was called ‘Lembas’ and it was a top notch night out. I am always delighted to be invited to read, then I spend quite a bit of time getting very nervous and worked up about reading, then afterwards I am happy that I did it. If only I could skip step two of this pattern.

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the future

 

 

(flowers i got for my birthday)

Have you seen the movie, Miranda July’s ‘The Future’? TRAILER HERE. It seems none of my friends have and I really want to talk about it!

The film was irritating in some ways and yet it left a big impression on me. There was a scene where Miranda July’s character Sophie is bursting with creative yearning and wants to MAKE SOMETHING…but she ends up pinned against the living room wall looking back and forth at bits of furniture while time ticks on by. I found that depiction of creative inertia/paralysis very compelling. I could relate to it, not on a literal level but on an emotional level. I’ve felt a lot like that lately!

I also like the way the film depicts the human relationship with the world at the moment — overwhelmed by how broken the planet is, our response is most often inertia and seeking solace in the internet…instead of engaging our creativity, connecting with others, trying to change things.

This movie is one of those polarising ones – people seem to either adore it or find it irritatingly quirky and self-indulgent. I am somewhere in the middle – I loved the tone of it, what it was examining about the human psyche, and there were several scenes I found breathtaking and can’t get out of my mind….then there was some cloying cuteness that over-sugared it for me. (Talking cat, talking moon, eccentric old dude.)

The film features an old yellow t-shirt that Sophie uses as a sort of security blanket. I thought it was symbolic/totemic/archetypal but reading interviews with MJ, that part is autobiographical and she really has a manky old yellow t-shirt which she carries around with her!

A couple more Miranda July links:

Have you ever seen Miranda July’s music video for Blonde Redhead? Simple but weirdly hypnotic HERE. 

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Here is a little film where Miranda July offers help to the easily distracted. 

If you’ve seen it, I’d love you to tell me what you thought about it!

 

share a little light

…entertainment.

It’s one of those times where I feel like I have nothing to say and everything to say which makes it hard to say anything. Therefore – here’s some happiness from around the internet which has distracted amused me recently:

I love Clover and Sage’s ‘Manifesto of the Conscious Queen’ – I like it so much I printed it out to stick it in my journal. Now there’s commitment.

Etsy’s channel on Vimeo is full of beautifully-filmed profiles of creative types from around the world. It’s impossible to watch a few of these and not want to go and make something right away.

I’ve been loving this blog  WHOLE LARDER LOVE (great name, right?) — the photography is beautiful, the food! and he has a book out at the end of this month, which looks equally great. (Note — skip if you are vegetarian — there are dead animal photographs.)

GEMMA CORRELL always makes me laugh, her work is completely daft and cute. I guess that’s why it makes me laugh.

I am in love with the illustrations of YELENA BRYKSENKOVA. The perfect quotient of light to dark.

Yummy ceramics for sale at THE BUSY FINCH shop.

I have a silly music crush on BELAIRE  – synth-pop band from Austin, Texas, USA. They sound like Stereolab and The Brunettes had a baby. Also, they are a band who exist mainly for their local scene and therefore have not tried to promote themselves at all….which makes them harder to find online…which makes them more attractive to me for some ridiculous reason. (in these times where everyone is trying to get bigger and bigger faster and faster….) I first saw them in this documentary ECHOTONE about the Austin music scene and how it’s slowly getting killed by big business…

My friend ehjc does good tumblr.

I adore documentaries. I would much rather watch a documentary than a fictional film just as I’d rather read a memoir than a novel….you can watch a squllion documentaries for free at CULTURE UNPLUGGED. They are mainly about environmental stuff, spiritual stuff and activism stuff — which if you are me is usual viewing of choice.

Hope there is something there to tickle your fancy.

art will eat itself

I am working on two writing projects at the moment (around the day job, the kids, the endless house-keeping and cooking)…..(‘oh to be a writer, a real writer!’ to quote Katherine Mansfield.)

One is my next collection of poems and the other is less simple – a project involving over a decade of journals. I am scanning a whole lot of journal pages from 1999-2012…it will be a very visual book. This project is tricky – I haven’t quite found my way with it yet. It’s like it isn’t sure what it wants to be….I don’t want it to be a ‘how to’ about journaling, because I don’t find those books especially helpful myself…plus I don’t think I have much to add to that canon….however it may have elements of that. I am writing some prose pieces to sit amongst the scanned journal pages, but I’m not sure they are right in tone. It’s like I am putting together a book that is almost devouring itself – like the OUROBOROS. I’m both sharing parts of my journals and yet critiquing them and journaling and the creative process all at once.  It’s all very messy and more than a little scary, however I’m going to keep chipping away at it and trust that as I work the shape of the book will become clear. Basically, I am trying to write the sort of book I would be excited to find in a bookshop….full of images, honesty, ruminations on creative process, thoughtful mess.

In the meantime, I take comfort from writers who have gone before me.

‘Any writer who knows what he is doing isn’t doing very much.’

-Nelson Algren

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‘The furtherest out you can go is the best place to be.’

-Stanley Elkin’

the god-shaped hole

One of my favourite writers, Anne Lamott writes often about ‘the god-shaped hole’ inside us – the  abyss inside us which yearns for spiritual connection or deep acceptance but which we will fill with almost anything else….drugs, drink, food, social media, hoarding stuff, being too busy, seeking peer or parental approval, hollow ambition, procrastination….we throw all manner of things into the ‘god-shaped hole’ but none of it fills us up.

This idea stems from an earlier notion posed by the philosopher Pascal:

‘What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.’

While in the 21st Century, many people do not believe in ‘God’ in the sense which Pascal meant it (a monotheistic parental god) – I think people still yearn for spiritual fufilment, although they might have different names for it (i.e. acceptance, contentment, happiness, connection…) and still often look in the wrong places for these things.

There is a similar notion in Buddhism of ‘the hungry ghost’ – the idea being that there is a ghost inside us who is always hungry and no matter how much we feed it, it always needs more, leaches away our energy…it is insatiable, animalistic…it haunts us. It is a paradox, because how can a ghost be hungry? A ghost is ephemeral, dead…but that represents the negative and repititive mental patterns we have which are illusory, not based in reality, and yet we can’t help repeating…like a stuck record.

Where is all this metaphysical musing headed?

I have been thinking a lot about the ‘god-shaped hole’ and ‘the hungry ghost’ in my own life. I have been thinking about what I fill myself up with…and I wrote a little bit the other day about social media. I also fill it with other ‘junk’ in many forms.

This is not about being a puritan, though because…

the god-shaped hole is a tricky thing – sometimes I get tricked into thinking ‘positive’ things will fill it. I thought that finally publishing a book might fill it – it didn’t. I thought teaching yoga might fill it – it hasn’t. In fact, teaching yoga has put me right in the path of an avalanche of self-doubt and all that I battle with in myself. The god-shaped-hole does not get filled with external achievements or with other people.

Therein lies the conundrum of the hungry ghost, the god-shaped hole. To quiet the hungry ghost, I have to stop feeding it. To fill my own god-shaped hole, I have to sit, really sit, BE with, see and accept all that is ‘wrong’ and messy and difficult and tricky about myself. I have to stare down the abyss at it and find a way to be okay with it. Only when I accept the frayed bits of my character will I be able to co-exist with them, without seeking to achieve them away, or numb them out, or seek external approval which will never seep in, until I can give myself the acceptance I seek from others.

I think all my life I have been invested in a notion of the future me – the future me is a better me, a more evolved me, a new me who has left awkward difficult me behind. Of course this is ridiculous – as the old hippy saying goes ‘where ever you go, there you are’. I am trying to fully accept messy, tricky old me. I am trying to let go of a notion that being me will get easier, somehow. I am trying to get clear about what I am doing in my life for the real, integral me…and what I am doing in my life for the god-shaped-hole, the hungry ghost.

Does any of this make sense?

Do I sound crazy? (It’s ok, you can tell me…)

What do you feed your hungry ghost? & What do you throw into your god-shaped hole?