Friday, May 16, 2014

A Messy Writer

Some writers are careful. Their prose forms with glacial precision. I have friends who labour for a week over a paragraph, replacing individual words, weighing the new form of the sentence changing the word back.

I am not one of those writers. I write furiously. When I have a sense of where I am going I sprint. Five words would be equally useful in one place and I reach for any one of them. I am happy, in an edit to replace a word with another, ripping it out and filling the gap without hesitation. I have been known to hack out twenty thousand of those words in a day, deleting whole chapters as if I were using a machete on an overgrown garden, ripping out the bushes with the weeds.

I am jealous of the careful writer. I am reading Favel Parrett's latest book and here is all the care in each breath. Here is a writer who hones a chapter down to a slight, resonant thing. It shows, this careful consideration. It makes a little gem, forged by time and concentration.

My books are wild places. They have forward motion, pace, flow. They dance erratically. I know there is beauty in a rubble and I suppose that is what I make, a beautiful disaster held together by hot glue and wire and spit. But when ever I read a book like this one I am reminded of the photographers I like the best, Tomatsu, Sugimoto, Paul Strand. I long for the kind of order that Favel can create, a line drawing sketched by the hand of a careful crafter.

Favel told me that she carefully read her last edited draft and even the first proof of her book. I am ashamed to admit that I am often too exhausted to give more than a cursory glance at my proof pages and if there is a bound proof, it goes in the drawer. I have never once read a manuscript I have written after that final struggle at an editorial level. A wrestle with a beast that I wish was already dead. I don't really care if I use one word or another. The thing has raced away from me and by that time my attention is already drawn and held by the next project. The current book is dead. I failed to achieve what I wanted, maybe next time, maybe with the next glimmer of an idea, maybe this will be the one. And so I go off chasing another whale, letting this one bleed out towards publication.

I wish I were a Sugimoto kind of writer, a Chris Somerville, a Favel Parrett.

The grass is always greener in another garden.

There is nothing to be done. I can read their books with delight and wonder but I will always, irrevocably, be myself.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dreams and monsters

I dream of a tiny house in the cold and all the configurations of laying two mattresses. The compromises and the final disappointment of a squeeze for space. I step into another cabin and there the beds are stacked three high and there is room for a chair and I realise I will not be able to work in my own cramped version of a home.

I dream that my father is not home when I visit him. The door is open and the snow blows through onto the carpet. I dream of my own confusion and when finally I find a cafe where someone knows his name they tell me he has gone to a different valley to recover the body of his child. Not me then for I am alive, but my sister, who has taken her own life.

Awake I wonder about meanings. Not real things but imaginary beasts that stalk my sleeping mind. I have thought of my own death so much this year and my relationship to the idea of end has changed since our familial grave was dug. There is no longer the sharp relief of it for I can see now that the endless trudge goes on and that death changes so little. The tedium. I have stopped walking up to the bridge and gazing down because there seems to be no relief in death.

In two weeks I will go away, to speak about writing and then to write. First I will write alongside someone, the shared pain, the promise of a new perspective on our work. Then I will fly south. I will find that too-small cabin and I will face the bitter winter of our southernmost point.

This is what I need and want and yet I fear it. Every step towards Tasmania makes me more afraid. What if I have all the time and still cannot write it. What if my eyes are open now, post-death, to the true pointlessness of life and what if I cannot capture it in words on a page. What if I am not a better writer now but I have leaped forward in my own clear-sighted judgement. What if I can see into my own soul and know what I suspected, that I am withered, talentless and bitter, a dried up fruit, all potential leaked away in sticky years of nothing.

I wake from dreams of monsters knowing that they are dreams of myself.

Under the bed, there I am. In the scratch of branches against the wall there is my thin cold voice. To go away to write is to go away with my monstrous self and yes, I am afraid.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Anne Carson's branch and my breast

Anne Carson may have been using an analogy when she talked about the project. One branch on one particular tree and a new poem written every day, honing down to the specifics, seeing a thing anew each time. An exercise that may be an invention for a poem which is fictional although it resonates like truth.

I read it walking to work. An hour, with a book clutched in my hand, one eye on the path before me, and more than half of my attention stolen by a recent grief. I glanced a tree with my shoulder. I almost but didn't trip off the path. All other moments in the real world are erased or never came to my attention, just this one throbbing idea remains like a bruise, a fresh wound. A new poem every day about a small thing, something barely worth noticing, noticed, repeatedly and with such detail.

This thing I must do.

Not a branch then as my life here seems impermanent. The only thing I take with me is my body. This body. This one ever-changing part of my body. My breast.

I need a new place for this exercise. I need to quarantine my breast into a space of its own. I will examine it. One small observation, or long, or just a word. Each day, the differences detailed beginning now.

When I walk reading poetry the meaning of it is drummed into my body with each step. Like learning lines for the stage, I take a part of it into myself in step with my forward motion. I take her branch into me and I cup it into the palm of my hand and my nipple opens like a bud unseasonably at the beginning of a colder season.

What becomes of a breast over the days and years and decades I have left? Is it cut from me? irradiated? nuzzled? pricked with cold. Do I notice the sag of time, the skin that grows inelastic, the ineluctable dance of time? Come with me and gaze at it, touch it as you might in self-examination. Or don't. You may have your own branch or breast or sky to attend to. Or you may be content to read the changing of the seasons in a branch in The Beautiful Husband by Carson herself.

Either way, it is here.