Thursday, November 13, 2014

How poetry is different to prose

I sit myself at the table and I write. The Muse? I will have none of it. I am more interested in hard work than in inspiration. If I wait for the muse I will be waiting a lifetime.

Poetry works differently. I sit myself down and there is nothing but the words on the page, written in a different, heightened state. Poetry must be seized, it seems. At this desk there is nothing. The strict discipline of the craft will leave me with a gaping whiteness on the page like a scream arrested.

Today I feel on the edge of a poetry. I am unbalanced, dizzy with the heat and the shock of my flesh melting into it. I flick between A Grief Observed and Harwood and Best Australian Science and there is a vague hum as if the books are speaking to each other when I am not looking. I pace. This is how I write poetry when I am not mad or bereft. I have to catch it at a glance, side-on, sidling up to it. My note paper capturing the words, resisting judgement.

I open a painting and it is there, that hum, that image between the spidery letters of a word. I am quick to scoop up three lines. Then my pen turns to dough on the page. I must walk away and let the syllables rise like an unwatched pot.
My grandmother is shaking her head, she of the workmanlike elbows and fists. You must grab it - and the fly plucked from the air.  But my grandmother never wrote a poem. There is no grabbing a poem. It is more like photographic developing than sculpture. It is a quite sitting, half-looking, squinting through dark, waiting for the words to settle blackly on the page.

Today I have written two poems.

My grandmother is behind me. Tsking her tongue.
As always,
She is not impressed.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Writing a Glunk

OK. I may have mentioned this in my blogging once before, but when I was a child I was very disturbed by a particular Dr Suess book. I think it was in The Sneetches and other stories. It was a story about a boy's little sister who used to sit and think little fluffy things into existence every night after dinner. Then one night she thinks up a Glunk and of course the idea is way too big for her and causes terror and mayhem and it is up to the little boy to 'unthunk the Glunk'.  Now little Sally only ever thinks up fluffy things after dinner.

This story disturbed me, even when I was seven.  I was already involved in thinking up Glunks. I was reaching for books way too age-inappropriate for a seven year old. By the time I was ten I fell in love with Peter Otoole playing Lawrence of Arabia and insisted on reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom with its bible thin pages and interminable recounting of one military push after another. I had no idea what I was reading but I pushed on anyway. I was so proud of myself when, after several months of slogging, I had finished the book. I even really loved some paragraphs and underlined them. I still have my copy of the book.

I did not want to be stuck thinking fluffy things after dinner. I wanted to over-reach.

Somehow I have found my safe-unsafe boundaries.  I know what I am comfortable writing and I stick to small contemporary stories with a manageable cast. I still over-reach but it is always about the concepts and not the parameters of the story.

I have an idea for a novel. It is a big novel. It requires lots of research. It is historical. It is about politics and cultural cringe and all the things that I am ignorant of.

I am really afraid to start this book but it won't let go of my head. It has a hook in me.  I am afraid that it is too big for me. I am afraid I will fail trying to write it.

Still, I was never satisfied with little Sally's parameters.  I suppose you can't get your teeth into the fruit unless you pick it first. I am reaching up into the tree for the forbidden apple. I have my Glunk in my sights. I am afraid I am going to start this impossible project. Frightened. Hesitant. Starting now.