Interview: Michael Harlow on prose poetry and his new collection
Highlight on Books: Rae Joyce on Three Words
People From Our Pages: Leanne Radojkovich’s PinUps
People From Our Pages: Céline Gibson on Writer’s Block
Short Short Special: IWW Winner Anne Hollier Ruddy
Interview: ‘Nothing For It But To Sing’ – Michael Harlow, with selected prose poems
[Ed. note: the stories included in this feature appear with permission by the author; they have been previously published or will appear in his forthcoming collection, Nothing For It But To Sing.]
It was reading that was the driving force and the inspiration for making poems; and I began early, 11 or 12 years. And then – thank’d be fortune’– inescapably falling in love with the girl-next-door. To tell love one must write. Reading gave me the imaginative freedom I needed at the time – and, certainly, a refuge of a kind from a psychologically unstable family situation. They are complementary activities: the writing out of reading, and the reading into writing; and they need each other, as we ourselves do. And there was a very observant and wonderful English teacher early on, who helped to inspire and nurture that desire to make the sound of words say something about those compelling confusions of the heart we experience, trying to grow into a world that seems so rational and irrational altogether; and what I think at the time was a desperate imagination. Later, after a great deal of floundering around inside the alphabet and the ‘romance’ and what words can do, I realised that I was looking for a place to be at home.
Or to put it another way, from a recent poem ‘Nothing For It But To Sing’, the title of my next book of poems that was awarded the 2015 Kathleen Grattan Prize (which includes publication by Otago University Press in August of this year), a poem that wants to say something about how art/ poetry can be such a place – ‘L’écriture est la peinture de la voix’. (Voltaire)
.... sometimes there is ‘nothing for it but to sing’; when the light out of its dark place comes stealing in: all the unlived life in you that wants you. The painting that says it is the world that asks to be seen. Go there. Until the one painting becomes again a place to live.
Poems like small stories…
Matrimonial, on a train
The twin nuns, their impeccably groomed and starched habits, almost a wonder; such a quiet music between them. Sharing a single seat on the train. On their way to a retreat and the holiness of silence—holding hands against the cradle-rocking motion of the carriage. Their visible elation and their bright smiles, such shared pleasure, brides of Christ; I thought, there can be no music without love. As the train began its upward, swaying climb into the mountains, their gold rings kissing each other, lightly
‘Poems that read like small stories’, indeed. As they should, I think, and almost always, do – even the short or extended lyric (or haiku) poem. Inherent in all poems (there may be some exceptions) is some ‘story’ or fragment of a story wanting to be told or beginning to be told. It is in the nature of language that one word is always in search of another word, and then another. Language in one form or another is always seeking relationship – without which, there will be no sentences, or phrases, or words-into-lines of poetry, or speech itself for that matter. It is the syntax of relationship in language – words conversing with each other always want story. Wir sind ein Geschöpf der Sprache und eine Schaffung davon’ / We are a creature of language and a creation of it.
This essential idea of words, and the sound of words coming together to make a poem or a text of prose, or especially here the prose-poem, is nicely put by the symbolist poet Mallarmé (one of the early initiators of the poème en prose) in a reply to the Impressionist painter Degas, who was desperate to write sonnets, and who kept getting frustrated by his efforts. His plaint to Mallarmé: he had all these great ideas, after all he was also an excellent thinker, and the sonnets just didn’t make it. To which Stephané Mallard replied to the effect: my dear friend, you must know that sonnets are made from words and not ‘ideas’. The poem ‘Today is the Piano’s Birthday’ has in fact been turned into a musical composition Performance Work on a number of occasions. The sound of words and the sound of music in that kind of liaison that in fact characterises the beginning of poetry in the western world (and indeed, elsewhere).
I seldom begin a poem with any priori ‘idea’ that this is going to turn out to be a prose-poem; and that I have an Idea clamouring for some words to make it shine – the latter might be at an unconscious level in a way true, but being unconscious one doesn’t know that until it’s made conscious in the poem.
Suffice to say, the form and the story generally develop out of a caught fragment of language, or a speech rhythm, or an insisting image, or all of these coming together in the beginning act of composition. I’m mostly aware that using words as a form of notation, I am composing a text that’s going to turn into some kind of poem/story-poem. Soon enough, in that act of composing or making a poem (cf the Greek origin of the word poetry itself, the act of ‘making’), I’m very conscious of the idea of what kind of form or forms might be available – the visual and phonic shape that might work well, or well enough. It’s the sound of words again that is so important to my writing-composing.
For years, I’ve worked as a librettist in collaboration with the NZ-Suisse composer Kit Powell. Early on, some of our work was presented in NZ– on one occasion that I well remember, a piece commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony for its 40th anniversary; most latterly, in Europe, and just recently a commissioned work for the ensemble für neue music zürich, ‘Microzois Piano Suite’, performed at the Kunsthaus in Zürich. So it is, that my early training in music has been an integral part of my work as a poet/writer. ‘Despite all the dark things there are in the world, there will always be music.’
To celebrate the strangeness that is the familiar…
The Weather in Mallorca and Tennessee
A friend, we call ‘Jack’ as in ‘Wake up Jack’, says he is growing older than he once imagined. He thinks that time is running out of him, and that he’s running after it. What can you say about life and death, anway? His children telephone weekly,’punctual as the stars’, he says. One, then the other, and they ask him, What he’s up to? And how’s it going? And what’s the story on the latest scan? And he says, What ‘story’. Then they talk about the weather in Mallorca and Tennessee. Another time, he says he’s been thinking hard about walking. Feeling the call of philosophy. Even if walking forward is how you get somewhere on the straight, it’s good to know that striding out on one foot the other is always going backwards, taking turns, isn’t it? Of course, they’re twins going in opposite directions, at the same time always in the same direction. In a fit of inspiration, he’s taken to calling his forward foot life and his backward foot non-life. Like being together and apart all at once, he says to his children; like the weather in Mallorca and Tennessee, don’t you think? When he consults his brother, an apprentice funeral director, all that he can say, is that it’s pretty much a mystery to him. We just die from life—too much or too little, isn’t it? And what about their maiden aunt, who had lived a recluse her short life in their family home. She had he said, a curious habit when entering a room and leaving it—of walking backwards. Then turning around to anyone who might be listening: ‘If that doesn’t confuse that damn fool man wo has been stalking me all these years, nothing will.’
To celebrate the strangeness that is in the familiar is one characteristic of the prose-poem that was part of the Surrealist project since the beginning of the poème en prose in the latter part of the 19th century (I’m thinking of Bertrand, Mallarmé, Baudelaire, et al). ‘Making strange’ was the bell-note also of a group of Russian poets in the early 20th century. The idea was to challenge and subvert current poetic practices of the time. It was about ‘trusting your language, taking a risk and making a poem’. Most significantly, it was a belief in and an awareness of the Unconscious, that great matrix and source of a world beneath the surface of appearances, that could create through dream and phantasy and reverie a poetry in which the imagination of reality, and the reality of the imagination, flourished. The intimate liaison between poetry and psycho-analysis – the re-discovery of the reality of unconscious processes by Freud, Jung and others is a defining moment in the development of what we still call the prose-poem.
In the house of poetry, to make more room for the connotative and metaphoric and sonic play of the language of the imaginal; and the sometimes astonishing association fluency of the language of the unconscious – that is to say, the imagination and its interdependent relationship with reality. The ‘strangely familiar’.
‘…which of us…has not dreamed of the miracle of poetic prose, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulse of the soul…the pricking of consciousness’. A formative declaration by Baudelaire from Spleen. And closer to our time, from the great Greek poet and Nobel Prize poet Seferis, ‘It would be very useful if [our] poets would learn to use prose for poetic purposes.’(from his Poet’s Journal). In the tradition of poetry in English, in what we still call the Modernist movement, beginning with Wordsworth and Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads, the desire to bring poetry and prose, the speech act of prose, closer together. To co-exist to the advantage of both ‘ways of saying’, in a form that is mostly self-defining – although there is too much of a looseness there too often in latter day practice, I think. But, some identifiable particulars that make up for me what a prose-poem/poem-in-prose can do.
On length, shape and feel of prose-poetry…
She read the map of his hand. Upturned the prophecy cup. Told him that water never talks nonsense. The gypsy girl, her singing bracelets; her eyes fierce with the light of her riddling words: that the early truth of real love lives in the eye. She said that all his dreams were true. Even those not yet borne on the wings of pretty birds. And she kissed the air behind his ear; and touched him there— before he disappeared into that great hole behind her words.
Brevity, length: it seems that a page (or less) or two, or even three… I tend to think spatially rather than word-count. Anything longer or too long and you move into the sustained narrative of prose, which can vitiate the concentration of energy and concise language we find in poetry: the more conscious use of metaphor and image; repetition (of various kinds) within a narrower field; enough room for allusion, and (any) mythic or cultural or historical reference. All of which we can find in straight-out prose, but much sharper and focused, and verbally exploited, in poetry. We want narrative but just enough to carry the ‘story’ or fragments of a story that language is always trying to put together. It’s ‘language in a condition of special use’, as that fine critic George Steiner says.
Then, there’s the seeming contradiction of the term itself. For me, it’s the tension between the two forms that makes the prose-poem what it is. It’s the archetypal principle of the essential identity of opposites; and the reconciliation of the conjunction of thing in opposition – the coniunctionis oppositorum. This is a core scientific belief in fact, and worth thinking about when we think about the nature of language, as writers do from time to time – however didactic or formalistic or stodgy it might sound.
In any case, when I think of prose, I think of the sentence; when I think of poetry, I think of the line. Working with these two forms together within a defined space-field seems to me to be an ideal way to say something about ‘how mysterious we are to ourselves, and to the world’. The prose sentence seeks time: the way narrative moves in time in a direction, the way stories get told. Poetry rather contains time, through the use of the poetry-line. Basically, it’s out of this tension that the prose-poem defines itself.
One can imagine a shape rather like a cruciform. The sentence-chasing narrative along a horizontal axis, and the way poetry though the line moves inside time. Lots of talk about time here. It’s about rhythm; and how in the prose-poem (or any art form really) the music of the language is arranged. I want the prose-poems I compose to have some kind of heard music, music as a way to make meaning. I would like the lyric impulse (in language itself) in the poetry-line to join the inherent musical possibilities of the prose-sentence.
And the question is always going to arise, and it should indeed, where and how in a prose-poem does one line end, and the following one begin? And does it really matter? There are arguments for an arbitrary approach, trusting one’s intuitive sense that arises out of how the text appears to be unfolding. On the other hand, there is also a more powerful and more important conviction that line-endings and beginnings need to be thought about and tested against the very nature of the way languages works, and the way the language is arranged in the poem one is writing at the moment. These are key places in any poetry composition. It’s a discussion that demands a fair amount of illustration, quotation, and accompanying talk – probably worth a wee, micro-essay in itself. At the moment, best bet is to go to the actual texts – your own and others – and start asking questions about what is happening at one line-ending and the beginning of another; to think about sound and sense, and measure and duration, and everything else that you might think of…
On capturing small moments…
Today is the Piano’s Birthday
Today is the piano’s birthday. Yesterday it was found alone and forlorn in the garden. Mother was not there, father was gone. But today is the piano’s birthday. Under the spinet tree the children touch it. The piano’s foot-pedals hum. Hurrah! shout the children. The piano is on holiday. They say Wake up and would you and we would, they sing the birthday song. They strike the exact notes without looking, without looking the piano writes a song for the children. And you can hear inside the song for the children you can hear plinking, planking, plonk you can hear how the piano conducts the children through a small wood of ivory; you can hear the music of running water. The children sing with their feet. They bound up and down. They pirouette. They call to mother who is dreaming on the lawn, to father who is at the office polishng his machines. And now the piano falls into a dream. The children listen. From far off birds with the faces of women, birds with the faces of men fly into the garden. They lie down. They call to the children. The children listen. They lean into the falling darkness so much light buriend there. They decide. They say Look how we curl inside the piano’s birthday. The children are the size of a crotchet. They are the stories being played inside the piano’s birthday. They are listening...to mother wake on the lawn and touch the space around her...to father close the office door... And today is the piano’s birthday. If we listen...we can hear mother call them a small song waiting on air, we can hear father enter the house with the courage of his tenderness. If we listen we can hear the one song the very first song the children sing, the one dream the very first dream the piano dreams... We can hear what we see...mother and father touch each other with wonder.
Those poems that you refer to that ‘capture a small moment, a fleeting something…’ The text that is ostensibly ‘about’ one thing happening at a given moment, then turning into something else happening, a small flurry of things happening throughout: the contingency of a word or image flying to each other by way of the associational fluency of the imagination; and the language of the unconscious being made visible; language moments of the ‘quick surprise’ that the wit of language is capable of; the dérangement des sens that Rimbaud championed; repetitions of a word or phrase, which can be a rhyme of syntax. Poems that comprise a miniature mosaic of ‘small moments’, at the same time that the narrative or ‘story’ element emerges. The prose-poem as a kind of gestalt, parts-to-the-whole, in which the details are meant to build some kind of picture story, visual and aural. It hardly matters that it may well read as ‘unfinished’.
I’m not talking about the Surrealist ‘automatic writing’ text, where willy-nilly everything stands as an untreated text. Rather, I am talking about using this material by consciously selecting and de-selecting the welter of language, and shaping it into some kind of formal or informal order, and emotional or feeling clarity. And it’s the degree of elusiveness that matters a great deal. And most particularly, the language and its tonalities, colour, animation that is at play. Again, the sound of words (and the sense that goes with it) that can make a thought or thoughts visible, and strike a musical note in the world’s ear (eschewing any kind of grandiose intention). ‘Today is the Piano’s Birthday’ is the kind of prose-poem I’m talking about – however successful or not is another question, of course. For me, it’s about the interdependence of the imagination and reality.
There is also the characteristic use of the vernacular, the demotic register in the prose-poem. This is linked to the use of the prose-that-is-in poetry. The storytelling register, as in my comments about Wordsworth and Coleridge, et al – incorporating the ordinary speech of everyday, or an approximation of it. This doesn’t exclude the mytho-poetic register of the more intense lyric sensibility – which can provide much of the music a good poem needs to be more than just the flat talk of reportage and little else. When reading, and writing, I am foremost looking for and listening to the language and what it’s trying to do; the ferret search for ‘ideas’ and great ‘meaning’ is a secondary consideration. Words in all their ways of animating thought and breathing life into the language at hand, first. The ideas will take care of themselves (or not). All words have a long and deep history; and they are loaded with all kinds of resonances that can help deepen the sense of what the poem is trying to discover – and it may be itself, as Wallace Stevens has suggested; that poetry may be the subject of the poem, as well as much else that has gathered around it. Nothing exclusive or narrow about that view in any case.
On mapping life and the imagination…
‘The Company of Map Maker’ was in fact the original title of Kathleen Grattan Award book that’s going to be published by OUP as Nothing For It But To Sing.
The Company of Map Makers
That oldest story mapping the world, the world-snake in the habit of swallowing its tail. In the company of map makers you are one. When you lay out the world there are no straight lines. There is only clamouring for it in occluded offices where high words plump for the ‘straight and narrow’, and are bluster. The only rule that’s truly to itself is to turn and follow the stories. And the stories inside them is what map makers do. To know how mind’s thought feels its way through the dark, into the light. The way we lie down together and wake apart. One side-track then another is how to wander. An art to make any quick surprise a wonder. There is laughter buried there. And the astonishments of laughter to keep you alive. To see what it feels like to follow earth’s curve the shape of what you imagine, and are imagined by. To follow the air’s swirl of song; the hurrying water, to recall the ‘river of rivers’ running to the sea to lose itself a name, and then returning to take another. In word-struck lines of optic infatuation: you are ‘mapping the territory’ to make the invisible, visible. To know how the imposing impossible is possible, when it is like this: ‘The air is full of flying children’ wanting to be everywhere at once. Trees are so musical they can’t help themselves scoring ‘harmonies of a heaven’. And to know the turbulence of women, and then their quietude: to find a place to be, and being what is in us to attain. When you say there is no one thing naturally alone on either side of the great divide— to map that, is no sophistical aside to say that you would like ‘to die with life’. And to know today’s map is tomorrow the same, but always different.
I tend to see the ‘Map Maker…’ poem as something of a poetic credo (though not definitively). And I tried to show that in the poem – using ‘map making’ as an overall metaphoric expression. The poem as a ‘map’ for what the imagination and its relationship to reality can discover is a universal idea, an archetypal one. It is at once a search for and expression of the reality of particulars – a reach for some kind of order or, better still, an attempt to bring some kind of clarity to the confusions of experience always at work in the world and how we perceive the world. At the same time, it allows for sidetracks, diversions, excursions outside the main-lines; a kind of purposeful wandering… There are no straight lines in nature, despite whatever fantasies to the contrary. A map comprised of all of the above is a very useful embodiment of how any imagination, and indeed the poetic imagination, works. From this the poem springs.
The natural world (what we still sometimes call Nature), in all its quite extraordinary creations, has always been the major source of poetry. One could, without any real risk to hyperbole or fantastical thinking, argue that nature/the natural world is the (archetypal) ur-poem; and that the poetry that springs from that is one of the ‘songs of our species’. Even urban-poetry has to work hard (if that is its intention) to exclude the natural world in whatever form it takes. I have always been, I think, intensely interested in what’s happening in the natural world; and what that relationship might mean.
This new book of poems, Nothing For It But To Sing, is a selection of lyric poems, some of which incorporate the ‘prose that is in poetry’ – though the formal overall structure keeps scrupulous attention to the poetic line as the basis of rhythm patterns. The title, realised from Samuel Beckett’s ‘Quand on est dans la merdre jusqu’au cou, il ne rest plus qu’à chanter’, says pretty much what some of the individual poems are up to – that is, something about how the light and the dark lie down together; and that the light lies in waiting to be touched and brought as musically as possible into the place the poem wants to declare. Some of these poems turn out to be poems of dark-hope. Often a balancing act, which accounts, I think, for a kind of tension that individual poems declare. On a number of occasions, there is a shout, even if it is a small, modulated one: the capacity to ‘risk delight’, as an extension of Credo quia absurdum est/ I believe because it is absurd’ (a loose translation). I’m far more interested in poems of discovery, rather than settle for poems of sometimes charming invention, which is too narrow a poetry-place for me. In any case, what one hazards by way of what-this-book-is-about is the stuff of critical writing. Rather, to say, best bet is to let the poems talk for themselves, and keep an eye and an ear on the language and what it’s doing.
Highlight on Books: Rae Joyce on the new release, Three Words
“Three Words features all kinds of comics from all kinds of Kiwi women, a vast and varied representation of the beautiful diversity that makes up women’s comics in New Zealand – a completely unprecedented collection.” – Beatnik Publishing
Three Words grew out of a very real need to redress the gender imbalance in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s comics publications and events. Women comics creators weren’t being accurately represented, leading to statements such as There just aren’t any women comic artists in New Zealand.
|‘NZ’ comics event/publication||Women featured|
|(2012) Aotearoa: Clouds from New Zealand (Treviso Comic Book Festival)||1/11||9%|
|(2012) Frankfurt Book Fair New Zealand as Guest of Honour (comics zone)||0/4||0%|
|(2012) New Zealand Comics and Graphic Novels (Hicksville Press)||10/65||15%|
|(2013) Nga Pakiwaituhi: New Zealand Comics (St Pauls Gallery)||3/32||9%|
|(2013) From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics (Random House)||4/31||12%|
Data analysis by Indira Neville
But Indira Neville and Sarah Laing – long-standing and popular comics creators – along with me, knew that the literature didn’t represent the reality: many women have made and are making comics in Aotearoa/New Zealand. And we wanted to make them visible.
Word about Three Words spread fast on social media. Within a month of us putting out a call, we had over sixty submissions from women all over the country.
With comics by Adele Jackson, Alex McCrone, Alex Wild, Alice Tumblescribbleson, Alie Macpherson, Andra Jenkin, Bek Coogan, Anna Crichton, Beth Duckingmonster, Beth Sometimes, Carolyn Anderson, Celia Allison, Claire Harris, Dawn Tuffery, Demarnia Lloyd, Diane Rimmer, Elsie Jolliffe, Emma Blackett, Erin Fae, Debra Boyask, Giselle Clarkson, Indira Neville, The Rabbid, Jem Yoshioka, Jessica Dew, Jessica Hansell, Joanna Anderson, Judy Darragh, Kayla Oliver, Kerry Ann Lee, Lauren Marriott, Margaret Silverwood, Olga Krause, Linda Lew, Lisa Noble, Liz Mathews, Loux McLellan, Lucy Meyle, Maiangi Waitai, Marina Williams, Mary Tamblyn, Mengzhu Fu, Mirranda Burton, Miriam Harris, Pritika Lal, Rachel Benefield, Rachel Shearer, Rae Joyce, Raewyn Alexander, Rebecca Hawkes, Renee Jones, Rosemary McLeod, Warsaw, Sally Bollinger, Sarah Laing, Sarah Lund, Sharon Murdoch, Sophie McMillan, Sophie Oiseau, Stella Corkery, Susan Rugg, Susan Te Kahurangi King, Suzanne Claessen and Zöe Colling.
And essays by Robyn Keneally, Ruth Boyask, Jem Yoshioka, Miriam Sapphira and Rae Joyce.
Our editorial approach was quite simple: inclusivity. We decided to include work by everyone who submitted to us.
Considering the divergent styles of the comics submitted, this could have been a design disaster were it not for the Three Words concept:
each contributor was asked to supply three words that would be given to another contributor to prompt a new comic strip and start a conversation.
Seeing the work of so many women together in one place has shown some interesting convergences in the works. For example, who knew so many of Aotearoa’s comics creators were rat fanatics? Another sizeable group are the musicians. Space, the supernatural, politics, childhood and bodies are all recurring themes.
One of the most awesome consequences of Three Words has been the dialogue it’s opened up about the need for diversity in the comics industry; it’s given rise to debates about “competent boy comics” – comics that were previously deemed to be representative of all Aotearoa/New Zealand comics – and made space for alternative aesthetics and, crucially, given a platform to people who don’t fit the dominant profile of white middle-class male. Not only is it no longer OK for men to tell us “there just aren’t any women comic artists in New Zealand” – we know different – it’s also now untenable for the continued promotion of just a few predominantly white middle-class comics in Aotearoa; one cannot acknowledge inequality then facilitate a continuation of the behaviours and value judgements that kept women and minorities out of NZ comics history.
Being the first all-women comics anthology to be picked up by a publisher in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s history – thanks to the brilliant women at Beatnik Publishing – means our phenomenal women comics creators can no longer be denied.
But the most outstanding aspect of this project has been the community that it’s built. When we set up the Three Words Facebook group, women told us we had created a safe space for them to discuss comics – that’s a big deal. A bunch of the “competent boys” have even joined the group and are our staunch allies. Everyone has come together in support, on Facebook, Twitter @threeword3, Blogger.
Aotearoa/New Zealand is talking Three Words. In short, we’re making history.
Now Three Words is launched, the graft hasn’t ended. I continue to blog our progress http://threeword3.blogspot.co.nz/ and tweet with help from The Rabbid. But I’m now able to resume working on projects that highlight inequalities. Being a working-class woman in a middle-class dominated industry means I have a lot of material.
People From Our Pages: Leanne Radojkovich’s Travelling Tales
My flash stories have travelled the world on the back of framed photos. From Sweden to Australia to USA and all around NZ, my PinUps have appeared on shop windows and park benches, in phone booths and public loos. They have a sticker on the front saying Pls take me home – I’ll look good on your wall and after an American tourist took a PinUp from an Auckland café, he sent me a photo of it on his lounge wall in Wisconsin. He said he left the sticker intact, “in the hope that someday it will disappear, late one dinner-party evening, to look good on another wall and carry the story of the mysterious, clean Doreen into another imagination.”
PinUps are a playful way of getting stories out and about in the analogue world. I don’t need to ask permission, I just Blu-Tack them where I will and continue on my way. I like to hide them in unexpected places; at gutter-level for people who keep their eyes down as they walk along, in book shop windows so they look – at first sight – like one of the books on display. As people hear about these travelling tales they ask to join in the game. I’ve sent them to players in New York and Santa Fe, in France and Tanzania. They’ve even leapt off the analogue wall, so to speak, and appeared online in a Dutch street-art gallery’s website – alongside an article about Banksy.
I like thinking outside the “book box” for stories. There are countless ways they can move through the world other than between the covers of a book or in an e-zine. I’ve experimented with creating YouTube videos of flash stories and also SlideShare presentations. It’s easy to track the travels of stories in the digital universe. The ten I’ve posted on YouTube have racked up nearly 4,000 views in 55 countries, and one story on SlideShare has had 1,350 views. It’s all very surprising.
But my heart is really with PinUps and their chance appearance in the crook of a tree or on the back of a Portaloo door. Their travels can’t be charted with the clockwork precision of digital analytics; they circulate mysteriously, in the real world, via serendipity.
Eileen Merriman on Leanne’s PinUp in Melbourne, Australia (March 2016):
Michelle Elvy on Leanne’s PinUp in Tanga, Tanzania (April 2016):
People From Our Pages: Céline Gibson on Writer’s Block
Writer’s Block began in April 2014 and has produced around forty-three shows since then. The premise was to provide a radio programme for writers about writers, presented and produced by writers. Originally it was entirely Christchurch-based, until Céline Gibson made a temporary shift to Oamaru and their listening audience expanded to encompass North Otago writers (Waitaki Writers Guild) and readers.
Podcasting has been a fantastic tool for Writer’s Block in that it has enabled them to reach a larger listening audience – even an international one!
Stephanie Frewan and Céline Gibson have sought to make their show not just informative but entertaining as well. Thus they have outdone ‘Holmes and Watson’ in tracking down and bringing in for questioning any person suspected of engaging in scribe-like activity in their attics, bedrooms, potting sheds or loos (possibly the most private space in a house – ’cept for insistent cat or child). To date, they have interrogated playwrights, film-makers, flash fiction writers, short-story writers, poets, essayists, song-writers, journalists, romance writers, children’s writers, bloggers and many more.They have interviewed their guests either at Plains Studio or at the homes of their guests (thank you for all the great coffees).The list of Cantabrian writers/playwrights/film-makers is a pretty impressive one: Karen Zelas, Helen Hogan, Jane Seaford, Kathleen Gallagher, Rachael King, Soroya Lane, Natalie Anderson, Jim Cullinane and John Ewen to name a few. Beyond the Canterbury environs, film-makers Margo Nash and April Phillips gave memorable interviews. They have interviewed some luminary Flash Frontier contributors, too, such as Rebecca Simons, Gail Ingram, Sue Kingham, Joan Curry, Rachel Smith, as well as Bruce Costello & Jane Swan in Oamaru!
The W.B. team have had some fantastic experiences while on road trips for the show. One they will long remember was when Steph and Céline got to spend an incredible morning roaming through the home of esteemed crime novelist Ngaio Marsh with Doctor Bruce Harding (what that man doesn’t know about Ngaio isn’t worth knowing). What a thrill to see the typewriter that tapped out the words spoken by Inspector Roderick Alleyn, and to see the chair that Ngaio sat on to “write” her books. (Ngaio didn’t type; she dictated from her chair while her faithful secretary sat at the desk in the ‘long-room’ and typed word-for-word on her tail.)
Currently, Writer’s Block is in a brief hiatus, as Steph and Céline work out where to go next with their show (think funding). Recent shows are still available on podcast (see list below) and if people want to hear earlier programmes then the staff at Plains Radio are very helpful in sending drop-box links and such. Or, interested folk can contact either Steph or Céline if there is any particular show they would like to hear. They love feedback.
Footnote: Céline is now residing back in Christchurch. She just missed all that rock’n’roll.
More about Writer’s Block
Join Stephanie Frewan and Céline Gibson with tips on how to self-publish, write blogs, advice on marketing your book, shared challenges for writers, how to find useful resources, and of course interviews with writers. There’s bound to be some very useful information wherever you happen to be in your writing career so don’t miss this great community programme.
It’s also repeated on Saturdays fortnightly at 12noon as well.
March 22 2016 – Blind Eye – Script Writing
March 8 2016 – From Earthquakes to Laughter
February 23 2016 – Music and Story
February 9 2016 – Athletes of the Literary World
Short Short Special: IWW Short Short Story Winner Anne Hollier Ruddy
Flash Frontier is pleased to feature the winner of this year’s International Writers’ Workshop short short fiction prize, judged by Flash Frontier contributor Trisha Hanifin, who wrote about this story in her Judge’s Comments:
An exceptional story: The structure/shape gives strength to the 3 points of view which provide voices of intensity and brevity, clearly capturing the sense of a much larger story that sits behind and around the actual words. The language is uncluttered, poetic, powerful, with no unnecessary adjectives or adverbs. The beginning and ending sentences are particularly powerful and contribute to a lingering aftertaste of emotion and empathy.
Well done. A pleasure to read.
Second place was Jocelyn Murray’s story ‘Tigers in India’ and third was Gay Johnson’s ‘Beginnings’. Enjoy the winning story and author commentary – which also happens to fit with this month’s slow theme.
Anne Hollier Ruddy
The man: We are sardines in a tin. No choice of oil or spring water as on your supermarket shelves. Our boat has run out of fuel, lurches in the shallow Straits of Malacca. Their speedboat has left – I pray to Allah, no sound coming from my dry throat: Please bring them back to help us. I can smell the sweat of fear in men pressed close. One tries to drag a heel of bread out of his pocket. There is a tussle as hands fight for it. No one thinks of the children.
The woman: We are already thirsty – I gaze down into the dark water, wishing I could dive like a fish. Our daughter snuffles as she hears my stomach rumble. She rubs her eyes, red from the bushfires along the coast. I spit into the end of my veil and moisten her blistered lips, clutch her thin body to me. Gone are the camps we thought unbearable. Gone is the money for this trip of a lifetime – this new beginning. Bodies stiffen against my back. I brace myself for brutal times ahead.
The child: I’ve never been in a boat before. Maadar-Bozorg showed me a picture of one in a book. It had a red sail. A boy pulled it with a string on the water, but he let go. That sea was a lovely blue. Not grey like this one. Maadar feels very heavy against me, she must be sleeping. My eyes are sore but I can see a big bird flying just above us. Perhaps it will pull us along with rope in its big beak. I am whispering Please.
Note from the author
When I lived in Queensland, I belonged to a group called Buddies who supported asylum seekers held in detention centres by writing to them and helping their families with any necessities. So after recently reading of refugees crammed into small boats and abandoned on the high seas by people smugglers, I felt both angry and sad at their plight.
My poems have become less wordy over the years and now I like the idea of flash fiction because it also is concentrated. Its economy appeals to me, as does the challenge of distilling the essence of experience in prose. I hope to learn more of this craft with practice.
The theme of our short story competition was Beginnings. Each time I’ve moved from one country to another has been a painful experience of uprooting. Place is important to me because it is where people I’ve grown fond of belong, and each place has become “home”.
I was actually born in Fiji and was brought to NZ when I was 4 years old. My mother never returned and always felt in exile. So it has become important to me to put down roots wherever I am and be glad of that particular place.
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