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There’s a small garden behind the kitchen, fringed with ceramic cows.  The earth is rich with characters and concepts.  You can dig them up with a trowel, like potatoes.


Poems, on the other hand, are plucked from the branches of a tall tree in the front yard.  You need a ladder for the best ones (or a giraffe).





Mostly they sneak up from behind and tap you on the shoulder when you’re thinking about something else.





At the top of the rickety stairs, the dusty attic is filled with papers, tended by a solemn man.  When you need an idea, he’ll hand you one wordlessly.





There’s a service you can subscribe to – based in Estonia and recommended by Andres Ehin.  Ideas are delivered weekly – dropped down the chimney by carrier pigeon.





You need the skill of holding your breath under water – dive down deep into the still lake.  A wooden chest sits on the silty bottom.  If you can open it (and only the chosen can), every idea you’ll ever need will be inside.




                                  Janis Freegard

If you didn’t get a chance to attend this year’s Janet Frame Memorial Lecture at Te Papa, you can read it here   There was also an extract in the Listener and it’s being discussed on Leafsalon here

Greg O’Brien had some very interesting things to say about the difference between a writer (someone who writes) and an author (someone whose work is published) and cited Janet Frame as someone who retired at 65 from being an author (ie from being published) but continued throughout her life to be a writer.  I like this distinction.  I’ve always thought of writing as a verb: something I do, rather than an identity: “being a writer” (a noun, something a person is).  It is the process or activity of writing that’s important.  You only stop being a writer if you stop writing.

Greg also talked about the marketplace – he prefers to see literature as a laboratory.  I particularly liked the following:

“Literature is not a track event. Everyone is not running in the same direction—nor should they be. If literature is a race then it is one where, when the starting gun is fired, the participants run off each in their own direction. It is only arts funders and prize-givers who line writers up on some invented racetrack, facing the same ribbon.”

This reminds me of the philosophers’ football match in a Monty Python sketch, where, as soon as the whistle blows, the philosophers wander off away from the ball, to contemplate it all. 

A couple of days ago, at my poetry group, we were lamenting the limited range of poetry publishers in New Zealand relative to the seemingly vast numbers of poets seeking publication and the fact that some of our few publishers are booked up several years in advance or buried under huge piles of unread manuscripts (with frustratingly long response rates as a result).  More small presses would be lovely, but poetry is hardly going to pay the mortgage.  In the meantime, that track event continues, each of us meandering off in our own little directions, atomising our verbal structures (I was very chuffed to get a passing mention in Greg’s lecture).  Here’s to the laboratory!




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September 2008

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