Wednesday 30 December 2009

Anne Michaels and the ecriture feminine

I find myself coming back again to the ideas of ecriture feminine. Although I am not convinced that language functions merely as an instrument of patriarchal expression, I do see some strong elements of what Cixous describes as feminine writing in the writers that I am currently attracted to.

"Women must write through their bodies, they must invent the inpregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes, and rhetorics, regulations and codes, they must submerge, cut through, get beyond the ultimate reserve-discourse..." (Cixous, H. The Laugh of the Medusa)

Cixous and Irigarary do not accept the very Western idea of a separation between mind and body - the mind being traditionally male, the body female. They are not saying that only women can write in this new, freer more physical language but that this is a more feminine way of writing.

I am currently reading a book of poetry called The Weight of Oranges by Anne Michaels - Michaels is a Canadian writer who started out as a poet but now writes mostly fiction. Her poetry is very sensual and to me embodies exactly the way of writing that Cixous is describing.

"By morning the stones we'd found
were dull with air,
but I couldn't forget the smell
of the trees' intimate darkness,
the scattered sound of the rain's distracted hands,
husks of buds in green pools on the sidewalks."

(from "Turning Twenty-Three" in Michaels, Anne, The Weight of Oranges)

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Overcoming Creative Torpor

I need to start thinking of my written work more in terms of a dialogue between my internal self and the environments that I find myself in - to let the objects that are part of that environment come together to speak through me in the form of some kind of narrative. I have been too busy sitting in my house thinking about essays, wishing that I had the money to travel to somewhere more exciting and feeling uninspired to take the time to really see the little dialogues that are taking place all around me.

I am now planning to re-visit some old and discarded elements of my writing practice: note taking, collecting words, phrases and images, noting done snippets of randomly overheard conversation etc. I hope in this way to gather raw material for a new writing experiment - taking techniques I developed years ago and combining them with the new ideas and ways of thinking and working that have been generated over the last couple of years of intensive writing practice. I am hoping that the result will be stunning but of course it may be paltry, ludicrous or just plain bad. But at least it will be different and will hopefully snap me out of this creative torpor that I sometimes fall into when I have passed a deadline or have been city and weather bound for weeks on end.
(original artwork by Pupski)

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Hélène Cixous, C. D. Wright and My Own Poetic Struggle

I have been reading a little about ecriture feminine. Some writers in the 1970s and 80s wanted to write in new styles that would express women's sexuality, embodiment and sensibility. They would write more fluidly, with less narrative and be less constrained by reason, they would also employ greater ambiguity and more juxtaposition than prose and poetry normally allowed (Burt, Stephen, "I Came to Talk to you in Physical Splendor" Boston Review, December 1997). Hélène Cixous described this as being able "to use our whole body to enable the world to become flesh."

C. D. Wrights work walks a tightrope between ecriture feminine and "the language poets (i.e.Ron Silliman and David Antin) with a small toe dipping its toe into the pool of concrete poetry. This is what makes her poems so fresh and vibrant.

Cixous and other purveyors of ecriture feminine argue that "patriarchy, and its literary styles, forced writers (especially women writers) to mourn, to look back to resented or idealized pasts, to regret or lament already-lost powers, or even lost persons." (Stephen Burt 1998) I recognize some of these themes in my own writing (mourning, loss etc) and know that I want to raise my writing to new levels of meaningfulness. Not to write joyous poetry exactly but to write poetry that celebrates life and all its nuances.

Hearing Poetry

"We listen to a text with numerous ears...Every text has its foreign accents, its strangenesses, and these act like signals, attracting our attention. These strangenesses are our cue. We aren't looking for the author as much as what made the author take the particular path they took, write what they wrote. We're looking for the secret of creation, the same process of creation each one of us is constantly involved with in the process of our lives. Texts are the witnesses of our proceeding. The text opens up a path which is already ours and yet not altogether ours."

Cixous, Hélène, “Conversations” in Seller, Susan, (ed.) Writing Differences: Readings from the Seminar of Hélène Cixous, (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1988)

Monday 7 December 2009


Each of the sentences I write is trying to say the whole thing. i.e.,
the same thing over and over again; it is as though they were all
simply views of one object seen from differents angles.

-Wittgenstein, Culture and Value

Sunday 6 December 2009

Freedom, Revolt, and Love

I have been reading and listening to interviews with the American poet (and this year's winner of The Griffin Poetry Prize) C. D. Wright for an essay that I am writing for my poetics class. C. D. Wright is probably my favourite poet of all time and what has been really interesting about the interviews is discovering what her inspirations are.

She cites as her main influence the poet Frank Stanford: Stanford like Wright was a Southern poet and wrote in an unusual and fresh way. (Sadly he committed suicide just before his 30th birthday) Reading Stanford's poem "Freedom, Revolt, Love" for the first time it was easy for me to see how he influenced Wright - his work very much reminds me of hers. The poem appears to be written as stream of consciousness - one continuous stanza with no breaks except the punctuation which is mostly at the ends of the lines. Stanford's poem reminded me of a Cubist painting - it's as if we are seeing things from several perspectives at once. It is an oddly disturbing poem about some kind of robbery where the two main characters are shot at their breakfast table. But doubly disturbing because of Stanford's unusual style of writing:

"She told him hers didn't hurt much,
Like in the fall when everything you touch
Makes a spark.
He thought about her getting up in the dark
Wrapping a quilt around herself.
And standing in the doorway."

Friday 4 December 2009


"Don't set in motion a huge poetry factory just to make poetic cigarette lighters." (Vladimir Mayakovsky)

Wednesday 2 December 2009


Clinamen: a "swerve" of the atoms so as to make change possible in the universe...

Sunday 25 October 2009


Is there a new underground emerging in British poetry? a post-post-modernism that aims to make poetry more accessible to ALL readers by writing about things that they can relate to but in a surprising way. Poetry doesn't have to be pretty or written in inaccessible language. unfortunately it seems that the general population seems to still have the idea that poetry is difficult and elitist and this myth is somehow perpetuated by the press and the literary establishment.

Thursday 24 September 2009

Keeping the World Alive

"If, by accident, a moment were to occur when everyone was asleep, the world would disappear." writes Anne Michaels in her beautifully haunting novel Fugitive Pieces. I found in this statement a profound resonance and somehow I find that I want believe it more than science, astronomy and any other theory about the world and time and space. I find myself wondering if that is why the earth turns, why only half of the planet, at any given time, is in the light. Is it so that when we are sleeping, dreaming our dreams of the dead, the past and the not yet real - somewhere, on the other side of the world people are going about their daily business and, although they may not know it, keeping the planet alive?

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Today I found myself thinking about backing up my work. I am pretty careful about making backups - I have most of my poems on two computers and on a data stick. But it occurred to me this morning that maybe I should make a physical copy as well. What if computers suddenly became obsolete? Sure I have some physical copies of my poems dotted around in various folders and in various states of finishedness but maybe it's time to trawl through all my Internet folders and print the most finished version of each one and put them all together in a binder. It would make life a lot easier when it came to looking for poems for reading or competitions as well. What do other writers think? Do you keep a physical copy of your work as well as a digital one? Are we too reliant on computers so that I work only existed in the electronic world?

Tuesday 14 July 2009


I have just been watching a programme on television about the photographer William Eggleston. He is not a photographer that I know much about but I felt incredibly drawn to his work. His photographs have a sense of ordinariness combined with a kind of quiet desolation. They convey the kind of atmosphere and tension with which I try to imbue my poems. A tension between the mundane - the ordinariness of everyday life and something beyond the ordinary - a sense of alienation, of otherness, the feeling that life is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Thinking about performance and gesamtkunstwert

Since the positive feedback I received after the "Sitting Room" event on Friday I have been thinking a bit more about how to improve my poetry performance. i think the reason I got such a positive reaction is because I thought very carefully about what I was going to read out - what would be accessible to an audience that might never have heard the work before. I realised that the poems that work best are the ones that have some kind of narrative with surprising abstract imagery within this framework.

A couple of the poets read work that works well on the page but is hard to grasp when read aloud (unless you also have a copy of the poem in front of you). I think people at readings need familiar images to give them tools to navigate by - things that are ordinary, that they can relate to. Some of my poems (especially the mythical ones) work well on the page but are less accessible when read aloud, especially if you are not reading to a purely specialist poetry audience. What may work at Cafe Writers perhaps might not work as well with a more mixed audience. A reader doesn't want to scare people away from poetry with the denseness and complexity of their poems. That doesn't mean that they should dumb down their content either, just that we should think about our audience when selecting what to read rather than simply reading our personal favourites.

Today I came across the term "Gesamtkunstwert" - a work that encompasses many art forms. Wagner used the term to describe a performance that encompasses all the art forms - theatre, literature, music and the visual arts. This reminded me a little of "Sitting Room" and I wondered
how it would work if all the elements of the evening: film, poetry, music, were more connected somehow. I have also been thinking about how I might be able to incorporate images somehow into my readings. I have seen several performance poets who use power point to add imagery and text to their shows.

I have already decided that I like the use of physical gestures - for example touching the face, rubbing hands together, sniffing fingers - gestures that go with the text of course.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Hughes, Plath and that Eureka Moment

I don't think that there can be a female poet in America and the UK that hasn't been influenced, at least a little, by the work of Sylvia Plath. When I first read Ariel seventeen odd years ago I have to confess that I didn't much like it. I found her work audacious and arrogant - I suppose I judged it how many people did at the time it came out. I was affronted by the ugliness of her imagery and her seemingly casual comparisons between her own life and that of Jews in the concentration camps.

Coming back to Plath all these years later I find that I am reading her with new eyes and a much more open mind. It might be because I am older and have had more life experience. It might be because I now a mother. It might simply be that I am much better read than I was and I know a lot more about poetry. Now I find her work refreshing and inspiring. Her imagery is arresting and surprising and her sense of alienation is something I can both relate to and that I aspire to in my own work.

Ted Hughes is an altogether different kettle of fish. I first looked at Hughes work through the eyes and words of Crow in the first year of my degree course. At that time I didn't like his work at all. I found Crow to be heavy and overly masculine in both its imagery and language. I found it clunky and ugly and far beyond anything that I could relate to.

Three years later and with a lot more poetry and critical reading under my belt I find that I have somehow found my way back to Hughes. The first sparks of interest were ignited when i read the poem Do not pick up the Telephone, which was recommended to me by a tutor who saw some similarities in a poem that I had written. Next I came across the poem Wolfwatching on the Internet and I was hooked. I liked it so much that I immediately bought the book on ebay. This led me, in a round about way, back to Crow. I had been writing some semi-mythical poetry myself based on the idea of the trickster and I though that as part of my research and support work I would re-visit Crow - so back on ebay I went and bought a copy. This time I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it and found myself wondering why I had been so closed-minded to it before.

I think that doing the BA has really opened my mind. I thought before I started that I was open to abstract and unusual imagery, but I realise now that my open-mindedness was more limited than I imagined. I had to move beyond my comfort zone and broaden and deepen my reading. I am reading poetry now that I found difficult and sometimes inaccessible when I started the course. I can only liken it to the way my taste in art developed. When I was a teenager I was attracted to the romance and bright images of the Pre-Raphaelites - I didn't really like or 'get' most abstract art. It was as if I had to move through appreciating several different art movements before abstract became the movement that I liked and related to - a kind of visual evolution.

With poetry I had to go through a similar evolutionary process. As a child I moved from nursery rhymes to nonsense rhymes and limericks, then onto humorous and epic tales and as a teenager I found myself in love with poems like Tennyson's The Lady of Shallot and Noyes's The Highwayman. These were I suppose the poetic equivalents to the Pre-Raphaelites and a little akin to the romantic novel. I still retain a fondness for them now and because of their rhyme schemes and rhythm they are particularly good poems for both memorizing and reading aloud. Next I moved on to readily accessible poems: love poems, Auden, Betjeman. And later those whose economy of words and simple but beautiful images I found arresting like Lorca and Neruda.

Since I started the BA I have read and read and read. I have been like a child let loose in a candy store. I have tasted a little of everything and found that there are some sweets that i come back to again and again. Some of it took a little while for me to warm to or to 'get' and sometimes in the first year I found it to be overwhelming or felt inadequate for not getting it. But I am so glad that I have persevered and I sometimes wonder if some of my peers who gave up poetry as being "too difficult" would have also had a eureka moment like I did if they stuck at it. The joy of suddenly connecting with something, to have evolved to the point where Simic, Popa, Hughes etc make perfect sense to you is amazing. I want to roll over and over in it like a dog in shit, rejoicing in the simple beauty, concrete detail and elements of surprise that they deliver time after time.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Autobiographical Poems

Within my collection of fictional autobiographical poems I have tried to create, through use of language and imagery, a sense of alienation and displacement. I wanted to subtly show how the sense of being an outsider that the narrator feels as an adult is echoed in her experiences as a child growing up on a small town housing estate, and that this in turn is echoed in the experience of her family as a whole. Although these poems are not directly autobiographical they do naturally have definite echoes of my own experiences within them. I would hope that I am not as unsettled and alienated as the character in the poems but I have experienced some of those feelings at different times in my life. I was also bought up on a small town housing estate and can trace a sense of displacement and alienation through my own family’s experience. It may have begun with my mother’s grandparent’s move from Southern Ireland but for me it really began with my parent’s move from London to Thetford in the nineteen sixties. My mother was from Ealing and my father was from Acton – both busy centres with a lot going on. They had both been brought up in London. In 1969 they moved to Thetford due to availability of work and housing. They were part of the first wave of what was known locally as “London overspill”. Thetford couldn’t have been more different from London. It was a small rural market town surrounded by pine forest. They had moved themselves away from everything they knew and all their friends and family. It must have been a hard time for them, they did not know a single person in Norfolk and although my father had his job, my mother was isolated at home with a small child. They did not have a car or a phone and had little money for travelling home to visit relatives. There was only one busy road in Thetford – the A11 and that gave the impression of passing the town by, especially when in 1970 the route was diverted from passing through the town centre.

As a bright child who was often bored in school I spent a lot of time gazing out of the classroom window daydreaming about who might be inside the colourful cars and lorries and where they might be going. Cars held an extra mystery for most of the Redcastle Furze kids because in the early 1970s very few families actually owned one. The only person in my family who owned a car was my dad’s mother who would come and visit us once or twice a year. On the day of her visit my sister and I would wait all day by the tall landing window vying for first sight of her yellow mini as it rounded the bend. We lived on the main road in and out of the estate but there was little traffic – maybe five or six cars a day.

There must have been some sense of animosity or alienation between the incoming Londoners and the native Thetfordians, which my parents might have noticed – but as a child I was blissfully unaware of such things. I was however acutely aware of my own sense of “otherness” which partly stemmed from the fact that though essentially working class my parents were fairly intellectual. The house was filled with: books, music, craft objects and the walls were colourful and covered in large French posters. My mother was large and to cover this she wore floor length homemade dresses (a source of acute embarrassment to me as a teenager). They also enjoyed a fairly active social life – they were involved with CND, Thetford Against Missiles, a local arts centre and gallery and later on ran a folk club. This may all sound fairly exciting and idyllic but it was coupled with a precarious and volatile relationship.

Sunday 29 March 2009

Dylan Thomas said that when he first came to love poetry as a child that it was the sound of the words that he came to love first and the meaning was only secondary. For me it was the opposite - I loved the places that the nursery rhymes and poems took me to. I wanted to be that pedlar man driving his gypsy caravan through the countryside or dancing round a fire at night in the woods with the raggle taggle gypsies. I didn't neccessarily need my poems to have a narrative but I did need them to have something that drew me in and allowed me to dream myself out of my ordinary life and into some mysterious other world inside the poem.

Tuesday 10 March 2009

The Magic of Existence

"It is not 'how' things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists."

Similarly poetry doesn't seek to describe 'how' things are but the magic of their very existence. One way of doing this is ostranenie (остранение) or defamiliarizaation - the poet seek to show us something ordinary or mundane in a new way - an example of this is the poem "Fork" by Charles Simic:


This strange thing must have crept
Right out of hell.
It resembles a bird’s foot
Worn around the cannibal’s neck.

As you hold it in your hand,
As you stab with it into a piece of meat,
It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:
Its head which like your fist
Is large, bald, beakless, and blind.

Simic believes that "The labor of poetry is is finding ways through language to point to what cannot be put into words." (Simic, Charles, Wonderful Words, Silent Truth - Essays on Poetry and a Memoir, University of Michigan Press, 1990). I like this analogy, when I read a poem I like it to take me by surprise, to turn reality on it's head for a moment.

Tuesday 3 March 2009


The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.

(Hans Hoffman)

When Hoffman said this he was talking about painting but I think that this quote equally applies to poetry. Good poetry is all about eliminating the unnecessary words and creating space (like Hoffman's light) for the ideas to breathe and grow in. The words are like colours in a painting if you pile to many on or crowd them too close together they become muddied and lose some of their beauty.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Cliche in Autobiography

I have been reading On The Edge by Richard Hammond as background research for my dissertation (which is an investigation of celebrity autobiography and the misery memoir). Hammond is a famous British television personality - most famous for shows like Top Gear and Brainiac, Science Abuse but also for the near fatal car crash and subsequent brain injury that he sustained whilst filming. I chose to read Hammond's autobiography because like many others I have developed a soft spot for him - I was endeared by his quirky, humorous and down to earth presenting style and the fact that he comes across as being reasonably intelligent. I was, however utterly disappointed by his book. It seemed to me that he hadn't given anything much of himself in the work, his writing seemed to consist of one cliche after another. I became heartily sick of hearing how grateful he was to his family and how lucky he is to have recovered. whilst I am not doubting his sincerity or trying to diminish his gratitude, I was however left with the feeling of having just read a glorified thankyou card rather than an autobiography. Hammond is very vague about his childhood and gives little away about what he was really like before his accident.

It seems that a lot of writing these days - especially autobiography relies very heavily on cliche - I wonder if it is a form of laziness - publishers want to get the books out quickly whilst the market is ripe - so they don't take the time to really work on them in the way that a novelist or biographer might. Or is it that it is too easy to get published these days? Celebrities don't become famous for their writing skills - so should we expect them to be able to write to the same high standard as a novellist or biographer? Or has the "Dumbing Down" (to use a cliche) occured as some would have us believe, in response to public demand. Do the readers of today prefer a more conversational, less literary writing style?

Friday 2 January 2009


I have been reading this book that I received as a christmas gift. It is called "Everyday" and is a book of photographs by Byron Wolfe. Byron is a photography lecturer and decided to try and take a meaningful picture everyday for a year. Not a mean feat and he just about managed it - I think there only two or three days that he missed and one of those was due to a broken camera.

It made me wonder how it would be for me to try and take a meaningful photograph everyday. There were definite themes that emerged in Byron's work: his children, chickens/pets, fruit trees, washing, mealtimes as well as more abstract stuff like skies and pictures taken in his car.

It made me think about how I woul approach the project if it was mine. Would I want to document elements of the everyday and the threads of my life as a mother/woman/writer etc, focusing mainly on the domestic? Or would I approach it in a more abstract way and photograph elememts of the environment in which I exist which could be either domestic or external to the domestic environment? Or would I marry the two together in some way - or even have them running side by side like different threads of my personality?

It would be interesting to try and keep a log of what day a picture was taken and try and match it up with writing that was written on the same day.