John Tranter (and many others)
University of Auckland Symposium
March 2012, part two of three
Short Takes on Long Poems
Part Four: Thursday, later
11.00-12.00 am session 2. landing the alien craft. Chair: John Newton.
Susan Schultz, Jaimie Gusman and Evan Nagle. Of Being Numerous 2012
Susan Schultz: “We will make a video in which we ask 40 local people, of various ages and occupations, to recite back sections of George Oppen’s “Of Being Numerous”, and then to comment on what they remembered and why. Each person will hear one section of the poem twice, then attempt to repeat what they heard. By the end, we will have a version of the entire poem, along with commentary on it.”
I recalled reading Dame Frances Yates’ vast book on «The Art of Memory», which began with Simonides of Keos (600 B.C.) asnd came more or less to the present, and included “Ad Herennium”, circa 86-82 B.C., the basic text of memorising by using images and places:
The artificial memory is established from places and images (Constat igitur artificiosa memoria ex locis et imaginibus), the definition to be forever repeated down the ages. A locus is a place easily grasped by the memory, such as a house, an intercolumnar space, a corner, an arch, or the like. Images are forms, marks or simulacra (formae, notae, simulacra) of what we wish to remember. For instance if we wish to recall the genus of a horse, of a lion, of an eagle, we must place their images on definite loci.
12 Noon: Catered Picnic Lunch. I’ll try to find a photo of people eating their lunch on the lawn… uh… I don’t have one. Does anyone have one to spare? A photo, not a lunch! — J.T.
1.00-2.00 pm: Session 3. a skin of image and text on the body of sound
Venue: Federation of University Women Suite, Old Government House. Chair: Brian Flaherty
Cilla McQueen. Nanoflowers in the Nonce-field
Cilla McQueen: «Serial» is an ad-hoc construction of text affected by resonant images. Eight short independent poetic texts can be read as interlinked short story-poems about individuals whose lives intersect. It was only after creating Serial that I had a rounded idea of the characters, plot and setting. I found that when the oblique visual imagery was added the characters and their relationships filled out in my mind.
The work is a late offshoot of my short story “Eggs” in «Crikey!» (1993) which leads from Aramoana to the Caucasus. From Fabergé eggs, exquisite fabrications of the civilised mind, to the skull of Pierre Curie, crushed like eggshell on the cobblestones of Paris, to Beryl’s crystallised violets brushed with egg-white, and Edwin’s breakfast boiled egg, eggs are mentioned in some way in every chapter of Serial. Eugene Ionesco, of course, remarked that “le futur est dans les oeufs”.
Stephanie Christie and Alex Taylor. Too big to be settled or said
They say: We propose a collaboration involving music, sound and words, and using the long poem as a jumping off point for an adventure in form. Length gives room for attention to the violent ambivalences that mark our lives at this strange time; room also for attempts at engaging with the reality of global warming and environmental degradation.
Alex Taylor recently completed his Masters in Composition at the University of Auckland. Current projects include commissions for contemporary music ensemble 175 East, NZTrio and the NZSO-National Youth Orchestra. He continues to curate the Intrepid Music Project, a collaborative concert series with musicians, poets and other artists from across Auckland.
Unfortunately, as any recording technician could tell you, writer Stephanie Christie’s light, uninflected and evidently untrained voice was no match for the walls of loud sound from the saxophone and violin wielded by her partner, no matter how quietly he tried to play, because of the simple fact that both violin and saxophone had been specifically designed to amplify the thin sound which the bow or the reed produced, with a large brass bell in the case of the saxophone, or a hollow sounding-board body, in the case of the violin. These amplifying devices have been perfected over centuries and do their job very well; the solo human voice has no such aid.
When the instruments were silent, Stephanie Christie’s voice could be heard speaking interestingly, though in the acoustically absorbent environment of the room (high ceiling, carpets, drapes, a hundred chairs and human bodies) it seemed weak and tonally monochrome to me. When the instruments played, her words were inaudible. This presented a conflicted double portrait of the two creators and their aesthetic engagement. She seemed to lack a microphone and amplifier and varied intonation; he needed to mute his instruments; as a duo act they practically begged for a producer experienced in balancing voice and musical instruments. Interesting and instructive.
Hazel Smith. Film of Sound
Film of Sound is a semiotic surface, a skin of image and text on the body of sound. Through the interweaving of text, sound and image (sometimes complementary, sometimes antithetical) the work explores a number of continua from the pre-verbal to the articulated, from the glimpse to the gaze, from noise to music. It also simultaneously projects both rapidly transforming affective intensities and sustained emotional states. Constructed out of collaborative, indeterminant and remix processes, the layers and juxtapositions of disparate media hint at a narrative trajectory (a sleeping man, an evening in a hotel room, and a journey across vast and challenging spaces. But the incipient narrative constantly breaks down into disordered memories of violence and repression, undefined threats, splintered subjectivities, glitches and raw data.
A video piece that fitted cleverly into the genre of early 1970s “experimental videos”, even going so far as to feature loud, echoing footsteps on stone, possibly borrowed from the introductory sound effects that announce the ABC’s weekly “Poetica” programs; an effect that calls to mind grim detectives in some film noir movie, pacing back and forth in a back alley under a dim streetlamp while waiting to be shot by the villain. Interesting fragments of text appeared and disappeared, usually at an angle and oddly coloured. At the conclusion Wystan Curnow had a few questions about the provenance of the ideas behind the piece, questions which I feel he had dipped in a mordant solution beforehand.
2 pm: Break
Sadly I had to miss the afternoon sessions; they sound varied and interesting.
2.30-3.30 pm: session 4. intervention insurrection reinvention
Venue: Federation of University Women Suite, Old Government House. Chair: Murray Edmond
Sam Moginie and Andy Carruthers. “Kill The Word Before The Word Kills You”: Jas H. Duke’s «Destiny Wood» and Australian Experimentalism.
This presentation is a response to Jas Duke’s experimental novel-poem-text Destiny Wood (WAC, 1978). While Duke’s performance pieces have circulated in other mediums, most notably as recordings on on UbuWeb, very few attempts have been made to critically engage with his work. Alternating between performance and critical analysis, we aim to interrogate this long text in its relation to experimentalism in Australian poetry of the 1970s, and its relation to the concept of experimental form in general.
Toby Fitch. Reading Rawshock Reading
“Rawshock” is a long poem in ten parts, a reshaping of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, an experiment in pattern using the original ten Rorschach inkblots as templates, and a bad pun to boot. The poem manipulates the voices of O, E, U and I (A is Absence) in a fragmented love song that explores the naturally split personalities of the two main protagonists, and of the author. The Orpheus myth has been so done to death in poetry that it has become its own inkblot, open to apparently endless interpretation. This presentation will take the form of a reading/performance with colourful pictures but no lyres. Sorry, Orph.
3.30 pm: Afternoon tea
4.00-5.00 pm: session 5. walking, walking with
Venue: Federation of University Women Suite, Old Government House. Chair: Marcia Russell
Bernadette Hall and Dinah Hawken. A Train of Small Sounds
We propose a shared session in the form of a conversation based on sonnet sequences each of us has written: Dinah’s «Building Sonnets» from The leaf-ride (Victoria UP, 2011) and Bernadette’s «Tomahawk Sonnets» from «Still Talking» (Victoria UP, 1997). What interests us is what happens when short, technically disciplined texts accumulate. Is the resulting long poem a coherent work, flexible, expansive and satisfying in ways we ourselves might not have anticipated? We will read each other’s work for small sounds and big diesels, hoping to discover more about the relationship between components and sequencing as we go.
Jill Jones. Walking, Walking With
The complex of writing/ saying at length and/ or breadth can be worked through in many ways, one of those being through intersects with other art practices, other modalities. Having worked with other artists in composing site-specific works (both works about place/ locality, and placed works), I am interested in how these pieces work (walk) with place as experience, either as the generative impetus or the space/s of performance.
I will also look at practice issues that emerge in the dynamic of assembling a collaborative work, including control, structure, commonalities, length/ finality, materials and performance, genre, modularity and recycling.
The main examples used will be my own work with photographer Annette Willis, primarily, but also with sound designers and composers Solange Kershaw and Damian Castaldi. I will also refer to the work of English poet, Harriet Tarlo, and her engagement with site-specific exploratory works and collaborations (walks) as modes of the long radical landscape poem.
Ann Vickery. Feminist Collaboration, Friendship, and the Contemporary Long and Longish Poem
This talk explores poetic collaboration as a way of crossing boundaries of authorship and subjectivity, enabling what Carla Harryman and Lyn Hejinian call a “fickle freedom”. As Carey Kaplan and Ellen Cronin Rose note in “Strange Bedfellows: Feminist Collaborations”, ‘She and I metamorphose into we, hypothetical, invisible, yet nonetheless articulate. We emerges from the space between our individual different voices, its meaning elusive, dispersed, always deferred, never unitary.’
I will focus on a series of collaborative longish poems written and performed by Australian poets Pam Brown, Carol Christie, Jane McKemmish and Amanda Stewart that began with “the return of the dead I. Modes of Goo.” These occurred between 1986 and 1988 and, as primarily performance pieces, have been rarely anthologised. Time permitting, I will contextualise these Australian collaborations with those occurring contemporaneously in North America, including Harryman and Hejinian’s «The Wide Road» which was written over more than two decades and was recently published as a whole in 2011.
5.00-6.30 pm: Symposium drinks: Venue: Old Government House Lounge
A pleasant pizza dinner with Philip Mead at a bistro in the suburb of Ponsonby. Why do New Zealand place-names sound odd to an Australian? I once visited an area north of Auckland called “Rodney”. I guess the name of the NSW town of “Collarenebri” sounds odd to a British person brought up in the London suburb of Crutched Friar.
Part Five: Friday Morning papers, then On The Beach
Friday 30 March. 9 am Coffee.
9.30-10.30 am session 6. worlds apart. Chair: Hilary Chung.
Ella O’Keefe. Bush Cosmology: John Anderson’s “non-Euclidean Eucalypt” in the forest set out like the night.
Australian poet John Anderson’s book-length poem the forest set out like the night explores the landscape of Melbourne and surrounding areas in Victoria. Anderson works to suggest there are multiple ways to read and know a place; as a collection of images or sensory impressions, as scientific data or as a series of dream-derived symbols. Crucial to his poetry is an acknowledgement of the history of Australian land, the colonial invasion of Australia, and its effects on our lived lives. Thus Anderson’s poem registers spatial and conceptual difference in its form as well as its content. Lines and eucalypts both resist Euclidean symmetry:
Compare a gum forest at night to a European forest.
The gum forest. Space condensed. Opens out.
The Black Forest closes in.
In «Reading the Country» (1984), critic Stephen Muecke notes the persistence in linguistics of linear metaphors of trees and roots as a way of defining the origins of a language, and the problems this poses in the study of Aboriginal languages, histories and literature. Muecke, like Anderson, favours a rhizomatic approach suggesting that if a tree remains, it should be viewed from above, “with roots and branches fanning out in all directions […] the roots having no more of the ‘origin’ about them than the leaves.” I want to extend this thought in light of Anderson’s “non-Euclidean Eucalypt” and the possibilities it opens up for new modes of perception and formal composition.
While listening to this excellent piece, I wrote the first rough draft of a poem:
It is the time of clarity, noon,
when one creature recognises another.
A banker sees a policeman as his brother.
A street sweeper leans against his broom.
The ants are my friends, also a rabbit.
The Jindyworobaks come to mind.
No European models — they’re unkind,
and plunge us into war; horrible habit.
But our language comes from Europe: Latin,
Greek, Germanic, Indo-European roots.
In the pre-dawn chill, magic things happen.
An animal that never reads books eats boots
and leaves quickly. Dawn breeze, leaves
fall. Cut wheat stands in sheaves.
David Howard: Learning to sing Dead Man Blues.
It started with a 1950s photograph of a teenage Arlie Russell, daughter of the then American ambassador to New Zealand, tramping with Ken Findlay in the Richmond ranges. The photograph fell from a book bought at Smiths Bookshop in Christchurch. I traced Arlie and discovered that she was now Arlie Hochschild, prominent author, academic and advisor to Al Gore. Arlie and I corresponded about how the photograph came to be taken and her experience of New Zealand. She described the men here as beery and inarticulate. This summoned up for me the ghost of Vincent O’Sullivan’s character Butcher, and also my childhood experiences of returned servicemen, and I began to hear the tone a poem set here in the 1950s might take.
Around the same time, the composer Brina Jez invited me to collaborate with her on a commission she had received for a multimedia installation in Slovenia. I supplied, in the form of a recorded reading by two actors, my early attempt to explore a beery inarticulate returned serviceman, the kind of figure whom Arlie was surrounded by during her time here.
The text I will present, “Dead Man Blues”, is a distillate of these processes across time and media, looking always at the effect of one artist’s work on another and the density of connection our digital highways encourage.
Lucas Klein: Ideogrammic Methods: The Space of Writing and Tradition in Contemporary Chinese Long Poetry.
When the Chinese poetry tradition is compared with the traditions of poetry in the West, essentialist views have often noted China’s lack of the epic as a genre — and yet American modernist Ezra Pound based the “ideogrammic method” upon which he built his collage epic Cantos on his understanding of the Chinese written character. Can this disjunction be rectified in the long poems of contemporary Chinese poets? Looking at the long and serial poems of Yang Lian (b. 1955) and Xi Chuan (b. 1963), both of whose work exists in conscious dialogue with Pound, I propose to engage with the symposium’s quest to locate the contemporary long poem in space defined (for my purposes) in and between tradition and writing.
Specifically, I will look at the ways in which Yang Lian’s Yi (a poem of sixty-four sections based on the «Book of Changes» [«I Ching» or «Yijing»], named with a character of his own invention) and Xi Chuan’s «Thirty Historical Reflections» (a sequence that has grown beyond just thirty) read the Chinese past through a Poundian-inspired poetics to simultaneously create and question a new tradition of world literature. Given that time (and space) will be limited, I will focus on the luminous details and ideogrammic moments of Yang Lian’s and Xi Chuan’s poetries, dismantling the epic to the constituent ideogrammic basis upon which it has been built.
10.30 am Morning tea
11.00-11.45 am session 7. beating the erasure machine. Chair: Selina Tusitala Marsh
Jack Ross: Digitising Leicester Kyle.
Leicester [pronounced Lester] Kyle (1937-2006) spent the last seven or so years of his life living in the tiny hamlet of Millerton, on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, where he wrote some of his most important poetry. A priest, poet, and radical environmentalist, Kyle held ecological concerns that seem even more relevant now than they did during his lifetime. Nor has his literary work yet reached all of the audiences it was intended for. In association with my co-literary executor, David Howard, I’ve set up a website to publicize his work and (hopefully, in the fullness of time) make his collected writings accessible online. You can find more details here: http://leicesterkyle.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/critical-introduction.html
Jessica Wilkinson: Marionette: Animating the Hidden Subject through Textual Play: a study of Marion Davies
While there are countless biographies, factual and fictional, of Hearst, there are very few accounts of Marion Davies’ life. Indeed, in some of Hearst’s biographies, she is barely mentioned despite being a prominent figure in his life. As a woman who lived the prime of her life in the early 20th century on the Great White Way (itself an erasure machine), Marion Davies is waiting to be spoken. Rachel Blau DuPlessis says in «The Pink Guitar» that such a gap in discourse cannot simply be “filled by a mechanism of reversal”; rather, we must “pull into textuality […] the elements of its almost effaced stories in all their residual, fragmentary quality.”
«Marionette», then, is an attempt to pull together the stutters, fragments and strings of Marion’s story.
Jessica Wilkinson’s paper avoided focussing on Orson Welles’s movie «Citizen Kane», and the long campaign waged by Hearst to have the movie blacklisted because he took the movie’s portrayal of Marion Davies as a cruel parody. I asked her why not, and she said:
One thing that annoys me when I say I am writing on Hearst and Marion, is that people say “Oh, that’s «Citizen Kane», isn’t it?” In the film, “Susan Alexander” is a drunk, talentless and lonely opera singer; Marion was a talented comedienne, a pre-Lucille Ball Lucille Ball, and she had many many friends who adored her. But it is a complicated story, as Hearst did not want to see the audience laugh at her, so he hindered her career in some ways. Furthermore, “Kane” and “Alexander” have a poor relationship, and Hearst and Marion, despite all the obstacles and scandals, deeply loved one another and continued their affair for thirty-plus years. «Citizen Kane» is a small subject within «marionette», the longer work, and of course in the short compass of my Auckland paper I had little time to spend on all that.
But my point is not to dwell on inaccuracy after inaccuracy. I am, rather, interested in locating the true spirit and voice of a misrepresented Marion, however impossible that might be.
The thoughtful engagement with a brave and largely misunderstood human being is one of the high points of Jessica’s paper. But — a personal worry — one of the poems read out by Ms Wilkinson in Davies’ voice copied her stammer. Most people who have suffered a stammer or stutter would be dismayed at this. Perhaps the decision to act out the stammer could have been given some more thoughtful consideration, though no doubt I am over-reacting to what is, for me, a personal matter.
Robert Sullivan and John Adams: Grey interstices: a two-voice acting out of Governor Grey’s dealings with Maori chiefs.
We plan to recreate and perhaps remix the statements of Governor George Grey and selected Maori rangatira or chiefs in order to disturb, briefly, strategically, the narrative that is Grey’s legacy to poetry in Aotearoa New Zealand. In the first preface of Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race as Furnished by their Priests and Chiefs (1885), Grey explains his motives for collecting and translating examples of Maori oral tradition and turning them into literary and anthropological texts:
I found that these chiefs, either in their speeches to me, or in their letters, frequently quoted, in explanation of their views and intentions, fragments of ancient poems or proverbs, or made allusions which rested on an ancient system of mythology; and although it was clear that the most important parts of their communications were embodied in these figurative forms, the interpreters were quite at fault. […] Clearly, however, I could not, as Governor of the country, permit so close a veil to remain drawn between myself and the aged and influential chiefs, whom it was my duty to secure, and with whom it was necessary that I should hold the most unrestricted intercourse. Only one thing could, under such circumstances, be done, and that was to acquaint myself with the ancient language of the country, to collect its traditional poems and legends, to induce their priests to impart to me their mythology, and to study their proverbs.
Our symposium venue, Old Government House, built in 1856, was part of the British government precinct that included New Zealand’s first parliament behind the present High Court site in Waterloo Quadrant, and the Albert military barracks in the university grounds, until the capital was moved to Wellington in 1865 during Grey’s second governorship. It was the Governor’s Auckland residence during the Taranaki War and the invasion of the Waikato in 1863. We want to examine the interstices of this position, relating it to the difficulty that indigenous language poetics has experienced in getting itself heard in New Zealand poetry given the decline in numbers of fluent Maori language speakers. There are direct connections between long and short form Maori poetic texts collected by Grey, the declining fortunes of his chiefly informants, and the improving fortunes of the imperial colony once headquartered in this very building.
12.00-12.30 pm session 8. fold and wrap. Chair: Lisa Samuels.
Rachel’s summing-up for this symposium is available here as Part Six of this series of notes.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis. Practice, practise, praxis
An informative, probing and detailed discussion by a current practitioner of the long poem, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, from Temple University in the USA, and special guest at this symposium, whose long poem «Drafts» has been the focus of a number of issues of «Jacket» magazine, and has appeared in many other venues.
12.40 pm Pick up brown bag lunch and move off to Waiheke Ferry Terminal, junction of Quay St and Queen (20 min walk or catch downtown bus on Symonds St)
2.00 pm Ferry to Waiheke Island ($35 return, own cost), bus or minibus to Oneroa Beach.
3.30-5.30 pm Long Beach Walk Poem Collaboration All Welcome. Come and help write Aotearoa NZ’s longest beach poem ever. Coordinator: Selina Tusitala Marsh.
Notes: Oneroa Beach: a kilometre long half-moon beach facing East. A chill wind blew off the bay, which I was soon grateful for.
The beach was divided into ten 100-metre zones, the poets and friends into ten teams of a few people each provided with rakes, brooms and hoes, and at 3:30 p.m. we began inscribing poems — or random poem-like fragments and phrases — into the fine grey packed sand. Organiser John Newtown had cleverly arranged for the tide to go out during the afternoon, not in, so our handiwork was able to survive the elements until midnight.
Pam Brown, David Howard and I hoed and scraped until we were tired and sweating, and eventually filled in our 100 metres of beach with a string of poetic phrases: “Spot-welded islands — Chartreuse, the color only monks can see — open ended…” but our stretch of beach was not quite filled, so a dozen ellipsis points were added. They seemed to fit the open-ended theme.
At five p.m. we all gathered at the starting point, the northern end of the beach, and sipped a celebratory champagne.
The crowd of us — fifty or so people — walked the length of the beach, filming and photographing our deathless words and phrases for posterity and talking our heads off.
Had we written the longest poem in the world? I think so.
Most of us gathered soon after for a celebratory pizza and vino at Stephano’s Pizzeria,18 Hamilton Rd, Surfdale, Waiheke Island. I had a great time.
(Part Two and Part Three of this article are available on this site.)