“blog hop” and a few photos

A while back, I was invited into a fiendish scheme called a “blog hop” by the rather brilliant poet/playwright/storyteller Emilie Collyer.  She’s the author of “Your Looking Eyes”, a beautiful book of poems with accompanying visuals on the experience of looking.  She’s also the writer of “Once Were Pirates”, at this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival.  Her blog is here – go on, dive in…

So, what’s this blog hop?  First, it’s the answers to these questions:

1) What’s your writing process, and how does it work?

I’m not a “sit down at the desk like it’s a job” disciplined poet.  I tend to find the best poems are elusive; they require wrangling, but they also come more as an overflow out of an immersed life.  Which means, my writing process is inconsistent and sporadic and mercurial.  I do my first drafts by hand in journals (unlined pages with a blue fine-lined ballpoint, if you want to know).  I then redraft on a word processor; usually, around ten drafts or sittings, although now I’m finding I’m doing less editing, allowing the poem to have a few loose threads.

2) Why do you write what you write?

There’s more to it than this, but I write poetry because I have an unusual body – I want to recognise the value of difference, and I want to connect with others, so that the borders between us are blurred a little.

3) How do you think your work differs from that of others writing in your genre?

I try to resist thinking of myself as special; I’m not.  No-one is entirely unique.  My writing is a composite of so many people who influence me and a whole lot of intangible things.  But if pressed, I’d have to say “see 2) above”.

4) What are you working on at the moment?

I’m writing a series of poems called “Marfan Lives”, portrait poems of people who have (or are speculated to have had) Marfan Syndrome, the genetic condition I have.  This involves either research or interviews, so it’s different from my usual writing process, but it’s exciting to explore other lives/subjectivities – to try to find something within myself that resonates with each person, while respecting that at the same time I can’t presume to fully know them.

I’m also putting the final touches on a book called “Immune Systems” – poetry on medical tourism in India, as well as a suite of ghazals.  This should be out in the first half of 2015.

 

andy launch 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

audience launch 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other aspect of the “blog hop” is to pass the baton – and I’m tagging one of my favourite poets, Peter Davis.  He writes strikingly haunting poetry which is both deeply intuitive and philosophical.  He’s also a flute-playing busker, whose meditations can be found at “Words on the Wire”, here.

These photos, by the way, are from the recent launch of “the thin bridge” – a limited-edition book of poems from Whitmore Press.  Photos by the gracious Di Cousens.

the thin bridge – book launch

In 2013, I was surprised and honoured to be announced the winner of the annual Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize. This coming Friday September 5th, the resulting collection – “the thin bridge” – will be officially launched.

If you’re in Melbourne, please come along to Collected Works Bookshop, Nicholas Building, 1st floor, 37 Swanston Street – arrive at 6pm for a 6.30pm start. Prof Kevin Brophy will do the honours of breaking the literary bottle against the hull of these poems (UPDATE – Kevin’s insightful and wry launch speech is now available on the brilliant ecopoetics site Plumwood Mountain).  If you can’t make it, copies of the book are available from the publisher (note there are only 200 copies, each one signed and numbered).

Some quotes about “the thin bridge” from two fine poets I admire –

From Libby Hart – “At once fragile and “super strength”, these poems weave, knit and braid silence and song—words spoken and unspoken that flourish into breath, muscle and flesh, into ‘strange and beautiful bodies’ to house endurance and desire in, as well as the ‘intimate and ordinary’.”

From Barry Hill – “Out of a stigmatizable body, Andy Jackson offers us a book of beautifully made poems—burning nerves forensically handled. They issue from a fraught compassion and self-regard, and a resistance to mechanical measures of the interior.”

Andy Jackson cover low res

tortoise with a passport and a pen

I’m not the most prolific of poets (have a look at the dates on these blog posts if you don’t believe me).  I am the tortoise in that fable of Aesop (although I doubt I’m going to win or that it’s even a race).  For me, poetry takes time – not so much in the writing, but in the living and pondering, the overflow.

I realised a long time ago (but especially when I was co-running the infamous Collingwood cafe Good Morning Captain in the early 2000s) that full-time work takes a lot of energy out of me.  As does unemployment.  So I’ve accepted a kind of never-finally-resolvable “balance” – a mercurial mix of part-time work, facilitating creative writing classes and “open-ended poetry time”.  And that “poetry time” has come to rely (for better and worse) on grants and residencies.

In July, thanks to Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, I’m off to Boulder Colorado USA, for the Summer Writing Program of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.  Four weeks of workshops, talks, panels, readings and collaborations.  I’ve been running quite a few writing workshops recently – which I love – but it’s time now to be immersed and challenged myself.

Recently, I’ve been reading Anne Waldman’s poetry collection Manatee / Humanity (Waldman co-founded the School with Allen Ginsberg and others in 1974).  It’s a wide-ranging, intimate, philosophical and visceral odyssey into humanity’s relationship with animal otherness.  The poetry is compassionate and its experimentation comes out of the real rather than any kind of detachment.  It’s ambitious and angry and has a sense of wit.  One of the four workshops I’m taking at the Summer Writing Program will be with her, which is exciting, as are the other workshops and events.

There’s a certain anticipation which is really useful.  I’ve been so busy of late, but stimulated, so poetry feels like it’s simmering, ready to boil over.  With any luck, being transplanted into another country, and in a place that values poetry and creativity so highly, will be really fruitful.  I experienced that in Chennai India, when I was there 18 months ago.  Which takes me to this quote, which I read last night.

Poetry of the artists’ colony: poems about grass being cut a long way off, poetry of vacation rather than vocation, poems written on retreat, like poems written at court, treating the court as the world.  This is not to deplore the existence of artists’ colonies, but rather the way they exist in a society where the general maldistribution of opportunity (basic needs) extends to the opportunity (basic need) to make art.  Most of the people who end up at artists’ colonies, given this maldistribution, are relatively well-educated, have had at least the privilege of thinking that they might create art…  [Art] produced in an exceptional, rarefied situation like [this] can become rarefied, self-reflecting, complicit with the circumstances of its making, cut off from a larger, richer and more disturbing life.

Adrienne Rich, “Tourism and Promised Lands”

Image

Beneath this window in Chennai, I’d watch people go about their everyday lives – trading, eating, talking, waiting, laughing, begging.  From dawn to dusk and all through the night, they’d be there, the poignant and unsettling sensory overload pressing against the hotel window.  Yes, the hotel window.  In other words, I was there, but not there.

Chennai is not Boulder, of course, and a hotel is not a University summer school.  But I am taking this opportunity because I don’t want to “retreat” – I want my poetry to be stretched, expanded, deepened, all those words you scatter on grant applications but are so much more intangible and profound when you approach the empty page.  And when you approach the “full page” of the world as it is – immensely complex, beautiful, unjust, strange and familiar.  Wish me luck.

Bodies of Poetry (an introduction)

Poetry is an artform of language, with its roots firmly within the body – in its fascination with embodied experience and in its incorporation of bodily rhythms.  But whose body are we talking about?  Apart from the question of male and female bodies, how are bodies that are deformed or unusual treated?  Does poetry reinforce a clear line between “human” and “abject”?  Or can it complicate our perception of normality?

This was to be the starting-point for my Masters thesis this year.  As it turns out, I was accepted into the program but missed out on a scholarship.  Since I don’t have a year’s income saved up, I’ve decided I’ll pursue this topic of mine outside of the University.  Masters without a Masters.  Who knows how long it will take, or if I’ll drop it half-way.  But the reading and thinking will be worth it.

My interest in poetry and physical difference is intrinsically linked with my personal experience. I was born with Marfan Syndrome, which has resulted in severe spinal curvature, yet without any significant physical impairment. My own poetry seeks to express the subjective experience of being visibly different, and is in some way an attempt to reverse the usual dynamic of naming and identification.

And, since I don’t want to be doing this “non-Masters” alone, I’ve decided to post short mini-essays on this blog, in a series entitled “Bodies of Poetry”.  I’m interested in how non-standard bodies find expression in poetry.  Poetic licence of the body.  I’d love your feedback, ideas, suggestions, personal stories, rants, whatever you feel fits into the topic, from whatever angle.

My partner and I just recently found a great little shop, upstairs at 381 Sydney Road – Mr Kitly – which has some great books on design, art, architecture, and some gorgeous tea cups and crockery.  Yes, very “new Brunswick”.  Anyway, we found this book – “Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society”.

"Difference on Display: diversity in art, science and society"

It’s a mix of artists, film-makers, performers, theorists and activists – Donna Harraway, Tom Shakespeare, Bruce Nauman, William Kentridge, Patricia Piccinini, Louise Bourgeois, Critical Art Ensemble, and a lot more – and it approaches diversity and normality from a huge range of angles.  I’m sure it will find it’s way into my thoughts as they emerge here…

Again, yes, any suggestions and thoughts are very welcome, particularly on poets I should read…

2010 in review

It’s a new year and it’s about time I updated my “About” tab – times change and so do we.  Check out the About tab at the top left of the page (right next to Home).

And now a word from WordPress on this blog, probably of special interest to the statisticians and trivialists out there (yeah, I know, as if I’m not one of them…!).

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2010. That’s about 8 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 5 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 30 posts. There were 11 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was June 9th with 42 views. The most popular post that day was yes, I am a tourist.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, queenslandpoetryfestival.info, middleeuropeanmelancholy.wordpress.com, slamup.blogspot.com, and vic.ipaa.org.au.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for puri beach, slogans on tourism in india, andy jackson poet, red light area in hyderabad, and not gay.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

yes, I am a tourist February 2009

2

new india tourism slogans February 2009
3 comments

3

a city is not a city February 2009
4 comments

4

Sikkim/Imsikk February 2009

5

About November 2008
11 comments

poems, abnormality, puppetry & reviews

What do those four words have in common?  In the best blogging tradition – me. 

October’s been a huge month.  I’ve been adjusting to a new job, ten hours a week (2.5 hrs x 4 days) at a medical library.  Plus, planning and preparing for the tour of the Australian Poetry Omnibus Mobile Library – which included a trip up the Maldon Folk Festival (a fantastic, vibrant, daggy, rain-enduring festival).  And I’ve also been preparing my application for Masters of Arts (Creative Writing) at the University of Melbourne.  If the door’s open (and if there’s a pile of scholarship money awaiting), I’ll be researching and writing about how unusual/abnormal bodies make themselves known through contemporary poetry.  Any thoughts on this topic would be hugely appreciated – from any angle – theoretical, poetic, personal, political, etc…

This week – I’m performing at La Mama Theatre in Carlton – that wonderful, iconic, intimate theatre venue.  They do a series of short seasons for experimental works-in-progress called “Explorations“.  I’m performing an adaptation of my poem “9/10/1973 M3”, called “Ambiguous Mirrors” – it’s a puppetry and poetry collaboration with Rachael Wenona Guy.  Details below.  An edited clip of an earlier version is here on You Tube

  • Ambiguous Mirrors (in a double with Home Stretch, by Tom Davies)
  • @ La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday St Carlton
  • Thursday 11th, Friday 12th & Saturday 13th @ 7.30pm
  • Bookings on-line or on 03 9347 6142.

Also, now that my book “Among the Regulars” has been out for a while…  how does anyone get reviewed?  Is this because reviews are rarely published?  Is it because people write more than they read?  Do we just not have much of a reviewing culture?

thanks to a founding member of the Australian Communist Party

As some of you know, I’ve been, as the euphemism goes, “between jobs”. Nine months after finishing a post-graduate course, I’d lost count of the number of positions I’d applied for, I’d been to about a dozen interviews and been knocked back in many varied polite and complimentary ways. What I’d wanted was to have interesting part-time work that would leave me with enough energy and time to write. All I had so far was time. And, perhaps paradoxically, I wasn’t doing much writing.

I did have something to look forward to, though.  A four-week residency in Perth.

When I arrived at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, it was dark and one part of me was still in the plane, another still in Melbourne. This clean, simple room was to be my home for four weeks. I went for a walk – found suburban mansions, barking dogs and a rushing freeway. But, with a healthy dose of disorientation making things seem a little super-real, I also started to find my feet, and the start of a first poem.

As time went on, I covered a lot of territory. I walked through quite a chunk of the John Forrest NP, up and down almost all of the surrounding Greenmount suburban streets, around Midland’s shops and bus terminals, through the city in the shadow of cranes, and across the surface of Fremantle, wondering about its depths. I was also (thankyou Mardi!) driven around the Swan Valley, as the sun broke across vines and a still-being-completed Memorial Park for Yagan. I also went a long way while just sitting in my room – language and silence, human and animal, solitude, racism, public transport, parenthood, love, history, and more.

I wrote more poems in the four weeks of the residency than I wrote in the twenty weeks before it. This got me thinking – what is it that makes the difference? In what conditions does creativity flourish? It can’t be purely a question of the amount of time on my hands. It seems to me that it’s a complex cocktail – a blend of elements that is impossible to define precisely. But the most important factors to me seem to be a balance of familiarity and strangeness, home and holiday, stillness and stimulation. Plus, that most invaluable resource, time.

There is never any guarantee, but KSP helped bring these elements together. There is a wide window that draws in the sun, the trees, the flashes of parrots flying past. There’s a kettle for coffee. There’s internet access (to track down secondhand bookshops, plot a public transport journey, do important and trivial research, and stay in touch with home). Just up the hill, in the house, there’s a fantastic library, and a host of friendly and passionate writing groups. And further, in the National Park, the other wisdom of the bush. There’s a comfortable chair. And an occasional gentle, friendly knock at the door. Here is a place founded and maintained on an understanding that writing is a valuable, human, political, communal act – a reminder that writing grows not out of thin air, but in the soil of an encouraging and critical community. I arrived home not just to a new part-time job, but also thoroughly reinvigorated about what people can do with words.

I juggled a hundred elements to make a writing workshop – “writing through the body” – a success.  I spoke and read poems at a Literary Dinner, which was friendlier and more informal and fun than the name might indicate.  And mentored an emerging poet.  Oh, and spent time with some superbly keen writers groups – so down-to-earth they were almost subterranean.

So, thankyou to KSP the Writers Centre, but thankyou to KSP the person – Katharine Susannah Prichard, founding member of the Communist Party of Australia, impassioned novelist, scriptwriter, poet, thinker and doer.

Also, thanks to Janet and team at the Perth Poetry Club.  A great spot to check out the rich poetic grass-roots of Perth.

the words vs sleep equation

Last weekend, I did something foolish.  In the good sense.  As in, something that the rational Andy would have backed out of.

The 24 hr fix: Poetry Play Challenge is a joint initiative of Red Eight Creations and the Australian Poetry Centre.  They select five poets, five directors and ten actors, put them into five teams, and give them 24 hours to brainstorm, write, devise, rehearse and perform a 10-15 minute play.  This year the play was to respond to the theme “Glass Clouds”, the title of Grant Caldwell’s just-released book.

Now, I rarely write outside the 10am to 4pm window.  And I’ve never written a play.  But I need a stretch.  And a stretch it was – the constraint of time, theme, lack of sleep – all added up to mean that when I’d been writing for four or so hours, at 3.30am, I couldn’t tell what I’d done.  Was it any good?  Did it make sense?  Would an actor cringe as my words came out of their mouth?  I woke up at 7am to go to a group meeting wanting to delete some lines, but it was too late!

It’s an exercise in trust and release from ego, really.  You have to give up over-editing.  You have to push through the blank uncertainties, the writer’s disorientation.  And you have to allow your work to be placed into the hands of others.  

As it turned out, “my” play was somewhat abstract and perhaps over-ambitious, but the actors Rachel Taufa and Luci O’Brien (along with director Bronwyn Dunston) took it’s emotional and psychological core, it’s sense of journey, and made something quite haunting.  Thanks, people!

I also have to say I agreed with the Judges’ decision – Elise Hearst‘s piece was a classic, humane, focussed work and deserved to win.  Steve Smart too proved again his skill in fusing pathos and humour.

I can’t say I’m rushing to write at midnight again, but the process was like a drug – euphoric and addictive.  So, if you’re thinking of doing it in 2011, don’t think too much.  Do it.

PS.  I was also very encouraged by the crowd’s welcoming of the judges’ criticisms – we don’t critique in this culture regularly enough, and with enough consideration and clarity.  We (especially I) need more than just encouragement.

launch season 2010 – or, why just do it once?

Earlier this week, I heard the sweet thump of a box of books landing on my doorstep.  So, time to announce the launch of “Among the Regulars”, and also to mention a few other readings I have coming up.

Friday, June 11th @ 5.30pm for a 6pm start – Brunswick Bound Bookstore, 361 Sydney Rd Brunswick.

Hosted by the inimitable Maurice McNamara.  Launched by the inestimable Jennifer Harrison.

If you’re that way inclined, you can find the event (and me) on (de)Facebook!

Other feature readings this year include – 

  • Saturday, June 5th @ 3pm – Word Tree, Burrinja Gallery, Olinda.
  • Monday, June 14th @ 6.30pm, Readings at Readings, Carlton.
  • Saturday, June 19th @ 2.30pm – Dan Poets, Dan O’Connell Hotel, Carlton.
  • Sunday, July 4th @ 3.30pm – EcoCentre, St Kilda Botanical Garden.
  • Monday, July 19th @ 6.15pm – Wheeler Centre, Debut Mondays.
  • Saturday, August 14th – Perth Poetry Club, The Moon, 323 William St, Northbridge, WA.
  • Tuesday, August 17th, 7pm – Literary Dinner at Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, Greenmount, WA.
  • Last weekend in August – Queensland Poetry Festival, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.
  • Wednesday, October 27th – Somewhere in Sydney.
  • Tuesday, November 9th – Somewhere in Canberra.

More details as soon as they thump onto my inbox, but for now, here’s the book cover….  If you can’t make these, and you’d like to buy the book, click on the Papertiger link on the right.

Rosebank – “out Cobaw way”

I’m very keen to tell you about the imminent arrival of “Among the regulars”, but for now it’s Rosebank.  I’ve just come back from a 3-week stay at “Rosebank Retreat“, generously granted through the Victorian Writers Centre, Mary Delahunty, the Sidney Myer Fund and Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.  And as the old cliche goes, it’s not a retreat as much as an attack.  The idea being, give a writer a place to stay and very little “real world” commitments, and the writer will write.

Before I tell you if that actually happened, let me give you a few images of the place and the surrounding area…

Rosebank Retreat
If you ride a trailbike through this, there's a lot you won't hear...

 

a curious and talkative local...
Macedon Ranges from the Cobaw State Forest

 

I had no strong plans for what I’d do here.  I wanted to write poems, maybe a dozen if I’m lucky, hopefully at least a handful.  I didn’t have any subjects, ideas, not a single rhyme scheme either.  The plan was to let the plan emerge out of the place, see how it affected me.  If you can put yourself into the photos above, you can guess – while it’s possible, it’s highly unlikely you won’t be refreshed and stimulated being here.  Oh, yeah, and by “here”, I mean between Woodend and Lancefield, not far from Hanging Rock.  Or, as we were told by someone at the nearest (8 kms away) General Store, “out Cobaw way”.

It may be way too early to talk about the quality of what I’ve written up there, but I did come out of it with a lot – something approximating the quantity of work I’d hoped for, but two other things happened.

I learnt more about how to work with my own creative energy – took breaks when I needed to, observed how my moods affected my writing, and above all, was reminded of “the power of the walk”.  Every time, without fail, if I went for a walk, some small or large poetic problem would be solved, especially if I wasn’t deliberately trying to solve it.

I also took on some new approaches.  More of that another time.

Big thanks go to George Dunford, novelist, travel writer and The Wire afficianado.  We shared Rosebank, and he gave me space when I had that “I’m getting creative” body-language, and we filled the evenings with food and drink and audio books (yes, believe it or not) and numerous in-jokes.

If you get a chance to spend time at Rosebank, do so.  Bring all your writing tools and something to take your mind off the writing too.  And remember that when you come back into the “big smoke”, you’ll feel a little weird, and you’ll miss the echidna, the kangaroos, the cows, the rosellas, the rusted old farming equipment, the wind shivering over the hills, the open spaces of the day…  and you’ll have to work out for yourself how to re-create little miniature retreats in your everyday life.