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”
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.