Poetry Season – an online workshop coming soon

A few days ago, I announced this on Facebook (aka Farcebook / defacebook), but of course not everyone is on social media, so I thought it best to let you know here. This summer, I’ll be running an online poetry workshop – Poetry Season!

Each week, for six weeks, I’ll send out a short essay, which will include a writing exercise (and a few examples). Participants will then write a new poem of their own, which will be distributed to the whole group. I’ll provide feedback on each of your poems (and everyone else will be encouraged to, too). So, at the end, you’ll have six draft (or maybe even completed) poems.

The workshop will cover place and season, self and other, body and poetic form. I want to give you opportunities to try some things you haven’t tried before, to engage in some serious play, to dive deeper into your own developing aesthetic. So, it’s for everyone who writes poetry and wants to refresh their practice – emerging, developing or established (as shaky as those categories are).

I’m still sorting out the exact details and pricing, but it’s likely to run from mid January to end February 2019, with a maximum of 10 participants (although there may be two groups), with concession for unwaged.

If you’re interested, and you haven’t already let me know, please do so asap, and I’ll make sure you get a chance to participate. It’s first in, best (poetically) dressed. If you miss out this time, I’m planning to run another Poetry Season in the future….

PS The other news is that this blog will soon be a website….

kindergarten AJ001
1975 – poet at work, pre-internet

disembodied poetics?

As many of you know, I was in the United States in July and part of August.  The main reason was to attend the (big breath…!) Summer Writing Program of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.  I first heard of the School  in the late 1990s, when I found an anthology of writing published by them, and bought the book partly out of cautious curiosity – how could poetry be “disembodied”?  And should it be?

Anyway, in the last year or so, I found myself feeling a little unsatisfied with my poetry, feeling I was beginning to repeat myself.  I wanted to give myself a jolt of poetic input, to be challenged, confused, encouraged and expanded.  So, a four-week schedule of workshops, readings, talks, panel discussions, meetings and mentoring, all held at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, with a roster of writers including Anne Waldman, Amiri Baraka, Anne Carson, Rae Armantrout, Jerome Rothenberg and Ron Silliman…  hmmm, let me think about that – YES.  And thanks to Copyright Agency, who gave me generous funding, I could attend and not come back entirely broke.

It is impossible to capture my time in Boulder in all its sunshine, rigour, shivers and momentum.  But I can give you some hints.

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After I moved in to my sub-let on University Hill, while I was wandering around town looking for something salad-like for lunch, I noticed a guy looking at me fairly intently, curious.  Normally, I’d feel a little suspicion or anticipatory resentment, but I’m not at home and I’m determined to be open.  “Is that scoliosis?”, he asks.  So, I say yes, tell him the brief Marfan story.  He tells me he has a slight scoliosis and a lot of pain – when he was a little kid, in the 80s, he and his brother would play at professional wrestling (WWF-style) and he was slammed down onto concrete.  We talk for a while about how invisible pain is, how everyone’s story is different.  He asks me why I’m here; I tell him about Naropa.  Turns out he grew up next door to one of the founders Chogyam Trungpa, which is another story…  But something of the outgoing, genuine, unpretentious nature of this conversation is (to me anyway) very American…

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Each of the four weeks at the Summer Writing Program, you choose a different workshop.  I was with Rikki Ducornet, Rae Armantrout, M Nourbese Philip and Anne Waldman.  We grafted our own writing onto fragments of Herodotus, extending threads into the surreal or hyperreal.  We took famous poems and (out of homage or critique or both) rewrote them into another era or voice or gender.  We recorded a collaborative performance poem in the studio.  We talked about imagination, research, appropriation, colonialism, modernism, rupture and environmental crisis, and of course a million other things.  If there was an overarching theme to the Naropa approach, I would say it’s a passion to integrate research and intuition within poetry, and to engage the writer’s own body in the writing process.

In Nourbese’s workshop, we were to tell our own story, one at a time, in a circle.  But we had a time-limit.  And when the automatic timer went off, no matter how intimate or mundane or traumatic (or mid-sentence), our story would have to stop and the next person start.  The accumulating, visceral sense of interruption accumulated, a palpable absent space, one that also was a kind of communion.  We wrote out of that space, not to fill it in, but to respect it and allow it to speak.

There were many rigorous lectures, thought-provoking panel discussions, powerful performances and readings, and in between sessions some rich conversations.  Some of us meditated in the mornings.  Some of us had tacos and beer in the evening.  There was blue summer sky, horizontal clouds, afternoon storms, and the mountains surrounding us.

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I have a whole lot of unfinished poems in my journal to revisit, a percolating idea for a long poem, and many thoughts and provocations to sort through.  And many new friends and colleagues.  We keep hiking…

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”

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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.