I take the Writing Process Blog tour
What am I working on at the moment?
A series exploring the lives and connections between a number of alphabetically identified fictional characters. Because it’s something I’m writing at the moment I don’t know everything about what I’m doing or, totally, why I’m doing it. But writing about characters with different voices seems to allow me to roam wider with what I include in a poem and add the dimension of different ways of looking at the world.
What I like about it is that it gives me the chance to make things up as I go along and to write about everyday things and connect them to the resonance it might have in a character’s mental life or wider world. I also like the opportunity to use the random notes I make in my poetry scrapbook and drop them into places where they can push a narrative forward.
If all sounds a bit abstract, you can read a couple of these poems in the latest issue of Sport 42 (2014). One of these is reproduced below.
How does my work differ from others?
Well heaps of poets have written about characters in the third person, so in that sense my work isn’t that different from others. This writing has ranged from series about actual people, to fictional named characters, to personas called ‘she’, ‘he’ ‘you’ etc. To cite recent examples, in the latest Sport Frances Samuel has a lovely piece called Vending Machine with a character called ‘the girl’, and in her book Other Animals, Therese Lloyd has three sharp poems about the aftermath of a relationship which use a character called Jane. Janis Freegard has her lively surreal character, Alice Spider.
Perhaps my poems are different in that my characters are just identified by letters of the alphabet which makes me think of overhearing ghostly voices and conversations from another room. Also I’m quite interested in the connections between the characters and the extent to which a connection is a ‘real’ part of your identity.
Why am I writing about this?
I started writing the series after reading novels with multiple character viewpoints and thinking how much I liked that format. Also I’d been reading books where the characters had strong interior lives and, being an introvert myself, I was quite captivated by the prospect of writing about someone’s mental life. I liked the idea of crossing over into novel and short story writing – it seemed to offer the possibility doing something bigger than a poem, while paradoxically, still keeping it within the bounds of poetry. I think it’s exciting to find ways of ‘un-poetrying’ poetry.
How does the writing process work?
I get random thoughts and ideas at all sorts of inconvenient times so I end up jotting them down on my phone. Every so often I get in a panic about the number of jottings and transfer them to the official notebook and that’s a resource of hunting for the scraps and phrases that might be connected to an idea in my head. I usually work with pen and paper until I have a shape for the work.
Once a poem is on the computer though that’s when the real writing and editing begins. I often find it takes almost two years before a poem is really finished – even things that have been published. You seem to need to become emotionally disengaged from the writing before you can see the editing that needs to happen.
Y as X
When Y writes as X she thinks she should write sentences
like jabs in a boxing match, but pulled at the last minute
by a sudden funniness. How does he do that? She looks
at X’s writing and sees his sentences are often shockingly
short. X would never write a word like ‘disbenefit’, then
in a long parenthesis explain that, surprisingly, the word
does exist and how X (writing as Y) feels embarrassed
she didn’t know, and that the person who used the word
had a blocky confidence they would rise in the organisation,
so took words from the course rather than older ones
with their shabby disadvantages and how this upsets Y (X as Y)
in ways she can’t explain. Close parenthesis.
When X sees Y’s attempts to write as him, he’s startled
by the bluntness of the text. He’s become an alarmingly
savage person. Put in ‘please’ there and there, he tells Y.
And thank her. End by thanking her.
Next week Paekakariki poet Mary-Jane Duffy will feature on the Writing Blog tour answering the same four questions. Mary Jane is Creative Writing Programme Manager and Tutor at Whitireia Polytechnic. She has a background in the cultural and gallery sector and is one of the four co-authors of the poetry collection Millionaire’s Shortbread (2003). Mike Houlahan remarks that Duffy’s poems ‘use cultural events for reflections that can be wry and fantastical.’ She has had writing published in the journal Sport, Jaam, and also writes for the arts sector.