Mary-Jane Duffy does the writing process blog tour
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.
Here she tells us about her fascination with the women of Paris in the 1920s.
What am I working on at the moment?
I’m working on a series of poems about my obsession with a bunch of women who lived in Paris in the 1920s – Colette, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Barney, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, Adrienne Monnier, Liane de Pugy, Renee Vivien and various associates. I’ve been obsessed with these women since reading about them in my own twenties. I’m trying to understand my undimmed interest in them and what has sustained it for thirty years.
How does my work differ from others?
Perhaps the real question is, does my work differ from others? I’m not sure. I’m trying to do all those clever things poets do – bend sound and text to their will – and it’s a struggle, like the David Shrigley quote ‘I have always had the desire to write poetry, but I find it so fucking hard.’
Why am I writing about this?
Because I’m obsessed. Because I can’t not write about it. Writing poems about me and these women allows me to think through our relationship. I look back at them and this time and see it as a moment of struggle and liberation, if I can be so cheesy. Unsupervised glamorous young women having conversations about art and writing, experimenting with everything, trying to make their way in the world on their own terms. I think of Martha Gellhorn and Janet Flanner recording their times and lives. Is my interest nostalgic? Romantic? Aesthetic? How do their stories inform mine? Who knows? It’s all a terrific mystery.
How does the writing process work?
I never have anything intelligent to say about this… I turn on my computer. I scribble silly things in notebooks. I bring them together. In that collision something happens. Words appear on pages, line and pages multiply, poems come into existence. My obsession insists on them, wills them to exist.
How we laughed—
you were temperamental,
very odd, a bit intense,
too overly Athenian.
Or and your mother had always
wanted a girl or was it a boy
(she never knew whether she was
Arthur or Martha)? And there was
the brick you were always
on the verge of dropping.
Stay tuned for information about which poet will be next.