‘…be better than yourself…’

‘Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.’

– William Faulkner

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The one rule…

Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.

– Norman Mailer

The Carriage

Web comic from http://xkcd.com/ – just a bit of poetry-related fun:

More poetry-related cartoons here: https://guerrillapoem.wordpress.com/2012/09/08/poetry-cartoons/

This also from xkcd here: https://guerrillapoem.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/alternative-literature/

Love and the Power of Poetry

A while ago we posted an advert for the BBC’s 2009 Poetry Season.

Tonight we bring you something beautiful, poetic, and just the right level of emotional for a Friday night in.

Here’s comedian Robert Webb recounting a particular poem, and a particular poet, that touched his life:

‘You ask whether your verses are good…’

‘You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me that. You have asked others, before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you worry when certain editors turn your efforts down. Now (since you have allowed me to offer you advice) let me ask you to give up all that. You are looking to the outside, and that above all you should not be doing now. Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself. Examine the reason that bids you to write; check whether it reaches its roots into the deepest region of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would die if it should be denied you to write. This above all: ask yourself in your night’s quietest hour: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if it should be affirmative, if it is given to you to respond to this serious question with a loud and simple ‘I must‘, then construct your life according to this necessity; your life right into its most inconsequential and slightest hour must become a sign and witness of this urge.’

– Rainer Maria Rilke, in a letter to Franz Xavier Kappus (translated Charlie Louth)

Poetry Cartoons

In a moment of boredom, I typed ‘poetry’ into Google images. Among the results was an abundance of the much-expected photos of fountain pens and loopy handwriting, along with plenty of pictures of famous (and not so famous) poets.

However, there were also these little gems, from Savage Chickens:

Poetry Pick #2: Lisa Gorton, ‘Press Release’

Published by Giramondo Poets, Lisa Gorton’s Press Release is a fantastic first collection. It is unsurprising that the work received critical acclaim, with Gorton receiving the inaugural Vincent Buckley Prize, and becoming 2010 poet in residence at the Australian Poetry Centre. With such high praise, the book could hardly disappoint.

Press Release takes its title from one of the collection’s sequences of three poems, entitled ‘Sci-Fi’ and set in the future. ‘Press Release’ itself, set in the year 2020, begins rather appropriately with a futuristic science-fiction press release. However, this emotionally and temporally distant beginning is merely the context for what we then read a very tender poem from the point of view of a mother letting go of her child. While remaining beautifully crafted poetry, this dramatic monologue gives a raw and genuine portrayal of human emotion. The voice of the mother sounds unforced and honest as she speaks to her comatose child. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the poem (even possibly the entire collection) is its end:

 

Press release, my darling,
and do not sorrow. Do not once sorrow.
If you will think of me, think only of these years
I held your unfailing present in my empty hands.

 

The carefully crafted simplicity of these lines alone makes the collection worth reading. But these lines also reveal another, more personal side to the collection. Gorton very cleverly uses the double meaning of ‘press release’, both as a noun indicating a statement to the press and as an instruction: to ‘press release’, as the phrase appears within the context of this poem. This context throws the entire collection into a new light; what Gorton’s collection becomes is is not simply a statement of a publicised self (or rather, a projected self), but also an attempt at a release. What both reader and poetic voice seem to be released from through the collection becomes clear in the telling lines: ‘his will be an innocent world / conquered in peace’. Through her poetry, it is possible that Gorton is attempting to release us from the weight of the past.

It is interesting that Gorton does not shy away from using more traditional forms in her poetry, with the collection containing both a sonnet, ‘Aeroplane’, and a pantoum entitled ‘Petrol’. What this acknowledgement of structured form adds to the collection (the majority of which is written in free verse) is not only a sense of the effect that the past is still having on us, even as Gorton is attempting to release us from it. Gorton is a far superior poet than that. Instead, she uses these forms as a new (or perhaps reclaimed) discourse for aspects of modern life.

There is definitely a weight of history in the collection, particularly in the Mallee Sequence, which is set in Victoria, Australia, largely at the end of the Second World War. However, this weight is not always negative, and Press Release is also permeated by a sense of light and air. The collection opens with a poem entitled ‘Graffiti’, which beautifully outlines the interplay between the weight of history and the lightness of being in an almost Kunderra-esque fashion:

 

Out of the dark, ashes fall softly.
We have to stand up again and again to shake them off.
What a weight of light!
The dark is smaller than you expected.

 

This reworking of the weight of the past into something light and freeing is something which Gorton continues to do right through the collection, in form and theme alike.

Press Release is a beautiful and intriguing first collection. It is an easy book to read, and Gorton’s portrayal of human emotion is so natural and seemingly effortless that it draws the reader in. It is not only from the weight of the past that Gorton releases us, but from the weight of ourselves, as we are invited to slip easily into the perspective of her poetic creations.

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This Poetry Pick was chosen by Katie Hale, founder of [insert text here].

Born in Cumbria, Katie’s first story (written aged four and entitled It’s Not Fair) received much critical acclaim from indulgent parents and well-wishing neighbours. Since then she has been published in Velour, anthologies 11 Poets and Above Water, and university magazine The Jam, and has twice won the Anne Pierson Award. She spent a year living in Melbourme, and is about to move to St Andrews to begin a Masters in Creative Writing.

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For Lisa Gorton reading at a TEDx talk in Sydney, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_WDM4mNWT8

The Red Room Company’s profile of Lisa Gorton: http://redroomcompany.org/poet/lisa-gorton/

Giramondo Publishing information on Press Release (cover image taken from this site): http://www.giramondopublishing.com/category/author/lisa-gorton-author