The none too nonchalant art of problem solving

Collection connection

Though perhaps a little premature, I’ve been giving thought to the title of the collection; this seemed like an excellent way to moderate feelings of guilt while being away from my computer in Auckland this past week.

Before leaving I finally gained some ground on key aspects of the collections structure. While not quite in the league of hiring scaffolding and concrete mixers, these structural or formal elements are allowing me a greater momentum and intimacy, both in generating the writing and with how the reader might navigate the collection as a whole.

Energy

Giving consideration to comments from my first workshop critique I realised that I needed to find ways for the collection to do the following:

Energy in writing relies on capturing the momentum of its creation. A phenomenological balance between meaning being realised, physicality being exerted, and failure and hope generating idiosyncratic intensities are all essential to realising varieties of energy.

Without the right structure these explorations can leave a reader feeling unsatisfied with the undulations of meaning/non-meaning and by extension confidence in the writing’s voice can waver for a reader, when confronted with abstraction and incoherence. It became clear that I needed to find strategies that would allow me to house these undulations while encouraging confidence in the writing, and for a reader, across the collection.

Though these seemed like two separate issues to start with, it was helpful to consider how the individual works might be housed in a collection format. Considering works in this way allows for a greater flexibility in approach to how I might start problem solving the above. Tina summed up general comments after the workshop nicely when she said it could be as simple as finding a way to encourage the reader to go back to the poems for a second or third reading, as the slow-release of meaning/experience becomes digestible.

I started to address this by thinking about ways I could establish a relationship between the poetry and prose I’d been writing. Feedback on the prose had been positive with regards to transparency of intention and confidence of voice through irony, drama and other romantic gestures.

Dramatic Monologue

I also realised the Dramatic Monologue (DM) would be integral to finding a solution. When I did the reading workshop on the DM I began to consider the specific ways it is performative.

In a performance or reading the distinction between what is poetry or prose becomes secondary to the voice of the reader and how they choose to shape the characters, narrative, pace and momentum for a live audience. Voice selects what to emphasise over and above what the form on the page might dictate. The DM will be integral to how I will house and push the performative in the writing I’m doing.

This is not just because the DM emphasises the dramatic, rather I’m interested in how the DM activates the ‘you’ and the challenge and potential there is for me to contemporise the DM form, specifically through short works of prose rather than poetry. This will be a way to explore the ‘dramatic’ form more thoroughly.

You

Firstly lets look at the activation of the ‘you’ in a DM. We are probably most familiar with the ‘you’ in confessional poetry, often disembodied and at the mercy of the dominant ‘I’ who speaks in the poem. In the DM the ‘I’ still appears to dominate, however it is premised on an active interlocutor whose presence qualifies the ‘I’ to speak. Thus DM demonstrates a conditioned plurality.

The ‘you’ can be another listener in the poem, the reader and even the writer or another person overtly collaborating in the poems evolution.

The second point is something that I’m only beginning to experiment with and it rests on an intuition and observations I’ve made in the past about performance and audience.

Performative prose

Robert Browning’s characters are extremely controlling and proceed dictatorially (often delightfully so) through metre, line breaks, stanza length and shape etc. While I like this, I think it would prove disruptive for a contemporary reader to be confronted with this kind of formal didacticism.

This is another way of saying the enjoyment for a reader of finding a character dig himself deeper into a hole, or offering an idiosyncratic philosophical insight, can be enhanced also by freedom generated though a fresh form. A reader today requires a new kind of formal novelty against which to explore its freedoms and limitations.

(This will be interesting to come back to in a few months as a way to look at how my intention to track idiosyncratic and historical time develops.)

Housing the DM qualities and pushing them via prose is a viable way to extend the voices in the poems and the variety of performative qualities they exhibit on the page. Hopefully I can maintain the ‘energy’ of the writing while being both indirect and excessively direct at times about how this energy is installed.

In other words I’m finding ways to balance reader response, develop avenues for companionship in the collection and house a momentum that is enriched by but not limited to plot, theme or narrative.

Lyric Monologues

By titling a poem and prose piece with the same heading, I establish a portal through which the reader enters with an expectation of connection. Questions immediately jostle for attention also – what and how will the lyric connect with the companionable monologue? While the pieces don’t explain each other thematically, my aim is, via repetition and establishing this initial rhetoric, to prime the reader to look for connections extensively across the collection as well as discretely in individual works.

This will be an attempt to translate various echo’s in one piece into the language of other pieces. It will be one way to establish a to and fro, a deeper level/prolonged ghosting/ idiomatic conversation or historicising throughout the collection.

I had initially thought I would literally work towards one prolonged comic monologue, and I think I still will. The difference will be that this singular epic will be present mostly as an undercurrent, undulating and being undulated by the writing. Who knows though really? I may just have found a way to actually make my initial interest a reality.

At the moment I’m also experimenting with a long-story/poem format in which different monologues populate a transparent plot driven/narrative situation. So this is what will occupy me most over the break in conjunction with polishing and expanding the lyric monologue pairs I’ve been working on

I love the idea of strangers in my monologues

I think the inner hoot of owls is at the heart of the undercurrent

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Her will and testament

Is my shadow a citizen or a

man?

Not a question your father would have asked.

Not the high-strung impostor natural as rubber.

Not the scar of the man.

Not to look too shrewd in his wake.

Not ground, terribly versatile.

Not the other portal of weightlessness.

Not without a deadline always taking care.

Not one full-blooded vote.

Not the festive tree glinting on the army base.

Not the strangers in his monologues.

Not the location outskirts cut with grass.

Not the people they say were training to handle lights.

Not the warbling aridity.

Not hopeless for love yet to happen.

Not the living they do between volumes of tufts.

Not the nutrition they smell and burn.

Not dew.

Not provenance.

Not the passing through that shod him.

Not inherited gait.

Not unlike mischief.

Not its inner talent-quest.

Not our marriage.

Not one kiss.

Not mine or his.

No, bury me next to Cynthia, her shadow had dignity.