Dear temperamental adjective

ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin temperamentum ‘correct mixture,’ from temperare ‘mingle.’ In early use the word was synonymous with the noun temper.

What makes writing temperamental – the correct mixture or have the right kind of social or linguistic skills that allow it to effectively mingle and communicate?

I like the ring this question has with this quote that introduces Louis Zukofsky’s Little, ‘Where coincidences intend no harm’.

I have been reading Alan Brunton’s collection fq, which is at times lucidly evocative, ‘imagining brothers and sisters, material worlds inside,’ and is host to a cast of characters and a vague sense of plot, plotting with and against them, through 132 poems.

There is also a range of formal arrangements, with some of my favorite stanzas dripping down the page, offering a kind of unconscious leak to spring up, or a slow thought to be stretched and vanish.

It is ugly but temperamentally so, there is a sense of ‘correct mixture’ passing through a host of minds, jammed into conversations, hunted and distracted.

Richard Powers suggests that ‘what’s seen (through the looker/character) reflects the lookers inner values,’ – this is a good principle. It also needs to extend to how its limitations could easily iron out the way characters, like writers too perhaps, absorb and dismiss their own principles, when they lead themselves by questions of value and perception – not entirely located in their body proper, but tangential, temperamental, seeing by mixing and going missing.

Alan Brunton goes missing a lot, his voice gets mixed up with his characters, his characters get mixed up in the plot, the plot gets mixed up in formal drips and avalanches, the landscape is full of obstacles and light.

I’m trying to write by incorporating ‘mixture’, a sort of atmospheric temperament through the language that persists or insists on sinking piles through thought, opening and closing the latches on life. It is a dance between the general inner value and the particular coincidences perhaps that linger there, and a bit of the reverse:

This is an example of general, well meaning, fumbling of the particular:

“What is an adjective? Nouns name the world. Verbs activate the names. Adjectives come from somewhere else. The word adjective (epitheton in Greek) is itself and adjective meaning ‘places on top,’ ‘added,’ ‘appended,’ ‘imported,’ foreign.’ Adjectives seem fairly innocent additions but look again. These small imported mechanisms are in charge of attaching everything in the world to its place in particularity. They are the latches of being.”

– Anne Carson
Autobiography of Red


A living spring introduction

The lyric poem component is a reworking of the earlier poem Possessed and takes certain echo’s from the monologue story that accompanies it. I wonder if it will be necessary in the end to keep the titles of the lyric monologue pairs the same, or if the echo’s will be able to stand on their own. I have much more work to do before making that decision!

The possibility of a prolonged monologue still interests me – and increasingly it will depend on experiments I make with structure and what I can roll with in the surprises the writing presents.

Food for thought. Which reminds me, it’s time for lunch.

Lydia Davis and tangents of structure

Initially when I read Lydia Davis collection ‘Break it down’ I was attracted to the psychological environments she established through very minimal means and how this freed up an approach to the endings of the stories.

Since reading the interview Structure is Structure that Rina passed on to me the other day I have also become interested in thinking about how the structure of her stories informs my reading of her work as minimal and less invested in causality or its drama.

Structure is a kind of dry word, as if it means to take the magic out of something. In the context of her writing however it takes on a kind of unpredictable power.

It has something to do with scale and proportion, which in her stories seems to focus the psychological boundaries of her characters. There is an investigation of what her characters can know about themselves and their environment and how this informs what they can know of others.

For example in Five Signs of Disturbance, the physical limits of a woman’s state of mind are animated. A democracy between her thoughts and her environment exists. In this situation time is left alone. Later it transpires that it was there, and makes demands only when the character attempts to pin her understanding or confusion on something tangible or immediate. The structure becomes less about repetition or sparseness or lack of dramatic plot, but more about tensions leading to and away from understanding, and how it does or doesn’t find appropriate tangibility in language.

I get excited about the tangents in tangibility, that maybe understanding requires considerable tangents on which to hinge and generate a memory, or a memorable after-life once it is reabsorbed by the pace of life or the mind.

I will leave it at that for now. I am thinking about structure as I am thinking about how it can be experimented with in different ways in long or short fiction and how structure might relate to the logic of conclusion, or scale which is about tangents of boundaries.

Lydia Davis interviewed by Jason McBride can be found on the Poetry Foundation website and is titled Structure is Structure.

Questions: Different padding to diffident pudding

I’m intentionally back to ignoring genre’s again – still with the chaos of specific ones in the back of my mind – the dramatic monologue, lyric, magic realism, language poetry, phenomenology…then the ones that seem to have been obscured for a while or the ones that you can feel coming at you as if from the future…etc

So more specifically I’m intentionally ignoring what can and can’t supposedly mix as genres or be subtracted or added. The writing generates a cacophony all of its own, and then my intentions do also, and then whatever else is out there nosing around.

Thinking about genres does seem like unnecessary trouble and for this reason my curiosity is piqued, I can’t help myself – why am I thinking about magic realism?

There is what you write and what you love to read. What you love to talk about also.


Where does magic realism fit in the conversations I’m having – strangely it might be an editing thing, a question of editing – which is one way of saying the shape you try and draw out of writing after it has led you where it wants you to go – or during the process if the writing is being demanding – or not at all if it’s being improvisationally lucid.

I think even the magic realists wouldn’t have liked the idea of magic realism much, the cute side of it anyway – whatever the name there does seem to be something about a relation of fantasy to talking about the present, maybe even the subjective generalised or the general subjectified to talk about the social.

E. Jabes has his characters variously put each other through questioning, or put each other on trial.

Strangeness and questions are related.

So if I ignore the trope magic realism and pick up on the following maybe it will get me somewhere more interesting, a place to have a conversation beyond petty rejection of terminology:


A piece of writing may suppress its questions until the end of the first draft – this means it is also delaying a transparency of its potential strangeness, which by extension gives it a social and subjective framework.

It can’t always see at first what its fantasies are and how it needs to be edited or layered by intentionality, a layer which whether subjective or general allows specific questions to become visible to a reader.

When people begin to establish boundaries between each other, there is a necessary openness, a starting point with only implied boundaries, where few have been mutually exercised or practiced – humble, shy, anticipating but not yet lived.

Writing must also find a way to make liveable the implied boundaries it has set itself – and perhaps this is why I’m thinking about where editing fits into the process as well as fantasy and realism.

First lets talk about fantasy. Sport has been on my mind, on the mind of my writing…

Yes that’s right, sport, as in games, play – the national obsession is just the tip of the iceberg my writing is saying to me.

Then most recently the strangest proposition was made – Sport relates to Holidays!

What? The part of my writing that tries to clarify things for me has been a pain in the ass about this for weeks now…What does sport have to do with holidays? I’ve tried to ask it, cajole an answer from it. As always it took me a while to realize I needed to ask it some harder questions.

Does sport relate to pleasure?
Does leisure first confront the body?
What is the role of play in the imagination?
What do freedom and boundaries have to do with strangeness and how we confront it?
What explosions and superstitions can the athletic heart bear?

I’ve been working on a poem that has this line in it:

– proportion is an unfathomable holiday in another heart.

Holidays, like sport, occur on a scale of formal and informal play. Holidays are available to (inflicted on), in various forms, everyone – that is what is implied by the holiday. Sport has a similar proposition to it, an element of the life-miniature:

To explain:

– with watching a game of sport, playing soccer in the driveway or going camping or sleeping in the back-yard, we have the chance to respond to the subtle changes, twists and turns, that are otherwise obscured by everyday volatility. For better or worse.

Lets extend this further:

Another example would be how you don’t notice how family members, that you might grow up living with, age, in comparison to those relatives who you don’t see as often.

Sport or a holiday would seem to give you the opportunity to take in changes which time would normally smooth over, incrementally, as you slow down also, take time out, enjoy time for the pure pleasure of it, knowing that there is a start and end to the activity.

BUT it gets more interesting when you remember the element of play, pleasure in activity, in boundaries and inventive freedom. You would much rather prioritise the ‘general’ observation, the deepening of emotional, physical, mental and even spiritual involvement, seemingly at a remove from life’s usual pace and parameters.

At first this appears to be an attempt to just stall the increments that are always so swiftly passing in the everyday rush of routine.

What’s more significant is that we also try to do away with or reorient the superstitions of this rushing, this striving and straining – on holiday or at play, rushing, striving and straining are all present, they are just reorganised to suit a particular replenishment of the compass.

I think this is why I wanted to give a little wave to genre, to its historical and social compass – tapping into genres is a little bit like taking an unfathomable holiday in another heart.

It can be both ethical and unknown, limiting and explosive.

Different padding to diffident pudding…

Postscript to ‘Possessed’

I began ‘Possessed’ after watching the video performance by Hannah Wilke. Wilke was one of my early influences when I first began to practice performance and push the capacity for the body to exert its expertise in both art and writing.

I think realizing the body in anything is hard – even in life its hard. You could say the body is everywhere and it is explosive and secretive and arduous and lightening-like and a compass and a short straw and a superstition and a belief and a holiday and a home.

I’m going to try and get at the body a bit more – this attempt will try to enrich the ‘energy’ I’ve talked about in relation to my writing, that I’ve been attempting to shape through structures like the pairs of lyric monologues.

The body is tied to strangeness – a hiccup that devours its promise.

I want to know how writing might be able to endure the body and how the body might be able to better endure writing.

The life in strangeness – Drip of sleep

My friends Paula and Marnie are editing a new publication called Public Good, and some of the things we’ve talked about including public-ness in art/writing/thought and that shadowy hyperactive and under-active word ‘good’ have led me to think more about recent experiments or ‘explosive sneezes’ in my writing.

I’d been flicking through this book that had been published in English in 1991, written by Julia Kristeva – the title was ‘Strangers to ourselves’.

I found this passage:

“The distinction set forth in the Declaration (of Independence) between “humanity” (whether it is ‘natural’ or symbolic’ is a moot point) and “citizenry” maintains the requirement of a human, tran-historical dignity, whose content never the less needs to be made more complex, beyond the 18th Cent optimistic naivety…

So dignity, what it could be or be capable of, is composed of differences prioritised in the realms of ‘humanity’ and ‘citizenry’. What a great place to start to think about strangers or strangeness and its many forms…especially at the moment when I’m responding to news in many guises in my writing – a list that includes; inflation, a Christmas tree on an army base, petrol, superstition, Zimbabwe, sport, narcissism and holidays.

But before I talk more about Kristeva, here is something from Eliot Weinberger’s essay, Karmic Traces that’s going to help me flesh these twists of intention and dalliance out:

“Vasana, which literally means ‘scent’, is karmic residue, the stuff-as ineffable as smell-that remains from a past life. Each life produces vasanas, which remain dormant until one is reincarnated in the same species. That is, the vasanas from your life as a cat will only be triggered when, a thousand incarnations later, you are a cat again.”

When writing to Paula about these traces I started to relate them to pursuits of the public and the good. Without much methodical thought I drew these conclusions:

– there is a common pursuit of ‘good’ and a huge population of traces of it
– ‘good’ resides in the variety of traces that we experience in various forms of sociability such as politics, ethics, arts and the sciences etc

We have ‘good’ principals that can be accessed (enlivened is a better word) through traces specific to certain fields or professions.

We first aim for ‘good’ without having preconceived ideas about how it might be realized, and in which field or profession the trace will reveal itself, and from where it will give us a decent whiff of the ‘good’ stuff.

The real potential lies in the fact that a pursuit of the ‘good’ could make us appear in any number of fields, from politics to physics – how we re-familiarize ourselves with traces of ‘good’ sharpens the context of the field in which the pursuit has led us.

Does this mean that by sharpening the trace we sharpen the good and the social?

This seems an interesting expansion of how we would usually consider politics or the public in relation to the ‘good’ – public doesn’t lead to ‘good’ rather (or also) the pursuit of ‘good’ traces leads us to an unpredictable area of the public domain in which we can get to work to sharpen these ‘traces’ and explode them or sneeze at them or care for them depending on the dignity at stake.

The capacity of good and its public manifestations explode sometimes, expand in pleasant and unpleasant ways, but open new doors in which we decide the balance that is liveable….

Kristeva talks about these moments of the liveable and unliveable in terms of understanding strangeness and its many explosions:

‘Individual particularistic tendencies, the desire to set oneself up as a private value, the attack against the other, identification with or rejection of the group are inherent in human dignity, if one acknowledges that such a dignity includes strangeness. That being the case, as social as that strangeness might be, it can be modulated – with the possibility of achieving a polytopic and supple society, neither locked in to the nation or its religion, nor anarchically exposed/apposed to all of its explosions.’

I’ve posted a poem that I think relates very little to all but an exploration of strangeness – I think strangeness is enlivening when situated with a conception of ‘public’ and ‘good’ – which are at the heart of a lot of writing that I’m interested in reading. The poem is called ‘Drip of sleep’.

Drip of sleep

You see

we nap in preparation as others have done before us, a
legacy of prone company.

You see

there are drips we face that wear us down, disheveling our
prior lunches.

You see

there are others in motion, already lying down – drips that
course through old snacks.

You see

the lost hay of human slumber spikes us, and we pass out
sharp under a falling-needle.

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.


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.


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