Monday, December 22, 2008

Grindstone Day 20

Automated External Defibrillator combined with drinks vending machine at Jurobe residence, Tokushima

Time: 5.40 pm
Chapter: 10
Pots of tea: 0
Lunch: rice, egg and soup combo - winter comfort food
Snack: sweet potato

Feeling guilty, guilty, guilty. Went well on Friday, but over the weekend and today? Phtttt. Haven't managed to really even open my word file, let alone make good progress. On the good side though got an email from my mentor today to say she's enjoying Part 1 of the manuscript. Hurray! maybe at last I'm on the right track.

Also feeling bad because the end of the "writing solitude" has crept up on me and on Wednesday we'll be heading north to Kyoto for Xmas - we're going to have a Mexican Xmas with lots of socialising. And after that we'll be heading north to Naruto and then Tokyo, staying with friends all the way, so again maybe not too much writing opportunity there, and from there I leave for home.

Then again I might be much more efficient on this next "stage" of the trip - very easy to fritter away time and not do so much when I know I've got the whole day, so I may manage to do the same amount of writing or even more if I snatch an hour here and there and FOCUS. Ah, grrr. Silly, silly me.

On the upside, the weekend was nicely lazy with lots of sleeping in, eating (pancakes, mostly) and wandering around Tokushima. Went to the local puppet theatre which is a
living traditional art" around here, the puppets are superbly crafted and I even got to handle one,fantastic!!

Now I have to cook dinner, some hungry Mexicans are on their way and the fridge needs to be emptied before Wednesday :)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Grindstone Day 19



Time: 6.47 pm
Chapter: 10
Pots of tea: 2.0
Flavour: Blueberry and raspberry
Lunch: sweet potato, rice and egg
Snack: mandarins

As you can see by my postings, today I have been inspired by 'Japanese-style' theatre. I use the speech marks because it's hard to define the "style" of any geographic place without first referencing time period and social group, but nonetheless, Japan has evolved several art forms which could be said to be unique to this country (although often themselves adapted from imported forms).

I'm feeling quite vulnerable here, as I could possibly now be accused of orientalism - something which I have looked down on others for in the past. You see, I don't know very much about Japanese theatre, only what I can access in English on the internet, or have read a little of in books. And sadly Wikipedia is one of my primary sources of info.

But I admit to being seduced by the unearthly, metaphoric nature of these works. I really wish I could create an atmosphere like these create; that I had at my fingertips not only thousands of years of folklore and historic works of literature, but the language ability and scholarship to understand its many connotations, instead of ending up like those poor snobs at Max Planck Institute.

But, sadly, I am just another gaijin entranced by the allure of the unknown, albeit a well camouflaged one. It seems to be that way with most of the things I try. How can one possibly catch up with all the years of learning and understanding that it takes to write about something well? It's a hopeless hope. And yet, I keep trying, consoling myself that people might mistake ignorance for "freshness", or that in making mistakes I might learn better for next time. *Sigh*.

My blood sugars must be low. Hope Mark gets home soon so we can eat.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Saw the touring production last night in Tokushima, done by the Shiki Theatre Company. WOW. Here's the review on Lumiere.

The House of Flame

An amazing short animation with elements of Japanese Bunraku, Noh and Kabuki, by master Kihachiro Kawamoto.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Grindstone Day 18



Time: 10.40 pm
Chapter: 9
Pots of tea: 1.5
Flavour: Green
Lunch: sweet potato
Snack: mochi

Well, made a little more progress today on the manuscript. Even though it's still only chapter 9!! I've been learning to write spaces recently. By this I mean the novelistic equivalent to white space in paintings, the gaps that are left unpainted and serve just as important a function in prose, or for that matter, drama.

I think it is drama that first taught me that leaving something unwritten isn't such a bad thing. For example, my first short play, "Mask", initially had detailed stage directions indicating nearly every move the actors made. It was only after I saw it workshopped and the actors and director told me (and thank god they did) that I didn't need to be so detailed, that I realised that leaving others some space in which to use their creativity is a good thing. After I started trimming stage directions I also started trying to cut down on dialogue - after all in real life we leave a lot of the important things unsaid.

A piece of writing is a bit like a do-up house: to get the strongest emotional response from a buyer, you have to show them what they could potentially make for themselves. Leaving a bit of space for their imagination to wander around in is not only savvy, it's a necessity for good writing.

Of course, my little bit of wisdom imparted (and it's not an original thought at all), the hard thing is to strike the balance between providing too much detail and not providing enough. And that is where I'm at right now. When I first presented my work to my Masters class (in 2007), one of the comments was the exhaustive detail which I had included - which helped to establish a feeling of verisimilitude, but also slowed down the action. So currently I'm compressing two chapters into one, editing around 5000 words into (hopefully) 2,000 or less. This is work that has already gone through a number of edits, so every cut is painful (but necessary, I know, I know....). Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Grindstone Day 17

No,that's not me at the fish markets, though the expression of glee is similar. I'm at Ritsurin Park, tickling the carp, in the weekend.

Time: 9.52 pm
Chapter: 9
Pots of tea: 4.5
Flavour: Citrus and peach
Lunch: oden
Snack: macadamia nut chocolate

OK, so another blog entry missed yesterday - didn't do so much writing, because I was preparing for the first dinner party we've had here - I love cooking for guests! And today, I hate to admit, wasn't much better on the writing front, as I caught up with outstanding bits and pieces including work emails and my Big Idea blog....and all the attendant "necessary internet research". (hummmm.)

Ok. So, replete with full tummy and about to watch Blackadder's Xmas special with Mark, all that is left to me is to promise faithfully that I will do much better, tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Grindstone Day 15


Time: 1.12 pm
Chapter: 8
Pots of tea: 1
Flavour: lemon
Lunch: spaghetti bolognaise leftovers
Snack: rice crackers and chocolate

Hurray! I have met my deadline today and submitted 'Part 1' of my draft to my lovely mentor, Siobhan Harvey. Now for a quick break and then on with Chapter 9 and Part 2 (you see, if I write it here on my blog then I have to do it! Clever eh?)

It's actually rather nice writing to a deadline. There's something extra pushing my mind towards the story, keeping me on track and less likely to stray to interesting Youtube videos or the paper.

Anyway, over the weekend we did two daytrips to nearby cities, one to Takamatsu where we enjoyed exploring in Ritsurin Park, one of a legion of beautiful public gardens in Japan. This one is an Edo period artificially-landscaped garden, originally built for a powerful lord and his descendants and later claimed for the public when feudal lands were confiscated during the Meiji restoration.

Walking around here, it's possible to get a feel for how these lords spent their time and how bored they must have been through the long hot summers when they and their entourage were required by the Emperor to stay in one place (so they could be controlled). There are numerous small mounds or rocks, each apparently sculpted to a period 'style' (they just look like random piles to me, but the fact that there was a particular school of rock-styling, in addition to competing schools for other things like tea ceremony, proves my point.) There is also a small waterfall on the grounds, but it seems the landscaper designer was no engineer - the only way the water could be made to fall was by servants carting it up to the top of the cliff in buckets, then hiding and pouring the water down whenever a lord walked by. Another example of a completely pointless garden construction is a 'duck-hunting hide' : a wall with peepholes looks down into a moat where ducks are attracted by scattered crumbs. The brave and skilled lord looks through the peephole, finely judges his moment then at his signal servants jump into the moat and capture the ducks with nets.

Not that the Japanese have a monopoly on historic folly in gardens or pointless jobs for the less fortunate, by any means, but there seem to be a lot of people doing them here.

Example one: Petrol station attendants. From early morning to late at night, most petrol station forecourts have two or three people in bright overalls, who spring to attention when a car slides in, then bustle around, polishing windows, putting in petrol, helping the car get out again into the traffic, etc. I guess it could be seen as a charming return to the old days when a service station did mean a 'service' station, but would you want your granny or grandpa to spend all day on their feet breathing in petrol fumes?

Example two: Shop wrappers. Presentation and "hygiene" is all-important here, therefore even the smallest home bakery will have people sitting around a table or a plastic wrap machine, obsessively sealing individual buns or biscuits in layers of plastic. It's a self-renewing practice, as shoppers won't buy anything they don't perceive to be "clean", thus everyone has to do it.

A general observation is that many of these high-labour, low-stimulus jobs are filled by people who look like they should be retired. Japan has the world's most top-heavy population pyramid, and I guess that social welfare doesn't fully provide for them here. Is this the way the rest of the world will go?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Grindstone Day 14

Tokushima, from Mt Bizan

Time: 9.16 pm
Chapter: 7
Pots of tea: 2.0
Flavour: apple, with honey
Lunch: baked sweet potato
Snack: Whittaker's dark mocha chocolate

The warmest room in the house is the bedroom, which gets the sun until early afternoon. So to store up on the warmth before temps went down in the afternoon, I snuggled up under the two duvets with the computer perched on an ironing board on my lap. Very comfy... only interrupted when I needed to unravel myself to get up for another cup or tea or coffee. Why didn't I think of this before?

Ok... I'm on Chapter 7....close to my goal of 8 chapters by Monday. But we have some daytripping planned for the weekend... tomorrow to Tokomatsu, famous for its gardens and its super-smooth udon, and on Sunday to neighbouring Naruto. 6.30 am wakeup, urgh.

Two poems for Mereana


Roarr

a fairy
with red food colouring in her hair
squashes the side of her foot
flat against my cheek.

are you a fairy?

I ask

no, I’m a tiger
she says
breathing her
candy pink stripes
against my ear
a little, little tiger.

You’re almost
as tall as me

I say

and she says
yes
but I’m already four.



Acrania


Do you know why
this doll has no head?

she asks me

and I ponder
the metaphoric significance
of her question
construct an answer
sufficiently cerebral

but she’s already
answered for me
because she wanted
to have it cut off.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Grindstone Day 13

A Vida Japoneza, written by 19thC Portuguese diplomat and Tokushimaphile Wenceslau de Moreas

Time: 8.30 pm
Chapter: 6
Pots of tea: 2.5
Flavour: Yuzu/honey/sencha again (yum!)
Lunch: oden with rice
Snack: rice crackers and mandarins

Despite a fair amount of what Mark would term "arsing around" (on the internet, mostly), I made reasonable progress on the manuscript today. I'm at the stage where I'm exploring a lot of my own childhood memories, including some fairly sticky questions like what makes me Chinese, to what extent I am influenced by my guilt over not being Chinese enough, etc.

These are also the questions that are bugging my main character, so while maintaining that the novel is NOT autobiographical, a certain degree of introspection happens, as it must do with any writer. This is where one of the hardest parts of writing happens. Easy as it is to just write history, I have to make sure it is "her" history and not mine. In other words, she has to react to the fictional world I have made for her instead of being my mouthpiece, and she also has to react according to "her" character flaws and not mine.

Much as I would like readers to 'like' her, I also have to accept that she may have parts that are not likeable, and be prepared for other characters or readers to find fault - or the novel won't really happen at all. At the same time, there's no point making her so disagreeable that people won't be interested in what happens to her.

I also have to make her life difficult, or at least to throw lots of problems in her path - or again there is no novel. So part of my task is to both identify with her (so I can write from her point of view without mine intruding) and at the same time, be an objective author, happy to push my characters entirely to the limit.

Tatami and Wood


Mats
slide soft
sniff and swallow
sounds of things past
of soups and spells and words
flung lengthways
keep their judgement
to themselves.
Wooden floors
are less discerning. Hardened
to dirt and the stuff of spilt dreams,
nonetheless they cry out
as a woman runs
to her lover.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Grindstone Day 12



Time: 3.30 pm
Chapter: 4
Pots of tea: 3
Flavour: Yuzu, with honey and sencha green tea
Lunch: oden (fishcake stew) with udon noodles
Snack: hmm, good point. better go find some

My teapot, as you have probably guessed, is my loyal companion during my writing sessions. I have been sampling my way through the box of "flavoury tea" bought from the 100-yen shop, but got near the end of the packet today and decided to make my own tea.

I'd bought a small bag of unidentified yellow citrus from the weekend markets, and have now identified it as yuzu (yay once again for Google!). Inspired by superlative descriptions of its aromatic properties, I decided to make a tea blend from a little of its zest, a green tea teabag and some local honey. Let's just say I'm thoroughly addicted after my first attempt. Yuzu, well the fresh version at least, isn't available in NZ so I'll have to concentrate on enjoying it here. I'm hoping that the aroma will drive me to ever-greater heights of mental stimulation in my attempts to pen the Great Kiwi Novel.

Speaking of which, it's going OK. Using my forward and back, forward and back shuffling approach, I'm currently most of the way through chapter 4. I've been thinking about one of the things that my MCW tutor, Jen Crawford, told me last year. She said that writing a long-form piece was like carving a sculpture. You hack in the general shape first, then gradually refine the detail.

I'm working from a chapter synopsis I wrote a few months ago, so the general shape is in place (for now). But because I'm reusing chunks from a previous draft (and also writing new material) it feels more like I'm squashing and slapping chunks of clay onto a frame, seeing how they look, moving them around or molding them according to instinct. It's a strangely tactile process even though all the chunks are only in my brain.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Grindstone Day 11

View of hills behind Mt Bizan

Time: 4.07 pm
Chapter: 3
Pots of tea: 1
Flavour: Peach and citrus
Lunch: egg fried rice
Snack: Coconut sable biscuits

I was writing about food this afternoon and it made me hungry, so I took a few steps sideways until I was in the kitchen and started peeling my prize find at the markets on Sunday, bamboo shoots. Though they had looked like small bamboo shoots when I bought them, they peeled more like potatoes and my suspicions were raised. After some sustained googling I realised that they were, in fact, small Japanese taro, or ebiimo. Bamboo shoots are harvested in spring and taro are ready in autumn. Doh!!

Anyway, cooking with local ingredients has been a fascinating part of my day. Usually I try to cook "Japanese style" (as one would in Japan) working out the various combinations of mirin, miso, honey, shoyu and sesame oil; experimentation is a slightly haphazard affair as it is based on
1. Mark's ability to read the label in katakana (he can't read kanji) and
2. me working out what to do with it, using instinct and recipes written for gianjin in English.
It hasn't turned out too badly. For example since I've worked out it was taro I've concocted a rather nice entree for the main meal tonight, which is Thai chicken green curry.

Did I say I try to cook local style? I do, but the other part of the fun is working out how to do "foreign" dishes with only local ingredients. Thai curry isn't too hard since I carted 2kg of curry paste in my luggage at Mark's request; but the other night I cooked a European-style lamb, or what I called European-style - Mark doesn't think there is such a divide between "eastern" and "western" cuisines, but I beg to differ.

Which brings me back, neatly, to the novel. I'm writing a lot about Cantonese-style cooking in my book. My aim is to make the reader salivate as they read, which means that a side effect of me writing is that I eat lots. Or at least I like to blame the writing. Ah. C'est la vie.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Grindstone Day 10


Time: 8.41 pm
Chapter: 3
Pots of tea: 4.5
Flavour: Blueberry
Lunch: baked sweet potato
Snack: dried local persimmon

The weekend was spent exploring locally on our bikes, and by bus. We discovered the local meat and fish market, with prices often less than 1/3rd of the supermarket, which made me very happy as it's hard to buy meat here purely because it's so damned expensive. We also went to the regular Sunday farmer's market where Mark usually buys his veges, staggering home with a great load after I insisted on trying all sorts of unusual things, only some of which I know how to cook.

Tokushima is in the middle of the "vegetable bowl" of Japan, and as a result the rest of the country (apparently) envies us for the freshness and cheapness of the local produce. The local "speciality" is a kind of fragrant lime called sudachi, and there's been a big bag of it in our fridge which I've been squeezing and grating my way through. I'm getting quite attached to it actually, and I may post some recipes later.

We also took the cable car to the top of Mt Bizan, more a hill than a mountain, but very cold up top. The Mt Bizan complex also contains several museums and a concert hall where you can watch Awa Odori dancers. Awa Odori is the big city-wide dance party that takes place in August, where for three days the entire population takes to the streets in a simple foot-stomping dance which is meant to resemble (for men) a drunken stumble. It's one of the big festivals of Japan, kind of like Carnivale, only Japanese-style of course.

The show we watched had one of those "audience participation" components at the end. Happily Mark and I were awarded banners for best dancers - not surprising in Mark's case since he took part in the real Awa Odori earlier in the year and was also awarded a banner. In my case, perhaps practising my steps at the dance video game beforehand (Japanese have video games for everything) helped me to win. Hurray!

I was also a good girl, putting in a few hours of writing a day, and getting through chapter 2. Needless to say I've been shuffling back and forth since, rewriting and rejigging, and today I've been moving passages around chapters 1, 2 and 3 whenever doubt and fear strike, which is often. This may explain the excessive degree of displacement activity - writing poetry. I believe I am not the only one who sneak-writes poetry when supposed to be writing something else...

Five poems about Auckland


I

a grey clingfilm
swathes the Sky Tower.
apartments lean in
to cradle daffodils
small yellow eyes sleeping.
a giant D frames the sky.

II

rain like sudden laughter
splashes chalk
against bus stops
umbrellas walk
upside-down.


III

stiletto-clattered sidewalks
breathe cappuccino fumes
strum the beating heart
of a man feeding pigeons
in the square.


IV

rub sushi licked salt
into kimchi kebabs smoked
with fish and chip pie
and bubble milk tea. serve with
pizza with everything on top.


V

they say it’s the sun, the blue sky
the lick of pohutakawa flaming up the beach.
I say it’s drinking too much
of the limpid green harbour, sweet
abalone soup.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Grindstone Day 9


Time: 5.51 pm
Chapter: 1, just checking it over before I move on, yay!
Pots of tea: 1.5
Flavour: Wildberry
Lunch: Udon again
Snack: rice cakes, yummy

I've started working out what the vans that drive around during the day broadcasting music are for. They are kind of like Mr Whippy but serve a far wider purpose than just selling icecream. It's a bit hard to tell by just sticking my head out, but the music appears to announce the arrival of the breadman, the mobile library, and various other services. Each tune is distinctive. It's interesting because I've been writing about the memory of running out to buy icecreams from Mr Whippy when I was a girl.

OK. Hope I can start writing chapter two in the weekend.

Tonight I will light
a candle for you
flame it from a gas stove,
hold it high to sear
the restless sky. The wind
rolls around laughing
rattling rubbish
pulling clouds down
around its ears.
It doesn’t listen to me
singing happy birthday
a song like ivory
cracked in an empty room
a voice shredded
like old autumn leaves.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Grindstone Day 8


Time: 5.08 pm
Chapter: 1, take 1
Pots of tea: 1.5
Flavour: white wine and muscat (yes, a tea)
Lunch: Udon, fish cakes, shoyu and miso soup with mushrooms
Snack: apple

Time is starting to contract on me and I'm going to have to speed up my rate of writing (maybe spend less time on the internet?) if I'm going to make the deadline of 8 chapters by the 15th. I've been thinking today of the nature of memory, how we use it and how we interpret our childhood memories. Medical wisdom has it that we form most of our neuronal connections before the age of 3, yet most of us remember nothing before the age of around 5. What happens to those lost memories? Is it just that we reprocess them into something else? What are we anyway except for a conglomeration of our memories?

Maybe that's why the human urge to tell stories is so compelling. In my professional life, I know the power of stories. The medical history will give you most of the clues to the diagnosis, and is more reliable than the examination and all the high-powered tests put together. Even more than that, the best thing to do with a pissed-off patient who has been waiting in pain for hours is to ask to hear their story. Nothing heals someone so fast as the right to give out their memories, to say who they are.

Maybe that's why I write. Someone asked me yesterday why I bother to try writing a novel, if it's so hard. Maybe that's why. There are so many memories, mine and my characters', to tell, and for me, it's easier to try than to not.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Grindstone Day 7

Japanese girl at temple


Time: 5.18 pm
Chapter: 1, take 1
Pots of tea: 2.0
Flavour: black with honey and sudachi (native lime)
Lunch: Leftover curry, salad with cunningly devised homemade dressing
Snack: I can't read the name. But they are crunchy sweet cereal balls, very nice.

OK, so I realise there wasn't an entry yesterday. I got a bit distracted with preparations for a Xmas party. Yes, the Xmas parties have started and last night's was unusual, but strangely delightful.

Mark has a group of ladies that he tutors in English on Tuesday nights, at the home of one of the group (which also becomes a small cafe during the day). There seem to be many of these "home-cafes" dotted around the neighbourhood, though due to my shyness with speaking Japanese and the fact I have a perfectly good hot water urn at home, I haven't ventured out to try any of them.

Anyway, I digress. Last night, after I had spent some time elaborately wrapping the small gifts I had brought from NZ, we were whisked off and treated to a wonderful nabe (Japanese hotpot) meal. This is pretty much identical to the chinese hotpot - a pot of boiling soup stock is left simmering on a gas stove on the table, and various ingredients (veges, mushrooms, fish, pork, chicken and noodles) are added as people feel hungry, then fished out and eaten. It's one of the best communal meals I know. Burns are a necessary hazard with the risk increasing as things get merrier, and I have small blister on my little finger to prove it.

Meanwhile, the ladies, who had earlier grilled Mark on what I was like, introduced themselves to me and tried to use their English phrases. They expressed much astonishment, despite being prewarned, that I looked so Asian and still spoke no Japanese (I'm getting used to this). They also brought out an embarrassingly generous collection of gifts for me - a hand dyed short silk kimono, special-occasion chopsticks, special silk cloths for wrapping, and so on. They seemed baffled by the pot-pourri sachets I had brought for them as gifts (I suppose it is culture-specific).

A local old 'magic' hobbyist came to entertain us, the food kept coming including some amazing preparations of sashimi, bean paste and bamboo shoots, and we also played bingo, but luckily with the numbers in both Japanese and English. People overindulged in the local rice wine which tastes very close to water but is considerably more potent. It was a great night, excessive on many counts, but that makes it a real Xmas celebration.

Anyway, as well as catching up on the digestion, today has been spent looking at Chapter 1 which used to be Chapter 9. I expect to rewrite around 2/3rds of the novel and rejig the rest, and so far this chapter is following the trend. It's not bravery, it's just necessity.

Monday, December 1, 2008

grindstone day 5

Fountain for cleansing at a small local shrine

Time: 6.01 pm
Page of draft:(reading) yah! finished! now for the real work!
Word count for day: 0
Pots of tea: 2.5
Flavour: apple with added honey
Lunch: Udon with tomato and chinese cabbage
Snack: coconut sable biscuits (ultra yum)

Spent the weekend away in Kyoto,the big, elegant gracious city on Hokkaido, a couple of island hops away. It's 2.5 hours by bus, crossing en route over one of the world's biggest suspension bridges.

Mark was part of the Kyoto Foreign Student's music festival, a rather eccentric event to Westerner's eyes. It consisted of foreign students performing dances and songs in national dress, all in the interests of world peace and greater international understanding of course. I found this event slightly disturbing for a number of reasons, but enjoyed the rest of the visit which was my first on this trip to a major Japanese city.

While Mark practised with his Mexican friends I wandered the temples and old alleyways, easily blending in with my Japanese camera gear and propensity to take lots of photographs. I find I'm well camouflaged so long as no one talks to me. People are always asking me for directions. My Japanese is so bad I can't even understand the question let alone answer. Until now my main defence has been to look clueless and make goldfish noises, but I have now mastered "Wakaari masen" (I don't understand.) In Tokushima the response is still bafflement, but people in Kyoto seem to be more used to the idea that someone of Asian appearance might not understand Japanese. Either that or they are more accepting of idiots wandering the streets nodding and smiling.

Anyway, I'll post photos from my weekend with each blog post this week. But more importantly the writing is about to start. I've finished reading my old manuscript and have been amused, surprised, delighted and appalled in turn. It's strange how much of this I don't even remember writing; similarly I have "discovered" bits that I have subsequently "reused" in my plays without realising. I read an essay once which described the artistic process as raking over the same piece of land over and over, turning over the same themes again and again. Maybe that's true with me?

The other thought I had, as I wrote TMMI (too much medical info) in the margin yet again, is that maybe last year I was unconsciously writing as "doctor becoming writer" rather than just writer. There's a lot of self conscious medical detail, as if I want to convince people that I know what I'm talking about - a weird mix of self exploration, medical documentary and pseudo soapie. Guess the next few weeks will tell me whether I've managed to overcome this.

Friday, November 28, 2008

grindstone day 4



Time: 3.27 pm
Page of draft:(reading) 208
Word count for day: 0
Pots of tea: 3.0
Flavour: citrus and peach
Lunch: more leftovers
Snack: weird caramelised potato chip things

A professor from Auckland was visiting and last night Mark and I had dinner with him in the centre of town. Of course it was bucketing down by the time we finished our "Chinese" restaurant meal (like all good Chinese I get sniffy about other cultures trying to imitate our superior cuisine). It's a good 20 minute cycle home, and with the downpour we both arrived home soaked, and me in a grumpy mood for going out without anything waterproof - I forgot to pack my beloved Goretex. Needless to say, a trip to the haruku-yen (100 yen - the local equivalent of the $2 shop) is in order to get me some cheap waterproofs. Today I took advantage of the sunny day to dry all my sodden clothes.

Since Mark doesn't have a car, I'm having to get used to cycling every time I want to get somewhere, and limiting my load accordingly. It's ideal conditions for cycling - flat, we have pedestrian right-of-way and are allowed to use the pavement and cycle across intersections, and the cars are on the whole respectful of cyclists. And there are a lot of us. Last night the city seemed to blossom with night cyclists, all of them gracefully holding a parasol aloft as they pedalled, while Mark and I gritted our teeth and barrelled through the rain.

Reading is still going slowly. I've discovered a downside to the old mantra "write what you know." There's a real risk of writing too much of what you know, in the (mistaken) concern that you have to show that you know what you're writing about. My old manuscript is now littered with my handwritten scrawls: TMI (too much information!).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Grindstone Day 3



Time: 1.53 pm
Page of draft:(reading) 137
Word count for day: 0
Pots of tea: 2.0
Flavour: the last dregs of Strawberry caramel
Snacks: man, those rice cracker things are moreish....
Lunch: huge bowl of egg fried rice, along with leftover beef and shitake stir fry (local shitake mushrooms are cheap and very juicy!)

I've taken a photo of the inside of the apartment today. We live on the 4th floor of a 5-storey nondescript concrete apartment block on the south side of Tokushima. It's university owned, with heavily subsidised rent for the lecturers and their families who live here. I'm not sure if this is typical of modern apartments in Japan, but the inside of the apartment is a lovely blend of old and new - the layout is a square divided (mostly) with thin sliding wooden partitions into 3 bedrooms, kitchenette, shower and lounge. It's all rather sparse but functional, though how much of that is Japanese influence and how much is bachelor lifestyle I'm not sure.

There's tatami matting in the bedrooms, futons (which are supposed to be rolled up during the day but we don't bother). The kitchen is a bit basic (gas cooker, sink, tiny fridge and couple of exceptionally useful gadgets,hot water urn and automatic rice cooker), but the toilet, shower etc are fully modern and westernised (no squatty toilets in this place!!). It's a very workable space for writing, as during the day I just open up all the partitions and have a large space to myself. It's quiet as well, except for the occasional advertising trucks that go by with announcements and elevator music (no noise control laws here, apparently).

Still reading my old draft and cringing when I notice the mistakes and overwriting. One hopes I will do better when I actually start the rewriting, but I guess that remains to be seen!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Grindstone Day 2



Time: 1.10 pm
Page of draft:(reading) 52
Word count for day: 0
Pots of tea: 2.5
Flavour: Strawberry caramel (yum!)
Chocolate: Whittaker's dark mocha, 4 squares (so far)
Lunch: Um...does congee count?

OK, maybe this will spur me into doing some work instead of taking cute pseudo-Japanese pictures with Photobooth. Every day I will post some details of my novel redrafting progress.

Today, I am rereading draft 2 with a big blue pen in my hand, scrawling notes like "too slow", or "more interiority". They say that one of the best editors is the one at the bottom of the drawer and it's been about 12 months since I last really looked at the manuscript in its entirety. I really think that the year away from the manuscript has been quite good. I can look at it much more objectively (yes, there is cringe when I realise I wrote this - though I think post-writing cringe affects everyone.) Also, the year away has been spent learning to write drama, whose keywords are action and conflict.

I think I'm recognising more easily the places (there are many, sadly) where my writing loses momentum and focus on what is happening (something needs to happen all the time, whether it be in the mind of a character or in real conflict between characters). I think I'm also getting better at recognising when I am "telling" instead of "showing".

Anyway, in about 2 hrs I have to cycle into uni to meet Mark for a dumpling party, so I'd better get off the internet and keep going.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tokushima toiling


Well, here I am in Tokushima - spent the weekend biking around and exploring, and now it's time for the real work. I have until Dec 15th to work on the first eight chapters of my novel, and then I'll keep going on the next eight. I'm on draft 3.0 at the moment and once again I'm doing major surgery on the manuscript(amputation and limb regrowth). Looking forward to it, in a masochistic kind of way.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Headlines: Giant banana launched!!


at Te Karanga gallery, with amazing art exhibition in background.


The lovely Anna Kaye plays.



Some of the banana cake-munching crowd.

My newest poetry chapbook, Banana, was launched today, with guest readings and performances by my friends and mentors, Riemke Ensing, Siobhan Harvey and Doug Poole, family member Michael Onslow-Osborne and friend Anna Kaye. Around 50 people turned up including some friends and family who just happened to be in town for the weekend - what luck! It was an amazing feeling performing to a room full of new and old friends. The only hitch was when my nephew Marcus came up and tickled me as I was about to read a serious poem, and under the delightful onslaught I had to give in and start over once he had fled the scene.

Monday, October 13, 2008

the weekend: all the world's a stage


Tim, Lynette and Tony enjoy their pasta


Later in the spa


with a "Festival of new arts" poster



Mt Ruapehu





Lake Taupo at sunset


Just spent the weekend in Palmerston North with friends Tony, Lynette and Tim - our excuse being that we were there to see the "world" premiere of my short play "Mask" which was produced as part of the Manawatu Festival of New Arts.

Of course, we didn't spend *all* our time being arts buffs.. we also spent a goodly proportion being spa, garden, cafe and windmill buffs. Oh, and a fair amount of time was also spent cooking, eating, drinking wine and just generally working hard at doing nothing, as fast as possible. A few times we were nearly caught out by the early closing times in Palmy, affecting restaurants, supermarkets etc.... meaning a quick dash to the supermarket at one stage to avoid having to rely on greasy takeaways for an evening meal. Luckily I chose my traveling companions well. Tony and Tim did all the driving while Lynette and I managed the kitchen (don't worry, we made the boys do the dishes.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

Rain, rain, go away

It's been raining all day. The day is a blurred haze. I've been out and about, running to my usual rash of meetings, hellos, inbox contacts (the weekend was bliss without any need of these). Now my umbrella is drying over the potplants and I am staring out the window, trying to will myself into a state of mind suitable for going to the gym.

In April, I paid $250 for a year's student membership to the uni gym. That's about the cheapest price you could pay for an all-included service, but of course, it's only cheap if you actually use it enough times. Which is part of the reason gym memberships are so pricey - they figure if your brain won't make you go, maybe your wallet guilt might.

Anyway, I'm not really blogging about exercise or any of its associated guilts. I'm blogging about the rain. Rain should be good for writing, if you think about it: the soft misty haze evokes dew-soaked excursions into nature, a loved one preferably by one's side; the clumsier thumping of raindrops pulls back memories of sitting inside primary school classrooms listening to stories. At the very least rain should keep us from going out so we have more time to spend with our professed love, the blank page.

But in really, rain has a kind of - pardon this - dampening effect on things. I watch the rain, remember its feel on my skin and go duuuuuh. I drift off into reveries imagining what I'll write on my blog without doing any of the other writing that's piling up in sullen snowdrifts behind me.

And no, I still didn't go to the gym.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Miscellany

A few weeks ago I ventured into the world of recorded poetry with a session at my friend Ed's place. The resulting recording has just been selected to go through to the second round of a poetry competition. But even nicer, the recording is now on the web for people to sample - listen quickly, at some stage I'm going to have to repost without music to comply with the rules.

The recording, "Miscellany", is two sonnets from a 76-sonnet sequence I've been working on for a few years. Thanks to Ed Mecija for recording and mixing, and to his friend for the music.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Modern Music

Overheard as my parents were preparing to go out the other night. Most of this would have been in Cantonese, I think.

Mum: Daddy! Are you ready for the concert?

Dad: Yes. OK.

Mum: I'm.... ready now. (aside: this is a miracle - she spends ages in the bathroom, to the frustration of my father. Nothing particularly Chinese about that.)

Dad: OK.

Mum: You'd better pack your earplugs.

Dad: OK.

Mum: It could be bad.

Dad: OK.

Mum: Some of that music you don't like.

Dad: OK.

Mum: you know, the screeching... modern stuff.

Dad: Uh-hmmm.

Mum: OK?

Dad: OK.

Friday, September 26, 2008

when is a Kiwi not a Kiwi?

I don't know if this is related to writing but this is so quotable that I'm going to post it. This is from a rather earnestly written treatise by a Chinese nutritionist on a Canadian website. She's obviously unaware of the connotations of "kiwi" and "chinese Kiwi" in their country of origin (the fruit I mean - now I'm getting confused!). Anyone who's ever travelled will know about the weird looks one gets when you describe yourself as a Kiwi.

Among my favourite quotes from this is the prospect of being larger and more misshapen than my NZ and chinese counterparts (really?),that all kiwis come from China in the first place, the fact I can be blended with banana, and being a local kiwi with extra vitamin kick.

When is a Kiwi not a Kiwi?

Contrary to popular belief, the kiwifruit (mi hou tao) is not in fact a Kiwi - that is, it is not native to New Zealand. Instead kiwis originated in China, in the Yangtze River region of the country around Zhejiang province.

At the beginning of the 20th century New Zealand missionaries in China brought seeds of the fruit, which they named the Chinese gooseberry, back to New Zealand. It was renamed the "melonette", and then the "kiwi" in a bid to avoid tax duties imposed on melons.

Chinese kiwis are larger and more misshapen than their highly bred New Zealand and Californian counterparts, but I would certainly advocate them as they are cheaper, will last longer in your fruit bowl and of course have racked up considerably less food miles. Frankly, I think they are tastier too.

Those of you who pop a daily vitamin C tablet would be better to swap this for a single local kiwi which will provide double your vitamin C quota, along with other beneficial anti-oxidants - beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, all of which help to protect your body from damaging free radicals in the environment.

For the size of the fruit the fiber content is also impressive with two kiwis containing the same amount as a serving of bran flakes. Add a sliced kiwi on top of your morning cereal, or use a blender to make fresh juice sweetening with a little honey if necessary.

For refreshing and healthy frozen desserts, try peeling and slicing kiwis in half, wrapping in cling film and simply freezing. Alternatively blend together kiwis, banana and yoghurt and freeze in lolly trays with sticks.

Kiwi may not seem a natural partner to savory foods but they contain the enzyme actinidin which breaks down protein and therefore acts as a brilliant meat tenderizer.

Mash up one kiwi with a little olive oil, lemon juice and cayenne pepper and use to marinade chunks of chicken for 30 minutes. Then thread alternative chunks of the chicken, firm kiwi and red onion onto skewers and grill. If you wish to avoid flavoring meat with kiwi, simply cut the fruit in half and use it to rub the meat half an hour before cooking.

This same enzyme is capable of digesting protein in a variety of other foods, so make sure that desserts combining kiwis with dairy products are eaten quickly else they may degenerate into a sloppy mess. Kiwi jelly is a definite no-go as the enzyme breaks down gelatin meaning it will never set.

The Chinese approach to the kiwis is pretty straightforward: It tends to be eaten whole, sliced in a fruit salad or juiced. Xi'an, in Shaanxi province, and the surrounding areas are renowned for their dried kiwi fruit (mi hou tao gan) and these can be found at many market stalls in the city.

Unfortunately vast amounts of sugar seem to be added during the drying process. You can experiment with drying kiwi fruit yourself, and bringing down the additional sugar.

Make a weak sugar syrup, and add one teaspoon of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) per 900ml. Cut the kiwis into thick slices, dip in the syrup and dry in the oven (at 120 C) or in the sun until dry and leathery.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

blue-eyed sky

a feather arc up and out
traces line
across mind
pins spine of thoughts
on a single
stroke

once

you
stormed through flowers in spring
left your sweat
on my door
wrote your pleas
on purple blossoms

i

pushed you away
butterflies
in my hands

the blue-eyed sky cried

a canary sang
alone in a cage
pinned to the side
of a house
in Valparaiso

and it sang

you

found me
smeared paint
against my walls
showed the world
your red slashed mouth
pushed me to the ground
mugged me of my indifference

o that night

now i

run writhing
through narrow cobblestone streets
watched by dogs with hard

noses

piece by piece i

take off my clothes
string them from
lamposts
see light refracted

from a single

teardrop

Blogging... officially

I've just become an "official blogger" for The Big Idea creative network. It's a great honour and potentially a much bigger audience than I'm used to. I felt quite nervous writing my first blog - I stayed up all night trying to get it right (though doing the 11 pm - 5 am writing shift is quite normal for me now, my brain seems to work better then and anyway, I have a certain someone to talk to in Japan between midnight and 2 am).

It's funny writing a "regular" (contracted fortnightly) blog, a very different business to my ramblings here where I'm used to just blurting down my thoughts whatever and whenever. The "official" blog calls for a lot more thought, I think, and I get quite self conscious because of the terrifying idea that people more expert than me (quite a large group, really) may read it. I feel I have to be more careful with quotes and impressions rather than just raving on in my usual opinionated way. On the other hand I've been thinking that the reason people read columns (which is what this official blog really is) is just because of that slight edge, that rawness. Hmmm. Blogging is a funny thing when you think of it, it speaks to the voyeuristic side of us all, don't you think? And what's the word for the other side of that - the tendency to display oneself, to let the contents of one's brain be ogled while trying to keep other more unsavoury parts out of view? It's called writing, I think.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Visas

you're so welcome stranger
welcome to clean green NZ our home

you're welcome stranger
welcome to clean green NZ our home

you're welcome stranger
to clean green NZ our home

you're welcome stranger
to clean NZ our home

you're welcome stranger
to clean our home

you're welcome
to clean our home

you're
to clean our home

you're
to clean home

you're
to clean

to clean

to

note: this poem was inspired by a great blog post on closet racism - eloquent and true.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

a Lumiere anniversary

Today is one year since I wrote my first post for Lumiere, an online journal of arts and review. In my first year I've clocked up 33 articles, mainly theatre reviews, along with some artist interviews and one dance review. I'm rather proud of my portfolio, actually.

Slam rewind



a video from the archives, recently rediscovered on Utube.... the finals of the Poetry Live Slam earlier this year, featuring Gus Simonovic and Murray Lee. Gus was the winner, but Murray won the second prize of $2 Laser fingers, so he was happy too!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Yay! I'm special!

OK, so I admit it. I'm a self googler. I look myself up to see what's been written (sadly most of it is actually by me). But it was a lovely accident that led to me discovering that my latest chapbook, Cardiac Cycle (co produced with Cat Auburn) has been bought for the Auckland University's Special Collection. And after I discovered that I couldn't resist going in for a look for myself.

It's not one of those hushed places with oak panelling where you have to handle everything with kid gloves (there are gloves, but mainly to handle the photographs). It's efficient, quiet, well lit, inhabiting a nondescript corner of the library. But you have to hand in your ID to get stuff, and there's a "gatekeeper" to bring you the books you request. So I felt quite excited when she delivered my book to me, in crisp mint condition, from its temperature controlled vault. I felt special....

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A thousand apologies

With my friend Anna, I've been running a series of events called Winter Warmers at the Auckland Art Gallery. Every Saturday afternoon we invite a set of artists from different disciplines to talk about and demonstrate their work. For the last two months it's been a rolling feast of poets, writers, musicians, spoken word artists, theatre makers and arts organisers. And now, finally, I've invited my sister Roseanne in to talk about filmmaking, along with her friend and mentor, Shuchi.

Although Boz and I hang out at events together quite often, it's probably the first time we've appeared on stage together. It wasn't too hard asking her questions though - I know she's a confident speaker, and able to put a good argument together, and Shuchi of course is well known as an inspiring teacher.

The idea with Winter Warmers is to break down the barriers between artist and audience and talk about the creative process. Also, hopefully, people from different disciplines will mix during the breaks. I think it's been happening, which is cool - among the audience today we had poets, theatre makers, musicians, writers, and arts organisers, as well as a healthy turn out of independent film types.

It was weird interviewing my own sister at first, but I got used to it. Knowing what to ask was the easy part. We already have lots of conversations about things like what to write about, whether it's OK to put really personal things in our work (me: absolutely! she: a bit too close to home sometimes). I also knew she hated being asked questions around whether she felt she was representing the Asian community (the short answer: no, not really...she's just telling the stories she's interested in.) But really she'd prefer not to talk about it at all, it's been done to death.

Clearly though, Shuchi wanted to talk about the issue of Asian representation. We agreed it's a double edged sword: there seems to be a surge of interest in it right now, and it would be silly not to ride the wave and attract attention and audiences while the going's good. At the same time being "ethnic" can be more of a chain than wings, because of the way it can box you in with people's expectation. However, we can't escape it - we wear ethnicity on the outside, even if we forget others will remind us - so we might as well embrace it.

Shuchi said she was tired of being told scripts had to contain a victimised Asian woman or a cultural clash followed by suicide. Apparently if it doesn't contain enough of these cliches then it's not "Asian" enough and therefore doesn't fit funding criteria/audience profile rahrahrah. Huh?!! Who trains these programming people?? I think a lot of "ethnic" (don't get me started) writers have to deal with this kind of ignorance, and I think there are two approaches - the "softly softly" way where you use the cliches as a way in to get people listening before hitting them with the real stuff, or the "ok then, I'm going to wait until you're ready to listen" approach.

Shuchi said that she wanted to tell the ordinary, real stories, and to show the light along with the dark. She said that the thing that distinguished a good script for her was more whether it had something to say or got at the emotional truth of a character. We started talking about universality of themes, and whether it was possible to isolate or classify an audience. For example media executives are fond of using the term "middle New Zealand". Shuchi pointed out that no one would self define as "middle NZ". Everyone thinks they are a little bit different from everyone else, and with immigration and cultural drift "middle NZ" may not be white, Anglican and middle class anymore.

We moved from there into a discussion of the new Asian comedy skit show that Roseanne, Shuchi and a bunch of other Asian filmmakers have been working on. A Thousand Apologies looks at Pakeha attitudes to Asians, Asian attitudes to themselves and the hilarious misunderstandings that can result, and while this is lighthearted, underneath there are some fairly serious statements. It's also remarkable that although the series is written and made by people who, it is fair to say, are not "mainstream" media content makers (not really a label I would chase), it has scored itself a primetime slot on TV3 - 9.30 on Fridays. So although I'm unlikely to break my embargo on TV watching just to watch it, it's a great acheivement!

Quirk

I love it when I discover things that are humorous, quirky or somehow wise, and enjoy it even more when I find out that lots of other people like it, too. In today's overhyped universe it's too easy to get cynical and think that people only look if the grey men have done their dirty work, and that nothing is based on talent or creativity anymore, only the power of the advertising dollar. I think it restores my faith in the power of wonder when I discover stuff like zefrank's site(something of a cult I understand, though I only found it today)or Jason Nelson's
poem cube(make your own if you dare), or explore the site for more interactive e-poetics.

Energy Recipe

This was written on the spur of the moment a few months ago when a poet-friend of mine asked where I get all my energy from. This was my cheeky reply.

For Riemke

Prep time: 42 minutes

Servings: Large recommended, but indigestion may result. Titrate serving size to situation.

Ingredients


one large white rabbit, hat optional
two mandrake roots - legs essential, choose those that are long and shapely
one elderly violinist playing love songs on a street corner in Soho
seven fine spring days with a red kite
one threadbare silk dressing gown belonging to your grandmother
a green candle in the shape of a leaf
one low stone wall

Directions:

Heat two teaspoons of olive oil in a pan until spitting. Without hesitation tip the rabbit whole into the pan. When it has completely disappeared, stir with long even strokes of mandrake legs, add spring days, dressing gown (a fresh fire will come in handy if spring days are cold), low stone wall and candle and heat through. Season with songs from the violinist, according to taste. Serve warm with a glass of wine.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The role of poetry

Kay Ryan has just been named the sixteenth US Poet Laureate. It seems to be a busy job, according to the Time Magazine article, with everything from VIPs asking for personal poetry fixes to requests from schoolkids for sage advice on their assignments. In today's world a salary of $35,000 to have your writing life disrupted for a year doesn't sound like much of a deal.

Still, one of the cool things about being Poet Laureate is that you get to define your take on the role of poetry, and people will listen. And this is what Kay Ryan has to say:
"In a culture like ours, where language has been completely and utterly subordinated to the task of selling people things, how do you create a little freedom? Only in art that isn't designed to sell or convince or sermonize or cajole or urge. Maybe that's poetry, or at least some poetry."

Funnily enough we were talking about that point today, in Winter Warmers, a series of public talks I organise at the Auckland Art Gallery. Today we had Raewyn Alexander, whose poetry muses on the ordinary things and in so doing turns them extraordinary, and Iain Britton, whose poetry muses on the archetypal and iconic, turning everyday events into universal metaphors.

I asked both Raewyn and Iain to comment on the relevance of poetry, given that poetry is not regarded by most NZers as "mainstream" entertainment. In fact many poets I know spend time justifying their love for poetry to non-poet friends (the only people without this problem are those enlightened few who only have poets for friends). As for me, I gave up cajoling my friends a while ago - it wasn't worth the persuasive energy, though those who went tended to say with some surprise they had enjoyed it.

Anyway, back to the main discussion here, which I've labelled at the top so I don't go off on a tangent. Poetry (said Raewyn and Iain), should be more popular than it is. It is one of the oldest (read primal) and most instinctive forms of human expression, since it deals with rhythm, sound and meaning - like chanting, or its related form, music. It is also a "pure" art form - there is no obligation or need to do anything with poetry other than get personal satisfaction from it. Thus, in today's over corporate world, it has low value, unless it can be rejigged for commercial profit.

Which brings me to a discussion I had with some hairdressers on Montana Poetry Day. They were working in a swanky salon on the block of Ponsonby Rd which got chalked with poetry, and came up and asked for some chalk so they could write their own pavement poetry. Pleased, I handed them the piece in my hand, and later photographed them chalking dilligently away.



I went for a close-up, only to find an advertisement for their shop on the pavement. Along the lines of:

"Feel like a blowdry? come into our shop for luxury pampering. Style, cut and conditioning for a totally new you."

I said, as nicely and non-confrontationally as I could, that that wasn't a poem, not really. And they told me that they thought it was. Which left me with no answer except for a facial expression somewhere between pain and doubt. Because at the end of the day, where do you draw the line between poetry and advertising? And between good poetry and bad poetry? A lot of poetry has a message; in fact one could argue that poetry with no message is empty poetry. Maybe a message for commercial gain rules it out as poetry? But then having a message for commercial gain doesn't make it bad, or non-poetry. As a little experiment, let's try this rearrangement:

Feel like
a blowdry

come
into
the shop for

luxury

pampering

style
cut
and conditioning

for a
totally
new
you?


Hmmm. Now there's a message, albeit ironic rather than commercial. I rather like it actually.

signature cocktail?

One of my short plays is going to be rehearsed and performed at the Aotea Centre next weekend, and the producer (who knows how to throw a good party) has talked the bartender at Crow Bar into creating a signature drink for the play. All without knowing what it is about, but I appreciate the effort. Even though due to my famous-among-my friends alcohol intolerance, I won't be able to drink it.

MASK
Lime, sugar and blackberries muddled, add vodka and ice, shaken and served in a rocks glass

The play is about father-daughter relationships in a Kiwi-Chinese society. I would have used kiwifruit, bananas and lychee liqueur, myself....

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

ScreamBlueMurmur

Gordon gets us singing about the Sun Brown King

Gordon and Phatbob

Aisling, Chelley and Ellen

Outside Aotea Square

The wonderful ScreamBlueMurmur, a performance poetry group from Belfast, have been tiki touring around the North Island for 3 weeks, and gave their last performance tonight, in a University lecture theatre. They bring a style of performance poetry not seen in Kiwiland much these days - deeply felt, socially conscious poetry, and yes, dare I say it, political. (This is not to say that we don't do socially conscious poetry here. We do - and it is deeply felt - but it just doesn't go as broadly through history and theme as this stuff.)

Although ScreamBlueMurmur also do a lot of weaving in and out with rhythm and narrative, their work is quite unlike that of the Literatti, the only Auckland equivalent. They don't have much recorded background music, but generate it during performance in the form of beats or chants, even getting the audience to join in. Watching them is like participating in some sort of humanistic ritual, and oddly uplifting, even though the subject matter is often dark - discrimination, racism, misunderstanding, war.

The five poets in ScreamBlueMurmur - who put themselves on the line financially to pursue their dream of touring the world with their poetic messages - are all very different in terms of personality, as are their poems. But somehow they manage to blend together (though they tell me that they do have their disagreements while rehearsing)to form a thought-provoking mosaic of images. Poems that I remember in particular are Aisling Doherty's Fairy tales of the Sisters Grimm, and Phatbob's I've Lived Some, as well as the haunting two-hander Mirror Image by Chelley McClear.

ScreamBlueMurmur were hosted by our local Socialist Party (who by their own admission didn't know much about poetry tours, but did know about socialist messages). And much as I abhor the use of poetry for political gain at least these guys delivered on their promise to host the travellers and give them as many performance opportunities as they desired - in schools, in pubs, on maraes, even at small rural community dinners. The visitors also generously invited local poets to perform with them wherever they went, so on their last stop, I was one of the guests, as were Shane Hollands and Miriam Barr. And it was a good gig, even if the lecture theatre seemed ginormous and the lights rather clinical - a good response from the mainly student crowd (my Peter Brown poem is getting quite a lot of outings at the moment,to much reaction).

It's so good to see visitors in little Auckland, from another part of the poetry sphere. (It's not as isolated here as you might think actually). And I haven't even mentioned the work that these guys do in terms of "linking". They started a worldwide poetry event called LovePoetryHateRacism (Auckland was one of over 30 cities to take part this year). And they also go out of their way to make personal connections and offer a reciprocal tour to those poets lucky enough to see their show. Hope to see them again soon!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Poetry sponge



Just recovering from a week soaking in poetry, poetry, poetry....it's National Poetry day (week) and I MCed or performed in 6 events over 5 days.

Tuesday was Poetry Live - Polynesian Poets and the Resurrection night, where everyone came as a resurrection of a Dead Poet and performed a poem as that poet.


Wednesday was In Praise of Ideology, a collaboration with Steve, Eddie and Jess from Makeshift Magazine and a totally awesome gig with musicians and spoken word artsits in the cozy Wine Cellar - and a great crowd, too, considering it was a rainy Wednesday winter's night!


Thursday was the only day I wasn't performing personally, but my play Lantern was on for its second showing at Smackbang Theatre.

Friday, National Poetry Day proper, was a busy one with lots of overlapping events - I made it to three: Ponsonby Poets on the Pavement, with poetry readings in the shop window and chalking on the streets;


Poetry@Central with book launches by Poet Laureate Michele Leggott at the Central Library;


and The Divine Muses, organised each year by the lovely Siobhan Harvey (below), where I was one of a lineup of 9 poets to read poetry (I was Eratos, the Divine Muse of Love, and read my entire Cardiac Cycle).


Saturday was Winter Warmers at the Auckland Art Gallery with poetry and song,


followed by a quick trip home to get ready and change into Slammistress Renee for the Montana Poetry Slam. Whew!!

Needless to say I spent today recovering, and enjoying other people's art in the form of films at the Film festival, which was also on in town - plenty to choose from culture-wise at the moment!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lantern

Setting up

The capacity crowd


With my mum and my sister, after the show

Cast and Crew: Tony, Gary, myself, Peter, Li-Ming and Andy

The two performances of Lantern at Smackbang Theatre have been sold out, with double curtain calls for the actors both nights. Even accounting for an audience largely made up of friends and well-wishers, it's a great result and prompts me to aim for a full season of Lantern - a process which will take many more months, much more money and a lot of work. But I tend to think it's worth it, even if just for the experience of learning to put on a play.

The performances come at the end of three intense weeks of workshops which morphed into rehearsals - a strange situation since normally you don't redraft a play and rehearse for a production at the same time. But then that's just the way it seems to have happened.

In fact, the whole writing process for Lantern has been quite organic. When people ask me how I came to write the play I say it was "accidental". Bullshit, they say. Of course, you don't just accidentally write a 3-act play, but you can follow a series of leads and go by instinct and by the reactions of those who see your words. And it's true that the writing of Lantern was pushed along by various random conversations and apparently unconnected decisions I made, going back two or three years ago, so you could say it's been an "accidental" process, in the same way that you could say some people are "lucky" - in other words, they look out for opportunities and then they take the right ones.

Anyway, back to organic development. It's been neat to work with people like Gary, Tony, Andy and Li-Ming, who often bring a different take or interpretation to my stories. Writing theatre is more of a collaborative process, than an autocratic one -very different to poetry!