Signing off for 2017

Another year, another set of domestic disasters, rejections, frustrations, minor triumphs and bursts of silliness. Oh, and some poetry too.

It all began really well, with winning the January Rattle Ekphrastic competition. I still like the poem too, which is good. (And not always the way these things unpack). But then I failed completely to write any further poems for the monthly comp, which was not the intended result.

Then I started getting really good about sending out lots of poetry submissions. Trouble is, they kept coming back with variations on the theme of thanks, but no thanks and don’t call us, we’ll call you and where did you get this address and why are you sending me this shit? (Ok, no-one actually said the last one, but it began to feel implied.) I’d racked up half a dozen rejections by the midpoint of the year, which did take some of the wind out of my sails. (It’s not you, it’s me … hang on, no, it is you, after all.) But I managed to get the bloodstains out of my metaphorical toga and gamely waded on, picking up a couple more rejections, but also a brace of acceptances. (Thank you Landfall and Poetry New Zealand.)

On the plus side, I managed to act as midwife to six other poetry collections this year, which I’m crossing everything that can with medical safety be crossed in anticipation of seeing them snapped up by publishers. It was hard work, but a lot of fun. And I’ve got Helen Bascand’s manuscript more-or-less done, and am just waiting to get it back to do a final frisk and whittle (technical term). Again, hard work (although more so emotionally than intellectually), but it feels really good to have it done. And it’s going to be so good!

Writing was better this year, even if not as good as I’d hoped. Five new poems, including one I’ve been brooding over for a number of years, and which slots in to the Cowarral sequence. (Incidentally, for those of you who see the name and don’t know how to pronounce it: Cow as in the animal that goes moo; a as in cat, and ral to rhyme with pal. Cow-a-rral, with the stress on the second syllable. I’m pretty sure it’s an aboriginal word, most likely in the Birpai language, but I don’t know what it means. If anyone out there can enlighten me, please do!)

Assuming I survive all the work that needs to be done on the house (roof, garage, windows, argh …) I’m going to make 2018 the Year of Finishing Janus. No more excuses. I know, I was supposed to get it finished five years ago, but life got severely in the way. Having done Helen’s book and worked on the other six collections, I do know that it can be done if I just knuckle down. I’ve been delaying myself by fretting about editing and polishing individual poems first, but I’ve decided that I need to forget all that and just get the damn thing put together. Lay it out. Put it in order. Then do whatever rewriting or editing or new writing I need to do to fill in the gaps and get it done. Because it’s going to be a decade between books, which means any momentum I’d managed to accrue from The Summer King has been long dissipated. (Curse you, second law of thermodynamics!) Time to just get it done, and let it fight for itself. See if someone wants to put their money where my mouth is, so to speak.

Lastly, and as a bit of brazen advertisement,  in 2018 I’m going to offer two formal mentoring slots. A few people have asked me about them, so lets lay it out there. Up to ten hours of one-on-one mentoring, structured however works best for you (face to face, email, phone, a combination, or whatever.) Whether you want someone to set you assignments to help you develop your writing, work with you on a particular project, or just edit and comment on work you’ve got languishing in a drawer somewhere. I charge $50 per hour, with a minimum of $150. So if that sounds like something you’d like to take me up on, get in touch with a rough outline of what you’d like to do and we’ll see if we can make it happen.

So there you have it. A boast, a confession, a pimping, and a promise (of sorts). May 2018 be a vastly happier year than poor addled 2017 has been, with poems galore, acceptances by the bucketload, and general joy to as much of the world as can handle it.



What I’ll Be Doing This Summer – Raising the Roof results

the-arts-poetry-by-alfonse-muchaMany thanks to all those who took part in the polls about what sorts of things you’d like me to teach over summer. I’ve learned a couple of things, which I will share with you, oh gentle readers.

  1. Don’t ever ask a question without being fully ok with recieving every one of the possible answers. Giving the option of saying “doesn’t appeal” made perfect sense when I put the polls together. I hadn’t quite factored in my own reaction to seeing that response come up as often as it did. A little part of me started whimpering like a puppy beside a slowly spreading puddle.
  2. There is very little demand for a whole day on Reading for Writing. This was the only class which had more people saying Hell No than Yes Please. Almost twice as many. In fact you could take any other two options and add their “doesn’t appeal” numbers together, and still not beat that score. The whimpering puppy has been joined by a kitten in a boot.
  3. Don’t expect to get a lot of help in making the decsions. Other than a reasonably strong desire to attend Poetic Turns in January, you didn’t really give me much guidance. The only other thing I can gather is that you’ve all got other plans for February 3rd. The kitten’s boot has just fallen over. Into the puddle.
  4. It’s all up to you, Captain. Whatever I choose, it’ll please and disappoint a similar number of people. So I simultaneously can’t win, but also can’t lose. In which case, I may as well please myself. (But not do Option 4. Sigh!) So … the boot turns out to be waterproof, and the kitten leaps to dry ground.

So we will be having a two-day Poetic Turns class on January 20th and 21st. That one should make quite a few of you happy. The February classes are going to be two one-off, single-day writing workshops. I won’t repeat material, so you can come to either Saturday, or Sunday, or both. Why two single-days, rather than one two-day? Because I want to thow it open to as many people as possible, and this way I’m not ruling out anyoe who works on Saturdays! It gives me the maximum amount of flexibility, and means we can spend a decent chunk of time on each exercise. (Just imagine: half an hour of writing time, rather than fifteen to twenty minutes … you won’t know what to do with yourselves!)

I don’t yet have the costs completely worked out, but will try to get funding to keep them down to something manageable. So stay tuned. Or if you already know that you plan to come, send me an email to enroll yourself! (And if you aren’t on my class mailing list but would like to be, send me an email!)

A(nother) Difficult Day

Just back from handing over the manuscript of time to sing beofre the dark to Bruce Bascand and his sister Robyn. 

I’ve written and erased dozens of paragraphs that follow on from that simple statement. Stupid. Let’s just go with the observation that I didn’t handle it as well as I would have liked, and I’m really grateful for the existance of large sunglasses.

It does feel strange to have that part finished. The doing of it wasn’t the hard bit – once I had the process underway, it flew by. It was a true joy. But getting myself to that point was really a lot harder than it should have been. And handing it over today was a real wrench. But I think it really is going to be good. Unfortunately her computer files have vanished irretrievably, so it has to be copy-typed by someone, and then I’ll give it a final going-over to make sure the poems are in the right order and that there are none that should come out. There are two that I’m not entirely certain about – good poems, but maybe not quite as strong as the others. But … I suspect I’m largely quadruple-guessing myself. They both fit really well in the context of the whole thing. And they aren’t weak poems – those that were didn’t even make the first cut. It’s really just a matter of seeing how many pages it all comes out to, what it looks like laid out properly, and then making those final decisions.

The hope is to launch it next year on her birthday – February 22nd. It’s only three months away, which isn’t a huge amount of time. We’ll see. Bruce and Robyn and I discussed possibilities for the cover – I have this vague memory of a Gustave Dore etching for one of the fairy tale collections he did, with a thrush on a strand of briar rose, which would be perfect. Or something like a detail from a medieval painting – definitely a bird, and probably not a photo. But I’m not particularly good at things of a visual artistic nature, so I’ll take a slightly more back-seat position on that aspect.

Now I just have to write a bio for her, the blurb, and some kind of afterword, putting it all in context. One more thing to wrestle with myself about.

It does feel a bit like the beginnings of saying goodbye. I don’t know how I feel about that yet.

Raising (money for) the Roof Summer Poetry workshops

As the year turns inexorably towards the languid months of late Spring and Summer, I have some good news, some bad news, and some very good news. All depending on how you feel about the prospect of coming to a poetry workshop!

The bad news is that I have to reroof my house.
The good news is that I am going to be holding four days’ worth of poetry workshops in late January/early February to ease the financial pain a little. (And to keep me out of the way.)
The very good news is that the wonderful people at The Laboratory in Lincoln are happy to let me have the Classroom again at a very good rate. Hooray!

The dates in question are two weekends: January 20th and 21st, and February 3rd and 4th. We’ll run from 11am to 5 pm, with the extremely pleasant bonus of having good food, coffee, and beer on site. Short of getting a masseuse in as well, I don’t think it could shape up any better!

I’m still kicking around ideas for what the focus of each session will be, not to mention numbers, cost, other funding etc. Then there’s the structure. Two two-day workshops? One two-day intensive plus two single-day classes? Or four entirely separate classes? I’m open to suggestions, particularly from those of you who plan to come. (Maybe some of you Dark Feathered Art followers from outside Canterbury might fancy a weekend break?)

I’ve set up a poll at the bottom of this post, so anyone wanting to drop a pebble in the vote bucket can make themselves heard. I can’t guarantee that I’ll go with the will of the people entirely, but I will certainly take it into account. Feel free to leave suggestions, or ask questions.

Some Options.

  1. Poetic Turns. I ran this one as a five-session class back in May last year, and it went really well. There were some gob-smackingly good poems produced. I’d like to offer this one as a two-day intensive, probably covering some of the same things that we looked at then, but also some of the other types of turn that we didn’t get to. The blurb:Why do poems change course? And how do they do it? What can you add to a poem by leaping off in another direction? Based on the book Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns by Michael Theune, this class will examine ways that poems can weave in extra levels of complexity, and prompt us to open our work up to new possibilities.
  2. Poetic Endings. Quite a staple, this one. I first ran it as a double-header in Summer 2012, where we looked at The End of the Poetic Line and The End of The Poem. Linebreaks one day, and poetic closure the next. I also ran the Linebreaks class on its own in Jluy 2014. This would be another possible two-day class. Or a single day, focusing just on linebreaks. The blurb: Arguably one of the most fundamental aspects of poetry, linebreaks are also one of the most neglected. Why do poets break lines? What sorts of linebreaks are there? What effect do they have on the poem? And how about the poem as a whole? Do you tie up all the loose ends, or leave things open? What makes a poem end, rather than just … stop?
  3. Revisioning the Poem. Think of it as the free-spirited companion to Editing 101. A new class, exploring different strategies for shaking up a ‘stuck’ poem. Bring along a poem that you’ve given up on, or that doesn’t seem to be working, and see what we can do with a bit of lateral thinking. (And coloured pens. And glue sticks.) I’ll be drawing quite heavily on techniques from books like Wingbeats and Wingbeats II (both fantastic books) as well as other things I’ve picked up over the years. A single day class.
  4. Introduction to Reading for Writing. A one day class looking at my go-to option: Reading for Writing. A chance for people to come and see what it’s all about as a concept. One poem, multiple ways. Start by doing a close reading; really pulling the poem apart and seeing what’s going on inside. Then moving on to writing exercises – I always say you can apply loads of different strategies to one poem to generate dozens of new pieces, so this would be a chance to show that in action. (We do have this sometimes, when I have a Free-for-all session. Good fun!) A single day class.
  5. Poetry Writing Workshop. Aka,“Jump Start-the-Muse”. A day of wall-to-wall writing exercises. Possibly with some free writing time, and maybe then some critique provided at the end of the day. Or not. A single day class, or a two-day. Either would work.
  6. Editing Masterclass. This one is a bit trickier, because it would have to be more restricted in numbers. (Which in turn will push the cost up, but we can worry about that later.) I ran this one very many years ago, at a private house. Essentially walking participants through the (somewhat insanely detailed) way I go about editing my poems for a book. (Well, the series of steps I used for The Summer King, and then when I edited Helen Bascand’s Nautilus for her.) Definitely not for the faint-hearted, as it is pretty brutal. In theory you wouldn’t have to submit a poem to the process in order to attend, but I would need at least a couple of people to take that leap. Say four to six victims poems and a handful of onlookers perhaps? Could be a single day, or two, depending on the number of poems.
  7. Introduction to Writing Poetry. Leaping to the other extreme, an introductory class for people who want to take the plunge into writing poetry, and fancy spending time learning some of the ins and outs of it with others of a similar level. Low on theory (although hopefully some of the technical stuff will slip in without frightening anyone), high on fun and games. Maybe even something to restrict to newbies only? (Much as I love all of you who are my regulars, en masse you can be a bit intimidating to those who haven’t done this sort of thing before.) Just a single day, this one.

So there you have it. A suite of possibilities. Feel free to offer comments, and if you think you’d like to take part, use the polls and comments section to add your opinion to the mix. I willl apply for funding to keep the costs as low as reasonably possible, but if I have a vague idea of likely numbers it will put me in a better position to draft a budget and so on.

Where there are four dates to choose from, I’ve let you pick two options. (I know some people can do Sundays for example, but not Saturdays.) For the two-day classes, you just get the one vote: the January dates, the February dates, yes to either, or none at all. If you don’t mind what date, go with the “any/either date” option. The ”doesn’t appeal” option is there so that those of you who definitely want to come to something can let me know which classes are and aren’t pushing your buttons. Who knows – if enough people wanted one class, but were split across two dates, I could even run it twice. So think about what appeals, what doesn’t and cast your vote accordingly!

What classes should I run at The Lab this summer?

CPC Spring 2017 Poetry in Performance 

It’s that time again – Spring, the season of rain, daffodils, blackbirds fighting, lambs gambolling, bud burst, and weekly evictions of starlings from my roof space. And most of all, time for the annual Canterbury Poets’ Collective Poetry in Performance readings. Hooray!

For anyone who hasn’t been before, it’s the longest-running poetry readings series in New Zealand. Each session begins with an Open Mike, where anyone who fancies it can put their name down and read a poem. Could be a poem of your own, or a piece by someone else you really like – whatever you fancy. The range of subjects and levels is positively mind-bending, and it’s a really great, supportive atmosphere. With an extra bit of incentive: we all get to vote fo our favourite of the Open Mike readers, and the winners from each night get to come back and be guest readers for the final evening!

That takes care of the first half of the session. After a short break, it’s the turn of the guest readers. There’s almost always one reader from out of town, and two local poets. Very often one of the locals will be an emerging poet, possibly someone who first showed up at the open mike. (It happened to me!) The whole thing usually wraps up around 8.30, but there’s generally a bit of meeting-and-mingling afterwards. All for a measley $6 a session. Bargain!

And who might the guests be for this year?

27th September: David Eggleton, John Newton, Ray Shipley
4th October: Riemke Ensing, Frankie McMillan, Ben Brown
11th October: Airini Beautrais, Andrew Paul Wood, Claire Thompson
18th October: Chris Tse, Teoti Jardine, Nod Ghosh
25th October: CK Stead, Rodney Foster, Diana Deans
1st November: Lynley Edmeades, Christina Stachurski, Victoria Broome
8th November: Ingrid Horrocks, Phoebe Wright, poets from the Hagley Writers’ Institute
15th November: Michelle Leggott, and the best of the Open Mike poets.

It once again takes place in the Imagetech Lecture Theatre at Ara (formerly Christchurch Polytechnic) on Madras Street. Super easy to find: go in through the main doors from the carpark, sashay briefly along the right corridor, and it’s the first door. Look, here’s a map:


If you’d like a copy of the poster for yourself, clicking on this link should take you to a downloadable pdf version. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to do some reading practice.