Cross posted to Show Your Workings.

Week one at Varsity, exciting to actually get started and meet everyone. Finally it’s real. Most of the first class was housekeeping: structure, expectations, and introductions.

We all read out a piece of writing (as a way of introducing ourselves) that Chris had pulled out of our submission portfolios. Mine was the Survival Sestina (scroll down heaps), which I have a love hate relationship with, however it did illustrate my re-occurring themes of suburban neuroses, science and magical thinking – ha!

Also it was good to introduce myself on a lighter, more humorous note than some scary “dead mother” poem!

The rest of the class seem genuine and interesting, actually what will be interesting is which ones turn out to be “my” readers, the ones who respond most helpfully and “get” my work.

I’m looking forward to discussing my reading list, I feel I need direction from someone smarter than me, I don’t feel very well read.

It’s a bit of a shame that Writers and Readers week isn’t on this year, which would have been a great kick start to our reading journals.

Our first class exercise was to write a one page biographical note written about ourselves in the voice of someone else. I was at a bit of a loss and cobbled together a school report using quotes from real old school reports, which I posted earlier this week. The piece was to have three truths and one lie, fun. We handed these out in the first class to read overnight and respond the following day. Some of the class had written a one page short story, Kay had written a one page poem, akk! I felt a bit intimidated! My piece wasn’t really crafted like their pieces had been, ah well, next time…

Speaking of which exercise two is to write a piece with three false starts. The text should be composed of three numbered fragments, yet still somehow seem complete. Length: 2-3 pages!!!!!!!!!!

I have to get over my anxiety about writing longer poems! I have an idea about old boyfriends, I could write a fragment about three different boyfriends and why they never made the grade. This seems a little simplistic but I guess the deeper motif is feminism or misogyny?

At the end of the presentation I talked about how public documents – forms – held some fascination for me. I like the form of the school report because it seemed to say so much about me but at the same time said nothing at all and needed to be read between the lines.

Forms / form. I guess this is why I wrote Show Your Workings in the form it took and my lost and found poem in the form of a form, also the attraction of sestinas etc.

Considering my motif of magical thinking it was funny to have a moment of serendipity today when I was reading. I’ve been so excited about getting access to the VUW library again, there are quite a few books on Elizabeth Bishop I’ve been wanting to get stuck into. I started with Elizabeth Bishop: the Geography of Gender and spent a few hours in the library taking notes, reading about Elizabeth and thinking about how restrained she was. She said publically on many occasions that her poems were totally literal but she lied! There was a close reading about “In the Waiting Room” which was quite interesting in this respect. Elizabeth used form, very strict form, everything was between the lines – in the absences. She censored herself. Her strict form use suited her style but she still had “Flickers of Impudence”, little bird droppings sprinkled through the poems. She was not as discrete as she was made out to be by many critics.

Why did she talk her self down in that way – saying that her poems were just accounts of real events? I guess many poets use real events as starting points, and embellish to illustrate a point. Why did she say that? Was she trying to add mystery, magic to her work? Like some poets claim that their poems come fully formed? *snort*. She, however, was the queen of revision, whittling and binding until sometimes original meanings were reversed and a tidy tight nugget remained.

I scribbled these notes on the way home:

Form/forms

  • Public
  • formal
  • strict
  • instructive
  • structured
  • say everything yet nothing
  • between the lines
  • restraint
  • censored
  • prescriptive
  • jargon
  • nonsensical
  • weird grammar

It might be quite fun to tease out a bit more from these ideas, I can imagine a series of fake forms.

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