Archives for category: Thinking

Well, that was rather a long stretch between posts, wasn’t it?

We are both still here, though. Helen H has been busy gaining herself an MA in Creative Writing and I’ve been busy coming to terms with one of life’s curve-balls.

I remember last year some of our readers (are you still out there, readers? I wouldn’t blame you for wandering off…) were surprised that Helen and I had only met once for five minutes. Since then, Helen came and stayed with me for a night and was the guest poet at a local live poetry night. She read beautifully and sold lots of copies of her chapbook. We had some great chats and a fantastic morning of op-shopping.

Then, over the summer I spent a delightful day with Helen at her place. There she is (above) sitting at her kitchen table. Her house is wonderful – a true artist’s nest – and we spent the day in animated conversation about writing & the writing world and our hopes, ambitions, delusions and dilemmas…

Now we are tucked up our separate corners of the country, both working on editing/polishing/refining/reworking our poetry manuscripts. Wish us both luck!

Now that she’s slept on my living room floor and I’ve drunk tea at her kitchen table, I feel like we are ‘proper’ friends…not just an online project.

Sorry about the long absence. It is lovely to be back.

I’ve been looking at the garden for the last six months, thinking how I should’ve really pulled some weeds so I could plant some more veges. I promised myself that I wouldn’t make my self feel guilty about things like that in such a busy year but I was a little sad that I wouldn’t be picking fresh veges from my plot.

Today I grabbed a few handfuls of chickweed out of the vege patch to feed the chooks and noticed as I got up close: lettuce, celery, carrots and in another corner broad beans!

These little seedlings are making their way despite the weeds, on their own accord; plants that had self-seeded from the previous crops. I just need to do some minimal weeding and they’ll take off. The prognosis wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.

When I first started my MA this year I was worried – would I be able to keep up with the workload, would I get writer’s block, would I remember anything, would my brain still work, would all the bright young things leave me in their dust?

I’m sure all mothers experience a similar mix of these anxieties when they return to work after a period of time away with children.

What I discovered was I had 8 years worth of ideas that had been germinating in the dark recesses of my brain, which only needed the slightest stimulation to take off (and that motherhood gives you an amazing stamina!)

I’m slowly starting to realize that it’s okay to let your land / mind lay fallow for a while, in fact, it may even be beneficial – not stripping all the nutrients from extensively working your plot.

I’m sure I won’t be able to (and don’t want to) wait another 8 years before the next intensive work effort but I will be less anxious about the wait, happier to see it as part of the process in the future and able to trust that a few self-sown seeds will make their own way to the light.


I was thinking the other day how readers of our very erratic, but hopefully interesting blog, might assume that Helen and I are close friends.

Well, we are certainly friends – there is a genuine affection between us, we regularly send each other thoughtful and generous gifts, supportive emails and we share thoughts and ideas on our writing…

…but we have only met once, for about five minutes. We were both stall-holding at a Craft 2.0 market, so although excited to finally meet one another – the day was so chaotic and busy that we met, hugged and fizzed over one another for a few minutes…then later there were quick visits to one another’s stalls and that was it.

There is so much I don’t know about Helen, nor she about me. I don’t know stuff that friends know about one another, like where she met her husband, how long they’ve been together, what she studied at university. I don’t know her favourite colour or what she is likely to order at a cafe. I don’t know if she likes sushi or coloured stockings, like I do.

Yet, I do know her – I know what she thinks about motherhood, I know her tastes in poetry, I know a little of what she loves.

Ours is a very 21st century friendship, I think. We ‘met’ online – I actually forget how or where exactly now (can you remember, Helen?) We quickly became friends via email and blog comments, quite soon after meeting we had engaged in this project together.

I love the internet for how these connections can be made – I have made many friends through the internet now – some have been brief flirtations, others have evolved into deep and lasting ‘in real life’ friendships.

I know Helen and I will continue to get to know each other over time, and one day I hope to know her well enough to be able to give her order to the barista if I’m waiting for her at a cafe – in the meantime, her ongoing presence in my email in box and letter box is a wonderful addition to my life.

New in the Leaf Journal:


Inspired by HH’s cake tour of Melbourne – I made this image.

The text (from a vintage childrens’ book) says: ‘She bought some honey and rose leaf meringues and two loaves of violet petal bread.’


HH responded with the above collage. (We are big on the cake theme!)

The text says:
Atomic Housewife – so easily satisfied.

‘The year 2000 used to seem so far ahead into the future – we would all be eating pills for dinner and driving spaceships – but already it is slipping into the past.’

New in the Daler Journal:


I made this one, last year. The text says:

‘If you can raise your eyes up from time to time and take in the horizon you will remember that there is and wild and lovely world beyond the parametres of your small and dusty brain, your stale thoughts.

Look into this.’

To which HH responded with her experiences playing around with Keri Smith’slatest art exploration books:


‘Poking holes into this page using a pencil – frees me up!’



on Keri Smith’s manifesto ‘How To Be An Explorer of the World’ Helen says:

‘(a colour photocopied page) from my new personal journal. Addicted. Doodles are good & idea 23 ‘Document shapes made by water’. Try this!


It’s been rather a long time since I updated the journal project on here. Sorry about that! These pages were actually made late last year, early this year….somehow now it is March.

I have been very busy back inside that aforementioned dusty brain. However, it’s bright and fresh out here in the world – & it’s nice to be back.

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:


  • 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.


I just read this book.
I have to confess – I picked it up in the library getting my Penelopes confused and thinking it was going to be by Penelope Lively, a writer I love, so I was a little confused at first to get home and start reading and realise I was reading a New Zealand book! But I have READ Penelope Todd’s ‘Zillah’ books for young adults and enjoyed them very much indeed, so it was a happy accident.

This book is an account of Penelope Todd’s realisation, as her children were leaving home, that she felt completely empty inside, confused and as though she had been role-playing her life instead of living it genuinely.  In the book, she candidly reveals what it took for her to feel at home in her own skin again. She was most courageous and did things that most people only daydream of doing – she changed her name, she engaged in three years intensive Jungian therapy, she questioned her Christian faith and came out the other end a non-believer, she took a writing retreat, sans family, in a remote part of Spain (hence the title), she even flirted with an extra-marital affair.

I found the book engaging and read it in two binge sessions. There was something very comforting to me about reading this intelligent and pragmatic woman’s story.  There were several excerpts which moved me to copy them out into my journal. Here’s one – she discusses the contradictory impulses of the writer:

“The impulses are contradictory: to remain hidden; to come out as escort to your writing. The  writer’s life is a strange dance between the two. You write in long seclusion, knowing that what comes onto the page is a mix of bone and viscera, tough and tender; the things you’re proud of and thing that have the potential to shame you; then the work is ready and you can choose to herald it with a bold bragadaccio, walk coyly or proudly at it’s side, or be dragged in it’s wake. I alternate between the last two approaches, suspecting always that the flame of joy, unhooded, will invite the snuffer.

When the work isn’t perfect – and it never is – you are braced for every kind of ridicule. Sometimes there seems to be too much riding on it all and you think you’d rather sell confectionary or deliver mail for a living.

However, I recently found out that a family motto from my father’s side was Portet Vive. It behoves us to live. I choose a magnificent over a mundane interpretation. It behoves us to live well: richly, broadly, deeply and intricately – which adverbs for me, describe the route that writing seems to take.”

Amen to that!

There were a couple of things that I didn’t like so much in the book, one was that the author has a fascination with insects and writes about them frequently throughout the book – insects she observes in her surroundings and their metaphorical power for her. I found these bits a little forced, at times. The other thing is towards the end of the book she writes, verrrryyy vaguely and cagily about an extra-marital affair she flirted with but did not consummate. While I understand that she is writing about real people and has the feelings and privacy of those involved to consider – the writing around this stuff was so very cagey, the details so skant I question whether she needed to leave it in the book – in the form she offers it, it doesn’t add much.

These very minor considerations aside, I heartily recommend this book! It is full of wisdom and the story of her time at the Spanish retreat is compelling and at times, amusing. Penelope Todd has given all writers who are also parents a real gift with this book – she shows that it IS possible to have a fufilling creative life and a family. She talks eloquently about the struggle and the juggle. The writing is witty and eloquent and I came away feeling most heartened.

I also recommend her young adult novels – they are gripping, hip and edgy.

My partner often says “Put your own oxygen mask on first”. What he means of course is that you have to look after yourself so you can look after those who depend on you. That’s easier said than done when you are a mother. I just had a few days away from the family and almost immediately solved a problem poem that I couldn’t face at home. I often find I have to remove myself physically from the family / home before I can just focus on myself and my writing. Kids take as much as you’ll give them, which of course is natural and excellent for their survival but you have to learn how to take breaks and replenish for your own survival.

I admire and respect mother/writers who have produced books while bringing up small children. Mother/writers must be driven, compelled to write and to snatch time for themselves to do so. I guess we are lucky that we are not made to feel guilty about it to the same extent as mother/writers of previous decades. Often we are all to happy to put guilt on ourselves. I like to think that my children benefit from my writing in that the satisfaction I get from following my dreams makes me a nicer person to be around and hopefully a good caring feminist role model.

A small meditation on achieving literary success in New Zealand

(after William Carlos Williams)

so much depends upon




Page by Helen L, response from Helen H.

Do I have spare strength and certainty? Well, some days I have plenty to spare other days I have a negative balance. These fleeting things, yes, they slip through our fingers and letting yourself surrender to that is so hard. I guess it’s connected to trying to live in the present. Each moment passes and instantly becomes the past. The light of stars reach us in the present but is light years old.

What we perceive as present is the vivid fringe of memory tinged with anticipation.

Alfred North Whitehead,

But of course Buddha would say

You shouldn’t chase after the past or place expectations on the future. What is past is left behind. The future is as yet unreached. Whatever quality is present you clearly see right there, right there.

I guess the problem is that these are such big concepts for us to get our heads around: time; mortality; our place in the world. We are so tiny in the big picture, yet we still atempt to make our mark on the universe, on a piece of paper, in the genes of our children.

How wonderful that we have the ability to have these thoughts, even if they do make our brains feel like exploding! Sometimes I feel like humankind is all a big computer/connected brain trying to figure out the answer to “Life the universe and everything”, maybe the answer is “42”. In the meantime we are alive, we are self-aware, conscious, struggling for understanding, learning, growing. Life is precious yet precarious. I think that this was not the case it might not be worth living. Certainty is just us soothing ourselves, perhaps it is better to be uncertain, on the edge, alive.

Helen wrote:

I’m pretty practical. I’m not a really girly girl, but I do like pretty aprons. There’s something about them that helps to transform the everyday drudgery. I guess that’s the whole idea with those 1950s aprons, only now we have this post-modern nostalgia for the retro objects – we are so self-aware it’s painful sometimes.

We dress our homes, ourselves, our kids to make a statement about who we are. I suppose this has always been so but it seems such a big focus now. Even if its ‘alternative’ it’s still somewhat confined.

I’m just as bad as the next person but I kid myself that I’m no by being anti-establishment – hah!