Saturday, December 31, 2016

On Brink

So, my next book is scheduled to appear from Five Islands Press some time next year (2017), most likely mid-year. First of all, my thanks to the editorial team at Five Islands for inviting me to publish with them. It was, actually, a surprise, a welcome one of course. It's not the first time I've published with Five Islands. My second book, the now out-of-print Flagging Down Time, came out during the Press's Wollongong-Ron Pretty years in the 90s. Nice to be back in the catalogue.

The book, currently titled Brink, will contain poems I've written over a number of years. In fact, in the draft I'm finalising, there are poems published over a decade ago and even a couple whose first drafts happened in the late 1990s, though they have been through many edits since then. One poem consists solely of words and phrases mined from my first and now also out-of-print book, The Mask and the Jagged Star. Brink is, thus, an accumulative book, though there will be fairly recent material in it as well, both published and unpublished. I'm sure that's the case for many books of poetry. To my mind (others will see it differently), the poetry ideas (thematics, if you will) don't play so much into an idea that was/still is current about my work, 'Jill Jones urban poet'. I'm not sure what makes my work any more 'urban' than any number of others but it's a labelling that has stuck to me, like an irritant.

In many of the poems there is an element of the suburban, that most scorned of Australian places. I was born in a suburb and more than likely will die in a suburb. Presumably it's the case for many people. Suburbs aren't homogeneous, of course, they are about class, race, gender, and 'place' (defined in many ways). And they are also about climate, and microclimates, small territories. The birds, animals and plants know this pretty obviously. And in saying that, the 'suburban' poems that should finally make it into Brink, will go in an ecopoetic and/or a queered direction, among other things. [Note: Robert Wood has written some useful things about Australian poetry and the suburban, including this article in John Tranter's excellent Journal of Poetics Research.]

Ecopoetic? In my poetry-working-mind, it's not 'nature' poetry. There is no such thing as nature. I'm interested in how the entities and things of a place (what some might call nature) exist and move, and can be read and written, in relation to culture, economics, politics, representation, language. The politics of suburban birds (native or exotic). The culture of the side fence. The economics of the backyard. The language of weeds, compost, and kerb and guttering. Not all of that will be in the final book, but they're ideas I have worked with, variously. And I don't stick with the streets and yards of suburb or town. The poems move through the non-urban, non-suburban, non-Australian as well, and move around in amongst the big stuff. It's all connected. Including bodies which live and move in it all.

Of course, that's not the be-all and end-all of the book. As I said in another post, I don't think I really know what I'm doing in any way that can be reduced to simple explanation or a wholly intellectualised reading of the process. Which I think is what this post demonstrates. A lot of what I say is post hoc, a thinking back or even a justification for what I think am doing, or what I want to be doing, or what I think I ought to be doing (in my own thinking, not following fashion or dictates as I have no idea about fashion, but following my specific and possibly idiosyncratic fashioning and wobbly directions). And talking of doing, and making, there are poems preoccupied with the process of making that will probably make the final cut. There are love poems and an elegiac or even apocalyptic sense in a few. And a few jokes as well (well, I get the jokes, if no-one else does). I've experimented with lipogram, word and line counts, and other formal devices, also.

I am both happy and dissatisfied with how it looks so far. That's always the case with me. I have to resist letting the dissatisfied part of me over-tweak things. I'm not interested in perfect - there is no such thing - but in interestingness, surprise, something that a reader might want to return to. I don't want to over-egg the thing. So, I'll stop here, for that same reason. I'm already heading in other directions for a next-next book (see previous post) and that will unfold as it will.

Beyond Brink: or thinking about the next-next book

My next book, now it’s public, will be called Brink (unless there is a last-minute title change, always possible in publishing). Now that it’s more or less settled, I am of course working on writing ideas beyond that – ideas that are more than a poem here and there. Needless to say, this includes a ‘next next’ book, the one after this next book, as an idea. 

I realise, of course, that in poetry publishing there’s never a ‘next book’ until it’s signed, sealed and delivered, but the idea of ‘next’ is a focus for activity, as well as a goad, and a reminder that there may be a place for a few things to land together. It may never happen, I may not make it (that gets more clear as you get older), and the-world-as-I-know-it may not make it (that’s pretty clear right now), but you never know your luck.

Brink, I suspect, will be seen as broadly ‘ecopoetic’ (more on that soon) – anyway, I’ll bet at least one review (should I get any reviews but, hey, you never know your luck) will mention a variant on that phrase, and why shouldn't it/they. Still, I’d like it to be seen as far more than that, being someone who is allergic to themes in a narrow, categorical and/or marketing way. And I should beware of presuming to either know what I’m doing or know what others will make of what I’m doing.

Nonetheless, in my poet-working-mind, the next-next collection after Brink, if and/or when, will look/read/feel differently to it, unless I’m kidding myself (you never know yr …). Of course, the concerns with the environmental disaster we are currently within will continue to be a part of things I write – how could that not be. It’s the air I breathe, literally. Nonetheless, some of the concerns of this future book will resemble more the kinds of ideas I was working with in Dark Bright Doors (2010) and, to an extent, the now out-of print Broken/Open (2005). Poems I’ve been working on consider ideas around the self or selves, 'subjectivity' if you want to be fancy (lots of ‘I’ poems, you know, the kinds of poem we’re told not to write), the body (yes, I apparently have one), my own peculiar metaphysics (nope, not scared of that stuff), as well as more play with form.

And, gee, put like that, these are hardly new ideas. Of course, they’re not, they're old as the proverbial. Plus it’s all pretty broad (and see comments above on themes) but the real use for themes/categories, for my poet-mind at least, is to provide ample catch-alls to help me sort through past, current and future poems, to be able to place them into this book/idea or that. And none of this speculation stops me taking up some other concern if it arises. I do have some recent pieces that work with history, with citation, with self-appropriation, a continuing interest in ekphrasis. Whether they find favour either with my own self or with other readers, who knows. All you can do is test things out.

Looking back on this little screed, I’m not sure it says a lot. I grow ever skeptical of being able to understand myself, my workings, in particular. I suspect the mind is simply a bag of tricks, wonky connections and self-deceptions. OK, my mind. Let’s keep it personal. But, as folks of my generation used to say, that’s where I’m at, and definitely what I’m working at. It may not be keeping me honest but it is keeping me occupied.