Sunday, November 18, 2012
Things I've written: recollections of life behind text
Part of this sneezy reverie was rearranging stuff from bookshelves, including the shelf of Things I've Written (left, including my newest book, paraded shamelessly for your arousal).
One Proustian realisation: with most of these poems, essays and books, I have strong recollections of the circumstances of the writing, but not necessarily of the text itself.
For example, one of the poems for Overland, "Howard Watches the Oscars and Weeps With Joy", was written after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I was so contemptuous of the 'Shock and Awe' media show--the poem was an expression of head-shaking contempt.
My first essay for Meanjin, in the 'Beautiful Minds' edition (with Sophie Cunningham on the cover), was about Nietzsche, and his relevance for today. What I remember most intensely is then-editor Ian Britain's office on Barry St in Carlton: a mess (it's the only honest word) of looseleaf paper, books, posters, manilla folders, and Ian's lunchbox propped on a filing cabinet, next to his hat. I arrived (characteristically) early to look over his editing suggestions, and couldn't find Ian. He was hidden behind a pile of paperbacks, looking for an essay under a desk. His meticulous eye for the details of prose seemed at odds with his office.
Distraction was written with an injury: a damaged 3/4 cervical disc. I remember sitting in front of my old white MacBook, which was propped up on a chest of light pine drawers (so I didn't look down), trying to write with voice recognition software (so I didn't type). "Alienation," I said, not moving my head or neck. "Violin nation," it wrote. "Alienation." "Violin nation." "A-l-i-e-n-a-t-i-o-n. A-l-i-e-n-a-t-i-o-n. Oh, fuck you."
The Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens provided tangential inspiration for Philosophy in the Garden. The camellia gardens were overwhelming: so many fat, heavy blossoms, vivid against the dark waxy leaves. It was an intense feeling, but a drab idea. But the image stayed with me, and now decorates the blank left-hand pages of the book, along with a bee (rendered with character by Daniel Keating).
journalism (left, looking crumpled) doesn't have the same memorial appeal. Perhaps because the columns have less individuality: I don't see the spine and cover, prompting identification. The folder is just a mass of headlines and pull-out quotes. Perhaps it's just numbers: after a while, it all blurs.
Either way, I didn't expect this strange backward glance--writing as personal shadowbox for its own creation.
Something to write about. (The dust needs somewhere to live.)