To be a poet one needs the six P’s – the pencil, the paper, the perception, the passion, the persistence and the unshakable persuasion that the poem is in fact possible and attainable. - Grace Perry

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Round Table with Anna Kerdijk Nicholson

Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Greg Tome and Berlio 
Thank you to everyone who joined Anna Kerdijk Nicholson and I at Gilbert's of Mittagong yesterday for a chat about her poetry; the what, how and why.

Anna Kerdijk Nicholson currently holds a position on the Board of Directors of Australian Poetry and was previously an editor for Five Bells. Along with Anna's contributions to the Australian poetry writing community, she has published two books of poetry, the first of which, The Bundanon Cantos, was mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald's Best Books of 2003. The collection of poems which became The Bundanon Cantos began in 1998 when Anna was Artist-in-Residence at Bundanon, near Nowra. Anna's second book, Possession, was published in 2010 and received the Wesley Michel Wright Prize, the Victorian Premier's Prize and was shortlisted for the NSW and ACT Premier's Prizes. Anna told us that the success of Possession was like 'having a child and watching them go off to uni and get a real job', she is amazed at how well received the book has been. Anna has also won the Arts Queensland Award for Unpublished Poetry and has been a prizewinner in The Society of Women Writers NSW Inc. National Poetry Prize.

The afternoon began with Anna reading three of her poems, one of which was 'Terra Australis ... land of the inmost heart'. This poem, like many of Anna's, carries a hard hitting message about the colonisation of Australia. Anna has written:
                       ....The mail-box names down the Dam Road are recent tributes
                       to us coming here to find, by digging the earth, what
                       in our hearts we sought: Eccles, Johnston, McWhirter,
                       Naidu.... (2010, p43).
Here Anna acknowledges that all who have migrated to Australia have come to find a home, a place where they can belong. Many of the poems within Possession, as Anna pointed out, are modern sonnets, this poem included. The modern sonnet holds to the 14 lines, but is not concerned with rhyme in the same way that a traditional sonnet is. It was remarked that within her collection Possession the use of the modern sonnet is a tool through which Anna is able to create a conversation between the ideals held during the time of Captain Cook and twenty-first century, postcolonial Australia. Anna commented that she was once asked if she viewed herself as a 'postcolonial' writer. In order to respond to this she researched the term and was thrilled to find that her writing could be described as postcolonial, but noted that she would not have described herself as postcolonial, as she does not think in those terms when she writes. Though, she does believe that a good poem should always carry some hard hitting message, the politics of the writer, underneath the imagery and beauty of the writing. She hopes that her poetry is able to draw a reader in through her use of language and description, but that they will come out the other end thinking about the political underlying message that is conveyed.

One poem that is perhaps a bit more hard hitting is 'Canto XX', which explicitly describes the inappropriateness of non-Indigenous Australians presence in Australia:
                       ....I look down on the lands

                       through my telescope -
                       armies are driving
                       across the plains
                       as I watch. I can see
                       spotted-brick encampments
                       and four-wheel drives... (2003, p49).
Our group discussed how the short lines of this poem echo the sound of marching. Discussion of the line divisions here, and of Anna's adoption of the modern sonnet, lead to a conversation about contemporary poetry in general and the forms of poetry that are most popular at the moment. Those present discussed what inspires them to write and Anna suggested other poets that we should be reading, poets who write on similar themes to what we explore ourselves. This is an important point, anyone who enjoys writing poetry, or any kind of literature for that matter, should be reading. Anna herself stated that she reads as widely as she can, with some particular favorites, such as Jill Jones, Peter Boyle and Alison Crogan.

Anna Kerdijk Nicholson deep in conversation with Ken Challenor
We moved on to an exploration of ekphrastic poetry, with Berlio reading Anna's poem 'Studies For a Nude'. The circularity of this poem was noted, with "...the very bare / soles of her feet..." appearing in the first stanza, followed by the repetition of souls in the last stanza, with "...toughness peeled to her / uninhibited, naked soles" (Meanjin, p216). Anna explained that the 'darker work' in the second stanza, asserting "...its alien qualities, andogynous / and defiant..." was a metaphor for herself. Anna discussed how interesting the process of writing from a painting can be, as well as writing from a journal, such as in many of her poems in Possession, which have been inspired by Captain Cook's journals, and some in The Bundanon Cantos, inspired by writings by Arthur Boyd. She told us how she will read a journal and take out the narrative, cutting the journal entry back to one core image, and then select lines from the journal which contain this image, randomly compile them to then gradually chop and build the words, lines and imagery that will become the final poem. This was a process that Ken Challenor was particularly interested in having recently experimented with writing an ekphrastic poem of his own. Ken and I will be reading our ekphrastic poems opening of an art exhibition, 'Zwischenräume - Spaces of Convergence', in the Faculty of Creative Arts gallery at Wollongong University on the 27th of July, from 12.30pm.

Greg tome expressed an admiration for Anna's use of imagery and the way that she is able to compact so many different ideas and meanings within one poem, but it is still able to flow and remain connected. Greg read Anna's poem 'Today the Distance Between the Threads of the Net':
                         Let us imagine it is the width of a chink of light
                         falling near a wife's foot as she passes her husband's door;
                         the worn dip in a butcher's block on the Mile End Road;
                         the width of a carriage rut in the mud in York;
                         the fatness of folded secret orders from the Admiralty;
                         or perhaps as thin as a goose's quill in an ink pot
                         on the St Lawrence River; but how shall it be measured
                         now, and how will we know when it is done? (2010, p51).
Within this poem there is an exploration of gender, colonisation and the passing of time. Jennifer D. Maree was interested in how Anna selects the right words for a poem, it is something that Jennifer struggles with, knowing if a word is to abstract and therefore readers will not be able to grasp the meaning. This interested Anna, who described this struggle as Jennifer's politics. Jennifer wants poetry to be for everyone, accessible for everyone. Personally, while I do think that poetry should be accessible for everyone I would like to stress that a word, if it appropriately captures the image, sound and texture of a poem should not be sacrificed. A reader will be able to learn through their reading, gaining a wider vocabulary, and these days with google it is so easy to look up an obscure word that might not be understood with a first reading. Though I do respect Jennifer's politics and I am interested to read some of her poetry as she informed me that she does have a self published book out.

You can purchase The Bundanon Cantos at http://books.google.com.au/books/about/The_Bundanon_Cantos.html?id=LW-tAAAACAAJ&redir_esc=y  and Possession at http://fiveislandspress.com/catalogue/possession