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Archive for July 2013

John Kinsella on his novel Morpheus - in the Southerly Blog

 

Rereading

dark2John Kinsella

At the age of fifty, I am rereading books I first read when I was in my mid-to-late teens. These are the books I was reading when I wrote my novel Morpheus which, after thirty years and various acts of reconstruction to cover the lacunae of  lost chunks of manuscript, is about to be published.

Reading was the most essential referent in the creation of this 400-page ‘text’, and, in going through copy-edits and then proofs, I thought it would be a self-enlightening process to revisit the works that ‘informed’ my late-teenage writing process. Of course, there were many books, and I certainly don’t have time to revisit them all, but a handful of salient works have been with me over recent weeks.

First, I went back to Beckett and Joyce, but they’ve never been far away anyway. Then I went to Flann O’Brien’sThe Third Policeman. Strangely, and quite tangentially, I’ve also gone to Anthony Burgess’s ‘sweeping’ and ‘parodic’ novel (problematical in so many ways) of the twentieth century, Earthly Powers.

Earthly Powers has particularly surprised me with both its desire to mock-shock (there’s a coinage!) and the deep conservatism that lurks at its essence. I am fascinated by ‘lurking’ in texts, and this book lurks in ways it doesn’t seem to know it’s lurking, while making much mileage out of a lurking in the ‘seamy side’. Which ‘side’is Burgess on?… Are we supposed to ask this? Well, it’s not hard to work out (then as a eighteen-year-old and now as a fifty-year-old!). Though his protagonist in this fictional memoir is homosexual, and the bigotries of the literary and religious world are tracked through him, one can’t help but feel the protagonist-narrator is made use of for a lurking moral superiority (actually, it’s homophobic and racist) — I get the same feeling from Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, which I also read in my late teens.

Reading books thirty years later is likely to bring a change in attitude. But surely the same philosophy and process should apply to reading one’s own writings thirty years later? Surely this is the point where better judgement should come into play and the work be left to its time, as manuscript? Well, I’ve never thought that way. When I read Morpheus, I feel as if I am reading a past self, someone vaguely connected with myself, but connected nonetheless. I am the sum of my past, but I am also separate. I can read the work as by someone else, almost, but here I have been reconstructing lost bits from memory.

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John Kinsella on his novel Morpheus - in the Southerly Blog part 3

 

On the Southerly Blog, John Kinsella has been a featured blogger. Here is his third piece, I'll Tell You A Story.

I’ll tell you a story

RaggedEdges

by John Kinsella

I possess two items from my childhood. Both are books. Somehow I have held on to these through the upheavals of my life, including having twice sold vast collections of books to support my various needs (and long-past addictions) twenty and more years ago. When I did my last big ‘sell-off’ in the early nineties, I managed to hang on to my early J. H. Prynne Poems and a few signed collections of poetry as well, but that’s about it. I occasionally run into people who remark that they own books containing dedications from writers to me. But that’s the way of it, and though I enjoy having books around me, I am not stuck on owning things, and have little regard for material possessions.

Yet I do have those two books from childhood. One is Bedtime Nursery Rhymes, which was given to me on my second birthday by my maternal great-grandmother Coupar. She wrote in the front in her very formal, aged hand: ‘To dear little John, on his 2nd birthday from his Great-Grandma S. G. Coupar 1965’. This intrigued me through my childhood, because it became my only memory of this Goldfields woman, and I long mused over the formality and affection working together in the capitals for Great-Grandma, the initials in her name, counterpointed by the ‘dear little’. Should they have been in caps as well, I wondered? This seemed to me as much poetry as the wonderful rhymes inside which I still know by heart and recited to my son Tim when he was still in his cot.

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John Kinsella on his novel Morpheus - in the Southerly Blog part 4

Uses of Knowledge/Data/Detail
in Writing and Reading

data2
by John Kinsella
I’ve always loved ‘data’, though I am sceptical of how it is sourced and utilised. This re-engineered novel I’ve been talking about over recent weeks, Morpheus, is a book stuffed with data, yet aims to be a challenge to the ‘empirical’; the data of ‘learning’ — from school, the first year or two of university, private reading and even (scientific) researching. While writing Morpheus, I was studying and occasionally working in my own home lab, complete with Mettler balance, Bunsen burners, titration equipment and micro ground-jointed organic glassware, including Liebig condensers and even a Friedrichs condenser, and an old Cathode Ray Oscilloscope: a Cro, which worked well with all the ‘crows’ in my poems, and also informed my sense of poetic rhythms.
But the home lab was becoming a thing of the past and, leaving the county for the city to attend university, I still worked on and off in a commercial laboratory, preparing mineral sands for analysis and supervising the loading of (mineral sands) ships. Simultaneously, my politics of protest (eventually against the very work I was doing), were simmering and manifesting. I was obtaining knowledge through praxis, knowledge that would be used against its sources.
And ‘data’ are subjective in their derivations and applications. Maybe this is why ‘pseudo-science’ fascinates me, with its purported facts (I would argue plenty of facts arising from the ‘hard sciences’ are purported or dubious as well, especially given I am not satisfied with any ‘proofs’ of existence in the first place). I have mentioned my poetry of ‘graphology’, which has its origins in the materials that would constitute the novel Morpheus in my late teens, but I haven’t alluded to my interest in alchemy. I no longer have it, outside readings of Faust, but it’s omnipresent in Morpheus, and was probably one of the factors that enticed Paul Hardacre to offer to publish the manuscript with Papertiger back in 2007 (after a journey from there, it has been looked after by Geoffrey Gatza at Blazevox — thanks to both for assisting in its passage). Paul’s knowledge of esoterica and alchemy is second to none, and it informs his poetry as well as his critical practice. Of his book liber xix: differentia liber (Puncher and Wattman Poetry, NSW, 2011) I wrote:
liber xix is a remarkable if not unique book of poetry. To quote an alchemical expression from a quote cited by Hardacre, it’s a book in which language ‘dissolves and combines’. But for a work so specific in its prosody, the key to unlocking its mysteries actually locates itself in spiritual essence derived from a mixture of the animal, vegetable, mineral, and quintessential. This is a book about the meeting of differences, about the alchemical reactions that arise from these meetings, these mixings. The poem is always more than the sum of its parts, and change is always part of the discourse the poems engender within themselves, between each other, and in the context of the quotes that accompany them. These glimpses into chaos and formation are also mini-epics, condensed ‘vedas’ and ‘sagas’ reaching across belief systems and geographies to find a ‘universal’ way of viewing being. Across the ampersands the components of the poem speak, and accumulate towards a maxim-like ‘unconclusion’ – the ‘noble’ is reached only nominally, and the ‘lesser’ (base) elements of the poem retain their properties. Alchemically speaking, though deeply desiring and even believing a closure is possible, no ultimate ‘coniunctio’ is reached; maybe it is even studiously avoided in a playback Gertrude Stein would possibly have found enticing (if she had written them). But it’s overall this work really comes into its own – it is a narrative, a journey from heaven to hell, from God to the faces of evil. Evil is named. Strands of mystical histories of humanity twist around each other, mingle fluids. This is a beautifully terrifying work. Hardacre is one of the finest poetical transmuters out there. He is to be venerated and feared at once. He is going places few contemporary poets have risked acknowledging, never mind visiting. Like all great innovators, he reaches as far back as knowledge.
Alchemy has an essential space in the 
bk_liberxix
evolution of scientific research and can’t just be dismissed as turning-lead-into-gold fantasies, and a willingness to sell one’s soul to gain power. Articulating the body, the soul, of a human’s relationship to nature and ‘existence’ adds up to much more than ‘magic’ and greed. Reading Paracelsus and Meister Eckhart was part of the protagonist ofMorpheus, Thomas’s, raison d’être as much as it was my own. How did this come about? Well, I lost ‘religion’ when I was sixteen or seventeen and walked out of a Christmas service during which the minister had compared the bounties of Christ’s birth to a cash register. Looking back, I’d like to think he was being ironic, critiquing the spendfest that is Christmas, but I doubt it. I was reading Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy; I was reading the Bhagavad-Gita; I was reading the Koran, and I was reading the Bible. I had been baptised and confirmed; I’d always thought Christ was okay but the trappings of Church were like the trappings of the state: about control, and little caring for anything outside their own existences. Thomas in Morpheus struggles with all this.
But what remained from my comparative readings was my own sense of what constituted ‘spirit’ and ‘spiritual’, and a lot of information. I continue to process that information through my writing, be it poetry, essays or fictions. I am interested in applying it ‘correctly’, but also ‘incorrectly’. I find errors generative, creative and ‘honest’. I find the slippage between fact and error enticing.
Why data? Actually, for an event to be staged in a narrative, for an event to provide the co-ordinates for a poem in which the ‘ineffable’ is framed with an eye to quiddity finding its own voice (metaphor in overdrive), one doesn’t need a lot of data. Just enough: let the language do the work.
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a terrific review of Petrarchan by Kristina Marie Darling, just published in Sein und Werden!

 

Petrarchan by Kristina Marie Darling is a strange ghost of a book.  The first six sections tell the story of a love affair in footnotes to an invisible text.  At the bottom of each page we find fragments that provide clues to what has been elided; references, definitions, translations, quotes, expansions and explanations, all haunted by the white space above: 


2. She described their exchange as a "staircase burning in a locked house."  When asked, she would list each of the possessions she had lost in the fire. (19)


This house recurs throughout the notes, a series of "rooms opening inside a single room."  Inside the rooms there are cabinets, jewellery boxes, locked armoires, and within them, 'an assortment of disconcerting love tokens' (27), or nothing at all, 'only compartment after compartment' (19).  Secrets within secrets, nestled like Russian dolls, meanings glimpsed from the corner of an eye, the deferral of understanding underscored with the repeated use of the phrase 'only then…'


10. The smallest disturbance seemed to devastate the ocean's pristine shore.  Only then did they determine that the city had in fact been built around an inland sea. (15)

3. "Only then did I understand why the key to his armoire remained hidden from view.  Within every box, I found only compartment after 
compartment." (19)

3. "Only then did I understand the meaning of 'reverence.' Our house began to murmur with tiny silver bells," (25)


The latter sections of the book, Appendix A: Correspondence and Appendix B: Misc. Fragments, are formed from snippets of Petrarch's sonnets, loose beads restrung on white space to create new patterns of longing and desire.  

Petrarchan 
is a beautiful creation, imbued with the eeriness of found footage, deeply rewarding whether you are familiar with Petrarch or not.  It is a book you want to read over and over, each note deepening the mystery, hours of wondering packed into each sentence.  I will dream about this 'house by the sea' for a long time to come. 

Read the whole review here

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Photos on flickr