Monday, February 28, 2011
Unfortunately, in the case of poetry, the requisite talents are not so clear-cut. If only there were an equivalent So You Think You Can Write , we could all just turn up at the cattle call audition and have our hopeful hearts broken by a Simon-Cowell-esque judge wielding a quill and a dictionary. Even then though, there’d be those few tragics left staring forlornly but defiantly into the camera whining What would he know? He wouldn’t know a decent poet if they smacked him in the face with their next manuscript. My MUM and all my mates LOVE my writing, and they should know, they’ve read it ALL.
Noetry is one of my pet hates. I write noetry a lot. Probably sixty percent of what I write, I’d consider to be noetry. I don’t mean poetry that people don’t like. I mean bad poetry. I mean Oh-no!-poetry.
I don’t particularly like Sylvia Plath’s poetry: I think most of it is angst-ridden self-indulgence. But it’s not really bad poetry. I mean, it has literary merit and I can see why other people might like it.
But what if you’d like to be a professional poet and you’re just not up to it? What if all you write is noetry, and you desperately want to be a published poet?
Do you have critics brave enough to tell you your writing sucks, and are you ready to hear it?
Are you going to insist your poetry is misunderstood genius, self-publish your work and force your (secretly bewildered) family and friends to buy all fifty copies?
With time, and workshopping, and honest writer-friends and editors, I’ve become more able to recognise my noetry. I shelve it, trash it, burn it and delete it. I cross out line after line, cringe at keyboard after keyboard and curse a lot. And I’m starting to write noetry less and less. (Uhhhh...I think).
But sometimes people ask me to read their poetry and tell them what I think. And sometimes.... I lie. I know, I know. I shouldn’t. I’m not doing them any favours.
But what if someone you know quite well presents you triumphantly with a notebook full of poetry that they’re convinced is sheer genius, and looks at you with hopeful, expectant eyes waiting for you to confirm they’re the next best thing since Shakespeare? Can you take the 'well... it’s a matter of opinion...' route and weasel out, or are you going to break their heart?
When I was studying poetry at university I had the pleasure of being taught by Alan Wearne, poet and verse novelist extraordinaire and one of Australia’s all-time poetry greats. During my time as his student, I workshopped a poem called Slogan on the Moon. It was probably the first political poem I ever wrote. It was about something I read in the newspaper about Pizza Hut wanting to laser beam their logo onto the moon as a marketing stunt.
When it came time to talk about that particular poem, Wearne grabbed at his head, clearly in pain, and told me (in front of the class) it was “Just awful...it’s hard to believe the person who wrote those other poems wrote this I mean it’s just SO bad.”
I wasn’t devastated, but furious. He obviously just didn’t get it. It was one of the most insightful poems I’d ever written. Just because he didn’t like it, didn’t mean it wasn't a brilliant poem. After all, that was just his opinion.
I found Slogan on the Moon recently in an old writing portfolio.
I wanted to shrivel up and die.
It is, quite possibly, the worst poem in the history of mankind.
When the voice of noetry reason comes to visit you, will you tear out its vocal chords, or swallow your pride and listen?
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
nina / now she wz
she wanted us
young / gifted black
& (thankyou very much)
away from the white
oh / see line woman
billie/s ole grandma
& died beside the kid
they hadda break the old girl/s
rigis mortis arms to set the child / free
bt just maybe
you don’t hear a thing
sometimes i love black music
means i don’t know or care
anything about black people
but man / that etta
james / she sure
cn hold a tune
wonderin aloud where from
true sadness like hers
cd possibly come
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Yet here they are now, gathered with me on the couches, cross-legged on the polished wooden floorboards of this small room in North Melbourne...
Please, come join me over there for a chat!
Sunday, February 20, 2011
For so long now, we’ve heard that the internet is killing the (paper) book, but the old traditionalist still refuses to die. At the same time, bookstores all over the world are closing up shop, due largely to the increase in online book buying. The latest casualty of this phenomenon in Australia are the Angus & Robinson and Borders chains, industry giants who this week were placed into voluntary administration. We’ve pondered what the death of book as ‘object’ might mean for writers, but how exactly has the demise of the bookshop come about when the book itself seems invincible?
As a reader I love to browse in bookstores. I love the tactility of the experience. I love the time it takes – the deliberation. I love the carrying of those covered pages to the counter, and even the handing over of the cold hard cash. And as a writer, I love that readers can have this experience with my books. I launched my last book in a bookstore, and well intend to launch my next in one (if they’re still around by the time I clean up the manuscript to the publisher’s satisfaction!).
As sh*t stirring Devils Advocate, however, I wonder whether the death of the bookstore and the apparent survival, against all odds, of the book, might not be a bad thing. Are bookstores to writers what galleries and exhibitions are to artists, or by cutting out the ‘middle man’, do writers get more control, financially, creatively and artistically, over their work and how it is presented?
When I launched my book last year, the bookstore which launched the book took $7 per book sale. The book retailed at $19.95. I got $2 per sale. Say the book sold 50 copies that evening, that’s $350 for the store, $100 for me. Part of me thinks that’s a very shrewd investment – the bookstore was Readings in Carlton one of my favourite haunts – a wonderful independent book chain which appears to be going from strength to strength. Readings were able to market the launch online and in their events information, and also provided a staff member to serve the wine at the launch. Then too, it was extraordinarily symbolic for me, as a spoken word poet, to launch in a shelved environment. And of course, they were able to distribute the book in their stores.
The other part of me (perhaps the slam poet Maxine) screams: Scoundrels!
It’s official: the bookstore, as we know it, is dying.
So what about you - will you wear black and wail, or is that you I see sipping celebratory red wine as you perch on the coffin lid?
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Sunday, February 13, 2011
this purchase will appear on your credit card bill as
number of items: 1
cost: $AUD priceless
the revolution thanks you for choosing itself
the revolution is downloading onto your ipad
& being transferred onto your iphone
it is an irevolution
the revolution is i
i is the revolution
the revolution is available in e-book form
the revolution/s full text is available for 99c on amazon
the revolution comes in 4 short podcasts
that can be worn as a USB bracelet
the revolution hz been turned on
you must follow the revolution
it will be abbreviated to fit its own twitter feed:
the revolution will drop all vowels / capital letters & apostrophes
& present itself in short profundities of 140 characters or less
join @the revolution as it LOLs and WTFs
the revolution will have a GSOH / as
the mo fo moves in
& takes over cyberspace
dig the revolution
take out a sub:
the revolution’s RSS feed will bitch-slap your inbox
every night at around about 12 o/clock
do not reply to the revolution
do not trash the revolution
the revolution is not spam
you cannot click here to unsubscribe to the revolution
do not drag the revolution into your junk mail can
you cannot RTS the revolution:
the revolution is anonymous
the revolution lives nowhere
the revolution is every return address
forward the revolution to everyone you know:
the revolution is a virus no norton has an anti for
infection is the revolution/s cure
befriend the revolution
graffiti the revolution/s wall
the revolution invites all 500 million fans
to the facebook event of itself
rsvp to the revolution/s event
it is the revolution / show yourself attending
the revolution will remind you of itself by SMS
the revolution has a silent number
bt you can forward the revolution on by text
to find the revolution
into your GPS
give the revolution it/s own ringtone
do not turn the revolution off
the revolution must be able to reach you at all times
& at full volume
the revolution is here
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the revolution does not exist in second life
download the revolution/s soundtrack from myspace
you have just read the revolution
i is the revolution
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the revolution has just been blogged
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
As part of pre-launch activities, a press release was put together. I know, I know... a press release, for poetry book in Australia...snicker snicker, guffaw, eye-roll...but my mother always taught me you have to start like you mean to finish (a very West-Indian saying, I think), and this book was going to be a bestseller.
So, the question arose of how to send out the release. Email would obviously be cheaper, but who should the email come from? If the publishers sent it out, they would then have to deal with any queries or return emails, which they might not have time to do. If I sent it myself, that would kind of look odd. In fact, the email would probably just be caught up in spam and the whole press release would be a completely pointless exercise.
So I hatched a plan which was was absolute genius. The title poem Gil Scott Heron is on Parole is a celebration of spoken word, based around spoken word legend Gil Scott Heron’s release from jail and forthcoming album. What if editors and poetry lovers received an email in their inbox from Gil Scott Heron himself? Of course, Gil would be thrilled to endorse the poetry book of a poet from the other side of the world he hadn’t even heard of...not.
I decided I had to improvise. I started another hotmail account, at the address: email@example.com, incredulous that the address wasn’t already taken. I sent a test email to a friend, who replied Oh my God, I just got an email from Gil Scott Heron! Rightio then, I was a marketing guru. I’d totally missed my calling. Never mind that once people opened the email, it would be about the launch for my poetry book. By the time they realised that, the whole I-got-an-email-from-Gil-Scott-Heron episode, my name and book title would be seared into their brain and they’d be brainwashed into purchasing it for everyone they knew. Surefire bestseller.
I sent out the press release by mass email.
The replies I got back were varied:
Haha, very funny.and that kind of thing.
Neat trick. I’ll be there.
Hi Gil Scott, wanna come over for dinner?
There were a few requests for review copies of the book from Australian literary journals. And then, amazingly, this: (name of publication and editor withheld so I’m not sued):
I'm ***, publisher of ******* Literary Magazine, http://*****88magazine.org/. ******* is an independent print quarterly that explores the literary arts by writers of African descent. You can preview our latest issues online, http://issuu.com/****888books/docs/****
We would very much like to interview for an upcoming issue of the magazine. Email me back at your earliest if you can make this happen soon,
I was excited. I’ve been online for several years now with my blog, and I know a lot of my material resonates with African American readers. I figured the New York based magazine thought it would be really unique to feature the work of a black Australian, but was still absolutely shocked. I replied immediately:
The reply came back just as swiftly:
I would very much like to be interviewed in *******. Please let me know when would be a convenient time to contact you by phone for the interview, otherwise I'm happy to answer any questions you may have by email.
I can be reached at any time by (international) phone on: XXX XXXX XXXXX
Many thanks for your interest in my work,
Uh, that would be a definite no.
You're not Gil Scott Heron?
I wondered what the editor had been doing. Maybe trawling the internet for Gil Scott’s contact details? Maybe trying every combination he could think of just in case he lucked on the poet himself? I told myself that the joke, ultimately was on him...that my marketing gimmick had worked a little too well, making me even more of an advertising genius. Truth be told though, I did feel just a tad sheepish – underneath the giggling, that is.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Then came the strange phone call on my mobile. After beating around the bush for a while, she says Uhh, so I Googled your middle name...and I was wondering...I know you’ve been a little strapped for cash lately, but you haven’t been, uuhhh...doing porn or prostitution or anything, have you? I paused. Shit! How’d you find out? It took a moment for me to realise she was joking, and a little longer for her to realise I was.
At first I worried that I had some kind of web-cam-stripping-Googleganger, but what had actually happened was this: when Googling Beneba, my name had come up firstly under the heading Going Down Swinging: Thursday Night Swing Club and secondly, with the website theblackbottom.com. The Thursday Night Swing Club was easy to explain: the title of the Melbourne Writers Festival Evening Sessions where I performed a commissioned work for Going Down Swinging magazine last October. Blackbottom.com...I had absolutely no idea. So, at the risk of landing on dubious content, I umm...I uhhh. Well, I googled Maxine Beneba Clarke, theblackbottom.com...and I landed on this (yes you can click on it, I am certainly not directing you toward my bare derriere). It's an African-American writing website which has cross-posted my poem Earthquake in Haiti on their website, along with a picture of me and my bio (I hope the link works – they may well take the poem down once this trackback appears).
My first response was to be absolutely outraged. I certainly hadn’t given permission for the re-posting. I probably would have given permission had I been approached, as Rethabile over at Poefrika was granted permission to re-post it. In addition, the poem was posted on the Overland blog (though now removed), and in response commentors on an Australian Conservative commentary site which linked to the poem decided to give me a rather weird and amusing 93 comment hammering over the poem (which I later used to extract an interesting anti-blurb for my poetry book).
Then I stopped and looked at the cross-posting. The website is well put together, and is a project and sentiment I don’t mind being associated with. They (whoever posted it there) have used my full name, included my bio and also tracked back to the original post. This is exactly what I would have asked them to do, had they approached me. But they didn’t. Slamup(.blogspot.com) clearly states that: All material on this blog is copyright of the author/artist and must not be reprinted or distributed without written permission from the author.
Is unauthorised cross-posting tantamount to cyber-theft, or do we, or should we, forego reproduction ‘permission?’ the moment we enter the online environment?
I know what the copyright lawyer in me says.
I also know what the die-hard Creative Commons advocates would say.
Now I’d like to know what you think.
It’s worth noting that OzConservative, which give the poem a hammering, did not reproduce the original poem on their actual site, but tracked back to Earthquake in Haiti as it was posted up at Overland. It’s also worth wondering whether I’d be asking these questions if the site that had reproduced my work without permission was a 'white power' website or the like...maybe I’d be cyber-suing the crazy bastards instead.
Post Script: Of course, discovery of this re-posted poem scared me into Google-surfing for traces of my work, and I then found heaps of unauthorised (though correctly attributed) poems of mine, including Earthquake in Haiti again here at naijarules.com.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
‘Uh, yeah, there is something else actually...’
She looks up from her note-taking, biro poised above my medical file.
‘I can’t feel my fingers.’
‘Oh, okay...’ Her shoulders relax a little and she continues writing as she talks, ‘That happens sometimes in pregnancy. It’s called Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, mostly caused by fluid retention causing pressure on the nerves in your hands and wrists.’
‘How do I get rid of it?’
The nurse smiles patronisingly as she marks a full-stop at the end of today’s entry, ‘Oh, there’s nothing much you can do. Keep exercising. Keep up your fluids. It usually disappears after the birth.’
‘But I’m only seven months pregnant,’ I stare at her incredulously, ‘My hands are completely numb. I can’t wait this out for two months!’
‘I’m afraid you don’t have much option...’
‘I can’t write. Or type.’
She stares at me cautiously, surprised at my reaction. ‘You’ve finished up at work already, haven’t you?’
‘I’m a writer. And I can’t write or type.’
‘Oh. I didn’t know that. What kind of things do you write?’
Is this woman for real? She’s just told me I’ll be incapacitated for at least two months and she’s wanting to chat about genres!
‘Some journalism. Some short stories. Mostly poetry though. I'm a poet’
She closes the file, raises an eyebrow and looks up at me, the left corner of her mouth slightly twitching as if holding down the start of a smirk. ‘Poetry. Oh. Well, if it’s just poetry I’m sure you’ll manage to get by for a few months.’