where grows creativity, in wilderness?

Food for thought at the upcoming discussion in Hong Kong Literary Festival on 11 October, 7.30pm, Dr Hari Harilela Lecture Theatre (Shaw Campus) Baptist University. Simon Armitage (author of many collections including Seeing Stars by Faber and Faber), Prof Daniel Chua (Head of School of Humanities, HKU), Prof Lo Kwai Cheung (Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Baptist University Hong Kong), Prof Hans Lagegaard (Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Baptist University) and I will be in dialogue on creativity and world cultures. Come along with a question.

Creativity wears its deceptive mask. It looks like thought but resembles athletic exercise, requiring consistent discipline and no-nonsense action.

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I have never met a good writer or a good artist who is lazy. No matter where they come from, or what past they have left behind.

There’s no rule nor confine for creativity, but is there a condition that promotes it?

For full event details and other happenings in this year’s festival, check out festival.org.hk. Register for this free event at martintcho@hkbu.edu.hk.

Colm Toibin, author of Brooklyn and Empty Family, will talk about Ireland as land of literature on 13th October, 2.30-3.30pm at Kee Club.

Review: If We Could Speak Like Wolves

Published by Smith/Doorstop by Poetry Business this year, Kim Moore’s newly launched poetry pamphlet draws the reader in with hypnotic power and builds a seamless transition between truth and fable. Watch out for the curious balance between enchantment and danger in ‘The Wolf’: ‘the one who eats chalk to make his words / as white as snow’ and ‘the one who is not / as he appears’. Enchanting one with his language, the wolf, or wolf-poet figure, is so believable that ‘he can take / a house from you’.

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Water imageries and wild animals articulate the complexity of one’s mind, the desire for intimacy — intimacy with people and places– and resistance against it. I enjoy the texture and expressiveness in ‘Sometimes You Think of Bowness’ while ‘Hartley Street Spiritualist Church’ reminds me, in a strange way, of Larkin’s poem ‘Aubade’, the pendulum swing between devotion to poetry and faith, blurring the divide between the visible and the invisible world.

The title poem ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’ postulates an intimate relationship or connection that will overcome mistakes and conflicts. The vivid imagery of wolf bodies and the estuary where one can hear the wolf howls transform the abstract quality of estrangement and make it so much more palatable. The hypothesis of ‘if we could speak like wolves’ deliberately refrains from story-telling. It is as if the poet says to the reader: ‘you have to learn it the hard way.’

These poems mark the development of a sensitive and bold voice, and hold as much beauty as unrest.

Thoughts after Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlets Awards

After the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlets awards and poetry reading event, I am now in possession of three award-winning pamphlets by James McGonigal, Olive Broderick and Sophie Robinson. These very slim and yet thoughtfully made volumes are absolute gems. For one thing, they rarely sit smugly on bookshelves in chain bookstores. You have to make an effort to get them. London Review Book Shop or the Foyles is your best bet. I’m lucky to have bought some at the awards event.

michael marks awards pamphlets

Yesterday evening, I read some of these poems to my boyfriend. He loves the nature-inspired poems by the Scottish poet, James McGonigal. I have to agree that McGonigal’s collection, ‘Cloud Pibroch’ by Mariscat, is very good in capturing the sweeping hand of Nature, and the subtle changes of natural landscapes. In his work, the expansive landscape harbours such zest. I like the precision of his words, ‘ropes of tears’, ‘nectar jazz’ of bees, oilskin book covers…It’s refined, controlled, pensive musings of man’s relationship with nature, and how one gathers strength from it.

I’m intrigued by Sophie Robinson‘s poetry book published by Oystercatcher Press. The first poem, ‘Preshus’, is a stunning, angry poem on love loss: ‘what is love but last year’s hate. What is hate but last / year’s death…’ All that vehemence, plummeting and so much resistance against reality. The imageries are startlingly visual and very forceful, the language innovative and beguiling, yet at times I am unsure about the unsettling line-breaks or uncomfortable pause(s) at the end. Noting the cinematic quality of her poems and the delving in contemporary issues, it is not difficult to understand why Robertson serves as poet in residence at the V&A.

Olive Broderick‘s collection, ‘Dark-haired’, on the other hand, has a more sophisticated pitch. I like the measured pace and diverse range of topics. There is refined grace in the way the poet reveals half-hidden truths. ‘The Oakwood Trilogy’ is delightful to read, using the surreal to highlight the tension in relationships, ending with the spilling of water or tears. I would like the poems to be more emotionally charged though.

Shortlisted poets for the award:

  • Neil Addison, Apocapulco (Salt) – not only is his poetry as exotic as the title for this pamphlet collection, but his personal profile is also worth rereading
  • Simon Armitage, The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right (Smith/Doorstop Books) – which Lavinia was slightly embarrassed to have read differently
  • Sean Burn, mo thunder (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press) – first time I have heard of this press
  • Olive Broderick, Darkhaired (Templar)
  • Ralph Hawkins, Happy Whale First Smile (Oystercatcher)
  • James McGonigal, Cloud Pibroch (Mariscat)
  • Sophie Robinson, The Lotion (Oystercatcher)
These mini poetry collections are a very effective channel for showcasing emerging, experimental poetry talent. If you are curious about the origin and history of poetry pamphlets, do read Helena Nelson’s interview with Peter Sansom on Poetry Business.

The brutal precision of poetry

A poem a day 

I have recwetherspoonently helped to create a short clip for Kim Moore’s poetry reading of ‘Tuesday At Wetherspoons’. This poem speaks to me more than ‘Robin in Flight’ by Paul Adrian (the prizewinning poem for the National Poetry Competition). Having listened to it over and over as I edited the clip, I am intrigued by how emotion and imagery become intertwined with each other, how the poet does not let you go away without feeling disturbed. There is tenderness mixed with an almost brutal quality in the precision of poetry, quite surprising for such a young poet: ketchup around the mouth, the hand between the thighs, the sad gleam of the forks and knives at Wetherspoons on a weekday. I find it a very effective way to include the name of the pub, a detail that gives gravity and a twinge of disappointment towards unglamorous life. Interesting to be reading and listening to this poem before the royal wedding day. It leads one to think about the ideals and tension in a relationship. Her poem reminds me of Philip Larkin’s work, especially ‘Home is So Sad‘.

A poem for Gabriel Orozco: the global artist

My hands are my heart

or my heart is my hand

hiding the fingers

in the soft of my palm.

You cannot read

the lines on my palms, but feel

the strength in my arms.

I am the clay man with strong muscles

sitting in front of a kitchen table

in New York, in Mexico, in Paris.

I strip tyres,

I decorate skulls,

I scavenge,

I jumble-tumble.

I’m difficult.

Life is a solo act,

a casual scooter in Berlin,

a bad rehearsal.

The shoe box doesn’t count.

Gabriel Orozco is a Mexican artist who has been named ‘one of the most influential artists of this decade’, and his works are marked by wit and playfulness. He has participated in the Venice Biennale for three times and is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery.

Tate Modern is hosting his first major UK retrospective until 25 April.

Review by Jackie Wullschlager, FT

Review by Richard Dormant, The Telegraph

An essay by George Macchi, TATE ETC

A marathon of rejection slips

Rejection is a common encounter for most people: your budget plan or business proposal gets abandoned by the seniors, or a designer’s brightest idea is rejected by the client after many nights of hard work, or a man of quality turned down by a girl he loves.

For a writer, rejection slips are a part of writing life. The more you write, the keener you are to submit, the more you are likely to receive rejections. I haven’t worked out yet the mathematics behind all this, but presumably it is also counter-balanced by your talent, your relationships or connections with the publishers (not many writers are that connected with the publishers), the marketability of your texts or writing style, and the moods of the editors. Often, seeing publishing from a consumer’s point of view, gives us the illusion that bestsellers are a product of creative genius (alone).

Stephanie Meyer Twilight

If we take a step back, there is a value in collecting rejection slips: it is a testament to your perseverance and passion. There is a Chinese legend about an old man who struggles to move a mountain. Despite the folly of the idea, he manages to live up to his conviction, and his passion has touched the gods.

I have always admired people who manage to get to their destinies or goals in the shortest time feasible. I once came across a boss who said to me that he could easily change the colours of all his retail stores, if he wants to, overnight. Sometimes, it’s all about speed. However, I also feel that it is not always the case nor is it in a man’s best interest that a goal be best achieved as quickly as possible. As one collects more feedback along the way, there is the chance to create and revise, to take a step back and appreciate what one has produced, to reaffirm its worth and to keep going.

Sometimes one gets a line or two of handwritten notes from the editors, pinpointing what they like or not like, or comments on the styles. These are very hard to come by and they are treasured like limited edition books or stamps. Believe me, most of the editors are kind and even though they do not accept your work, they tend to give constructive advice that goes a long way in helping you sort out your weaknesses.

While I cannot speak for others, I have benefited from the marathon of rejection slips more than going to masterclasses or going on writing ‘holidays’, because the rejection comments are much more focused and relevant to my work, and are directly from the editors and publishers themselves (or at least, their editorial interns and assistants).

Of course, there are always the sweeter moments, an acceptance here and there, somewhere far off a victory won.

And if you think that this principle of rejection or managing rejection only applies to writers, you are quite mistaken. I have found a site (click here) which summarises the unpredictability in life and points out the ultimate value in hard work, especially in consistently hard work, no matter which field you are in. In an article published by New York Times in 2007, we can see that even literary heavyweights such as George Orwell, Nabokov and Kerouac had been repeatedly rejected: so why not you and me?

Remember, it took Edison 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before he came up with the perfect light bulb that brightens up our world.