small_wonder

Open letter

Dear SPINELESS WONDERS, I facilitate a group of young, emerging writers and have been encouraging them to enter your Icons competition. Could you tell us a little more about it?
Yours,
Frustr8d Teacher

Dear FT,
Thank you for your inquiry and for the chance to explain a little more about our latest competition.
An icon is a representative symbol, usually of something which is admired. In Australia, for instance, the beach shack is an icon.
Our competition invites poets and fiction writers to take a closer look at such symbols. What is a beach shack? Do they exist these days or have they morphed into something else?  Did the beach shack idyll ever really exist? Who does the beach shack icon represent and who does it ignore? What would Roland Barthes say about the beach shack?
Our competition invites poets and fiction writers to interrogate the Australian icon and to also have fun. To come at them from the side, to turn them upside down. We welcome submissions about iconic people, places, objects and expressions. We encourage creativity. We want the new mythologies for existing icons. We want writers to unearth the icons that are forming now, around us. To show us the icons that only exist in their corner of the country – or in their households.
Perhaps your young, emerging writers are also uneasy about the form that their submissions should take? We love the openness of the prose poetry and microfiction. Again, the idea is to be inventive and to have fun. So, the only rules really are that the lines run from one side of the page to the other and that each piece be no longer than 800 words. For those unfamiliar with either form, we highly recommend our publication, Small Wonder and Vivienne Plumb’s  Cheese and Onion Sandwich & other New Zealand Icons.
Tell your young writers to get their skates on, deadline is November 30. Details here http://shortaustralianstories.com.au/submissions

Cheers,
Bronwyn Mehan
Publisher
SPINELESSWONDERS

Spineless Wonders asks Vivienne Plumb

1. What inspired you to write the prose poem/microfiction which is published in Small Wonder?

I started writing prose poems a while back and really enjoy writing in that compressed form. About ten years ago, I was invited to an amazing literary festival called Vilenica in Slovenia, and it was there that I met the American poet, James Tate, who has used the prose poetry form frequently. He read in a venue which was an enormous underground cave. It was cold down there and we were offered shots of the local alcohol to warm us up. While Tate was reading bats flew over his head. It was the best writer’s festival! Hearing him read his prose poems was a bit of a big influence on me.

 My poetry collection, The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and Other New Zealand Icons (Seraph Press, 2011), is about thirty prose poems that use different ‘iconic’ N.Z. subjects.  (I have lived in N.Z., although I was born and grew up in Australia, with Aussie/Kiwi parents.) The ‘iconic’ prose poems have proven to be accessible poetry for people who generally never read poetry because they like the subjects: whitebait, severe weather warnings, mouthguards, luncheon sausage, motels in Taupo, the long weekend, and the cheese and onion sandwich, to name a few.

2. Tell us about that process. (Do you start sparse and widen out, or do you write down every possible association and cut back? Do you research the subject matter you are writing about? Is it pure intuition?) Take us through an example if you want.

I write poetry, fiction, and drama, so I work in several different ways. But these are things that always work for me: I like to start work early in the morning (it’s quiet), I like to have a comfortable wheelie office chair (good for your back), I need many cups of tea, and a big wad of paper on hand – I write in longhand first of all and then edit it further as I type it into my Macbook (love my Mac).

 3. What advice do you have for other writers ? about the first or last line?  About how to choose the title?  Do you follow any rules?

Writing is like sex – the more you do it, the better it gets. I once lived next door to a drummer. He practiced every day (ouch!) and you could hear him getting better. Most things are like that, and the same rule applies to writing. (So just sit down and do it.)

 4. Who or what inspires your writing?

I believe in making my own resources. One inspiration would be my powers of observation – I think that’s a good writer’s tool. For example: why does the black rubber front door mat disappear from outside my neighbour’s apartment, and then re-appear? (My conclusion: she locks it up inside if she goes away.) I loved this funny fact and thought it would be a great beginning of something much larger.

I also have an ‘ideas box’ where I chuck in any ideas for a writing project. I believe in ideas fervently – they have the potential to become tangible magic. Always write those ideas down.

5. Tell us what do you do if you haven’t written anything in a while and you want to get started writing again? Could you share your favourite writing exercise with our readers?

This doesn’t happen to me (not writing) because writing is my occupation and main source of income. I do it almost every day, and when I’m not physically doing it I am still thinking about it.

If you wanted to get writing or to get yourself ‘warmed up’ you could try an exercise I dreamt up and have used for some serious fun when teaching creative writing: When you are next at the supermarket find a receipt (not your own) and read it. Use this to help you create a character and write about a situation they are in.

Vivienne Plumb writes poetry, drama, and fiction. Her collections: ‘Nefarious: poems and parables’ (2004), ‘crumple’ (2010), and ‘The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and Other New Zealand Icons’ (chapbook/ 2011) all feature pieces of prose poetry.

 

Small Wonder review

We are reproducing, in full, this terrific review by Ali Jane Smith of our first prose poetry/microfiction anthology, Small Wonder. You can find other reviews, great fiction and poetry in the final issue of Famous Reporter here. Copies of Small Wonder can be purchased from our Products Page or ask for it at your local bookstore. And you can interviews with contributors  here and you can listen to audio recordings of Small Wonder prose poetry and microfiction here. And don’t forget that our next prose poetry/microfiction competition closes November 30. Details here.

Review - Small Wonder: an anthology of prose poems and microfiction
Editors Linda Godfrey and Julie Chevalier
Spineless Wonders
RRP $22.99

ALI JANE SMITH

I suspect that ‘Small Packages’ might also have been on the whiteboard when the title for Small Wonder was brainstormed, and it would have been apt, because there are many, many good things between the vibrant covers of this collection. Printed on the front free endpaper of the book is a quote from writer and editor Jonathan Carr that describes the difference between prose poetry and flash fiction. Carr’s observation that flash (or micro) fiction is about compression, whereas the prose poem “is often the very opposite … an exploding up of a form” nicely sets the paradigm. The publisher held a competition to uncover work for the anthology, as well as inviting a number of writers to contribute. A shortlist and winners were selected by poet Joanne Burns, herself an invited contributor, and the result is something that editors Linda Godfrey and Julie Chevalier describe as fusion. The sounds and flavours of the writing in the book show that the fusion metaphor has served readers well: although the prose poem form has been known to lure poets into something that reads like a parody of Italo Calvino, and there are one or two such pieces in this collection, overall the anthology is remarkable for its stylistic diversity. Contributors were encouraged “to bend genres and break rules”, and so it is to be expected the reader may love some of these pieces and loathe others. The book is something like a very good party: a few old friends to catch up with, interesting new people to meet, and all the ingredients for a strange and memorable night. A little like a Spineless Wonders book launch, perhaps.

Small Wonder opens with Dael Allison’s ‘dreaming poets dreaming’, from her series on the painter Ian Fairweather’s journey from Darwin to Timor on a flimsy, self-built raft. There is something about the visual appearance of the prose poem, about the dependability of sentences organised in square and sturdy paragraphs, that provides a handrail when the content itself becomes uncanny. Allison has taken advantage of this visual solidity to create an impossible confluence of Pablo Neruda and Michael Ondaatje as Fairweather’s shipmates. Allison’s second contribution, ‘nightburst’, is a richly visual imagining of Darwin Harbour as it might have been fifty years ago in Fairweather’s time. Both poems may lead the reader to seek out Allison’s recently released collection on this subject, Fairweather’s Raft (Walleah Press 2012).

Judith Beveridge’s ‘The book of birds’ is about queuing, about ego-conciousness, about the strange places that a search for meaning can take us. Beveridge takes advantage of the fun to be had with zoological nomenclature. She shares the pleasure she finds in language with the reader, offering wonder, humour, suspense, and narrative twists in the space of a page and a half.

In the prose poems contributed by Joanne Burns, the prosaic and the metaphysical, big things and little things, sit companionably side by side: a cheese roll and zeus, hair and Akashic records, dandruff flakes and exorcism. Joanne Burns is an extraordinary and accurate observer, and the proximity of the profound and the absurd or mundane in her work is more than funny and arresting, it is a manifestation of human experience, where small pleasures and irritations stand alongside the great things of our lives.

Anna Couani has been a significant presence in Australian poetry for decades. Her disrupted and disrupting text, ‘The old manuscript’, offers more with each reading. The poem includes repeated motifs of storytelling and creation, of watching and being watched. Although the syntax is not ‘experimental’ the piece is troubling, an aporia that has the reader tracing back and forth amongst the sentences and paragraphs to piece together a narrative or pattern.

Michael Farrell’s poem The story of what’s inside the heart makes a strange kind of sense. A line at the visual heart of this poem reads “Everyone wants to know what it means”, a question that this poet has likely been asked from time to time. The repeated use of the words “in” and “inside” do create what might be an illusion of depth of field, of inside and outside, perhaps analogous to meaning and language. As Farrell writes, “there’s so much style in style, it’s the only thing to eat, spoon by spoon”, but the question remains as to whether this poem considers the possibility that perhaps language can refer to that which is outside itself, or whether the use of images of hearts, blood and Jesus, are a play on the desire for something that lies beyond language. Best just to read the poem and see what it does to you – if you are lucky it will feel like having your brain pleasantly but relentlessly tickled.

At the micro fiction end of the Small Wonder short form spectrum, Shady Cosgrove’s ‘Visiting’, in which the narrator’s late mother is glimpsed at the wheel of a 1970s Cortina 1600, is a story with real emotional heft that unfolds in three short paragraphs of telling detail. Every word is in the right place, and not one wasted.

There are many more works in Small Wonder that deserve particular attention: Michael Sharkey’s ‘A musical offering’ employs the poet’s characteristic piquant wit, and his prose poem ‘The strong, the silent type’ is a fable that takes the breath away; Adam Ford’s contribution ‘Sequel’ begins where the graphic novel Cowboys and Aliens ends, and is a far more successful spin-off of the franchise than the movie; the always inventive and often very funny Carol Jenkins has contributed ‘An illustrated history of the bicycle'; Michelle Cahill has written a startling description of mothering; and Vivienne Plumb’s deft and amusing ‘The cinematic experience’ is a handy pocket review of whatever film you are thinking of going to see.

The winner of the competition as selected by Joanne Burns was Charles d’Anastasi’s ‘Madame Bovary’. A poetry reading becomes the carriage scene in Flaubert’s novel, an idea that makes perfect sense if you attend a great many poetry readings, and when you read this piece. Commended is the excellent ‘William Shatner vows to save the Great Basin Pocket Mouse’ by Erin Gough which lives up to its title, and Clare McHugh’s ‘Briefly’, a witty meditation on the brief for the competition.< /p>

Readers of Famous Reporter likely already know the value of the independent presses in Australia. We know that publishers like Walleah Press and Spineless Wonders guarantee the depth and diversity of our literature. More important, we know that we will have a good time with the writers and editors that they find and nurture. Spineless Wonders has presented this anthology with a bold, bright cover design and original illustrations from artist Paden Hunter that are themselves worth the price of admission.

The brief and selection process for this anthology allows the reader, and happily the reviewer, to set aside the usual hang-ups that go with anthology reading. Small Wonder does not set out to survey or comprehensively collect a field of practice, so who is represented and who is not is an irrelevance. Rather, this book operates in a space that, while guaranteeing the quality of the writing, leaves room for risk and oddity. This is not a collection to be set on a high shelf with the dictionary, the thesaurus, and your completes and collecteds. It is a book to be voraciously read and sumptuously enjoyed, and lent only to trusted, book-returning friends.

(Published in famous reporter 44)

 

Spineless Wonders asks Monica Goldberg

1. What inspired you to write the prose poem/ micro fiction which is published in small wonder?

The realisation that I may never find the right words to describe my visit to Skierniewicza. My grandmother’s parents and siblings were victims of the holocaust. They simply vanished. I wanted to at least try to describe how I felt when I visited their town.

2. Tell us about the process. (Do you start sparse and widen out, or do you write down every possible association and cut back ? Do you research the subject matter you are writing about. Is it pure intuition?) Take us through an example if you want.

Before I left for my trip to Poland my grandmother gave me a Skierniewicza shtetl memorial book. The book contained a photo of my great grandmother. I wanted to find out what happened to her and this image became the focal point of my research. I eventually turned away from the research and looked for techniques to link the present with the past. I put the story aside and started to think about displacement and the power of the absurd.

 3. What advice do you have for other writers about the first or last line? About how to choose the title? Do you follow any rules?

Set your direction but be prepared to change it. Perspective and distance is essential and I try to write the title as well as the first and last line after the story is complete. If I am not writing to a deadline I put the story away and come back to it later. If that is not possible, I create three or four versions of the same document then read them when I am away from the computer. I cannot explain the reason why, but this helps me get a sense of perspective. I always create documents that look professional and try to feel confident that they will find a home.

 4. Who or what inspires your writing?

I can still remember the days when I called my pets “Nately”, “Yossarian” and “Holden”and wrote “Sleep tight ya morons” on bathroom walls. Today, I am inspired by the elusive nature of truth and writers like Schulz, Borges, Camus, Duras and Stein. I am inspired by new forms and new codes. The relationship between politics and literature has always fascinated me and I am inspired by cultural reinvention and those who work towards conciliation. I am also inspired by marginal and disadvantaged writers. There is a lot of elitism and arrogance in the literary world and I think it is important that it is acknowledged.

 5. Tell us what you do if you haven’t written anything for while and you want to get started writing again. Could you share your favourite writing exercise with our readers?

My ideas often emerge as concept and I have to wait for the story to arrive. In the early stages I express the concepts as microficton and prose. If I haven’t written anything for a while I often read over some of my old work then take a long walk and wait. I usually find another dimension or theme. I find good writing difficult to force so I tend to wait until there is something I want to write about. I need time to allow my thoughts to wander and make new associations. When I do have a good idea I write it quickly and try not to worry about spelling or grammar. I know I can edit anytime but good writing requires inspiration and a certain mood. I do not really have a favourite exercise but I do have a copy of Charles Bukowski’s poem “So you want to be a writer” above my desk and often attend literary events and festivals.

To listen to Monica reading The Stranger from Skierniewicza, click here.

Monica Goldberg is a surrealist poet writer and artist. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in literary journals and anthologies both in Australia and overseas. Her poem Theories of Everything was selected for The Best Of Every Day Poets Two (Every Day Publishing, 2012). She is currently completing a novel about converso’s and the significance of cryptic faith.

 

 

 

 

Spineless Wonders asks Laurie Steed

1. What inspired you to write the prose poem/microfiction which is published in Small Wonder?

There’s been much written about love being either romantic or dystopic, or first one and then the other. I wanted to explore the idea of love occurring at the end of a relationship; how trust, quite often, comes in letting go rather than holding on.

2. Tell us about that process. (Do you start sparse and widen out, or do you write down every possible association and cut back? Do you research the subject matter you are writing about? Is it pure intuition?) Take us through an example if you want.

In But what have you done lately? I guess it was pure intuition. I usually write much longer stories. In this case I wanted to distill the emotion of a particularly pivotal experience while still honouring extraneous words, phrases and images that formed the narrative. In point, everything remotely related to the story felt vital in capturing a place, a time, and a series of overarching emotions.

3. What advice do you have for other writers ? about the first or last line?  About how to choose the title?  Do you follow any rules?

I‘m hesitant to offer any advice to writers other than to trust their own intuition. The craft of writing takes time but can most certainly be developed; a willingness to go deep is more difficult to foster. It relies, first and foremost, on a great deal of emotional honesty with oneself. Writing, in this regard, is both its own punishment and reward as one seeks a greater truth or series of truths.

4. Who or what inspires your writing?

I’m inspired by any writer willing to be vulnerable on the page. While many of these writers are women (Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Miranda July, and Kate Cole-Adams), contemporary male writers such as Sherman Alexie, Etgar Keret, Tom Cho, and Patrick Cullen are also willing to expand upon notions of gender identity rather than relying on stereotypes. By opening up to their own flaws and insecurities, these writers inspire me to do the same. Ultimately, I guess it’s about compassion: a willingness to both read and write with acceptance rather than judgment.

5. Tell us what do you do if you haven’t written anything in a while and you want to get started writing again? Could you share your favourite writing exercise with our readers?

For me the same exercise has fuelled countless stories, and it is, “I remember.” My initial recollection soon morphs into something else: a series of people, places, and feelings I’m unable to forget. From there I’m (thankfully) taken away from my small sense of self into a fictional context. I’m not sure how or why this works; I think it’s because I give myself permission to write without too much evaluation during what’s essentially the creative process. In a way, I’m tricking my inner critic to drop the ball for long enough for me to get a story onto the page. Once that’s done, the critic’s more than happy to guide me through the subsequent redrafts…

Often it’s enough to give yourself permission: to tell yourself that your writing is wanted and appreciated. People will tell you otherwise, that writing is at best a hobby, at worst a distraction. These people have no vision, and while I’m sure they’re lovely, they simply don’t understand what it means to be a writer.

As a writer, you do understand. Write, revise, make mistakes and most importantly, grant yourself both permission and patience to grow on your own terms, at your own pace.

Laurie Steed is a New Zealand born, Australian raised writer, editor and reviewer. He has appeared in various literary journals and is currently completing his PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Western Australia.

You can listen to Laurie reading But what have you done lately? at Spineless Wonders Audio page.

Spineless Wonders asks Stu Hatton

1. What inspired you to write the prose poem/microfiction which is published in Small Wonder?

‘meds’ I wrote a few weeks after I began taking a medication for depression and anxiety.

‘refuse’ arose from some diary-like jottings in my notebook. It was begun many years ago and has been chipped away at, smoothed and roughed up again over time.

2.Tell us about that process. (Do you start sparse and widen out, or do you write down every possible association and cut back? Do you research the subject matter you are writing about? Is it pure intuition?) Take us through an example if you want.

When writing prose poems, I tend to put sentences together like building blocks. I like playing with permutations of sentences within a paragraph. It’s partly trial and error.

Both ‘meds’ and ‘refuse’ are attempts at paratactic writing (from Greek, parataxis, ‘placing side by side’) with narrative threads running through them. In other words, these poems were written as a series of discrete sentences, and the arrangement of sentences within a paragraph became a focal point of the writing/editing process. Sometimes I like to work against the grain of traditional storytelling or rhetorical conventions, and experiment with structuring paragraphs so that the ‘link’ between one sentence and the next is oblique or lateral. I’d like to think that both of these prose poems are mosaic-like, non-linear, cumulative.

I don’t intend for these poems to be cryptic (or at least, not like a cryptic crossword is cryptic). But maybe they’re crypt-like in the sense that they’re weird archives of body and mind.

3. What advice do you have for other writers ? about the first or last line?  About how to choose the title?  Do you follow any rules?

First and last lines can be ‘fetishised’ in various ways, and I suspect this influences the writing (and reading) process.

For instance, it could be remarked that the first line is an opening: a door, a portal, a gate, a window … an orifice of some kind? Or it could be said that the first line is sometimes the most deceptive line.

In all honesty, I’m probably a bit obsessed with opening lines.

As for last lines, well, let’s be a bit pretentious and say the last line is a death, a disappearing, a farewell, another dissolving of consciousness.

I have no set rules for titles. Sometimes the title comes first, sometimes last. Sometimes changing the title can transform a poem, shifting agendas, or perhaps shifting genders?!

4. Who or what inspires your writing?

So many people, so many things. Maybe if I had to give a one-word answer I’d say ‘interrelationships’. But that’s probably a bit of a cop-out.

Sometimes I write poems for friends, as gifts. I think there’s something worth contemplating in this notion of writing as a gift, an act of giving (or gifting). Though a poem can be just as much an act of taking … But if a poet writes a poem as a gift, perhaps it takes on elements of writing a letter or postcard to someone, or whispering in someone’s ear, or making them a pair of shoes, or compiling a mixtape.

Perhaps the poem is also received by the poet as a gift, or a series of gifts, and then the poet passes the gift(s) on. It is a spreading of gifts. Or who knows, in some cases, the spreading of a curse? (if you believe in curses). Certainly parts of the poetry scene could be described as a gift economy … there are probably a few curses circulating too …

5.  Tell us what do you do if you haven’t written anything in a while and you want to get started writing again? Could you share your favourite writing exercise with our readers?

Grab a bunch of books from a bookshelf. Stack them in a pile. Then take the book that’s sitting at the top of the pile, and turn to a page at random. Write down the first word or phrase that hits you. Then place that book down, starting a second pile. Then take the next book from your original pile, turn to a page at random, write down the first word or phrase that hits you, then place the book on the second pile. Repeat until all the books from the first pile are now in the second pile. Check the words and phrases you’ve jotted down. Do any of them seem to link in interesting ways? Could some (or all) of these words and phrases spark a poem? Use these jottings as your starting point. If you get stuck, you can always work through your pile of books again, repeating the same process as before. Or choose some different books to ‘sample’ from if you like. You could try choosing books that might make for interesting juxtapositions, or choosing on the basis of the type of language or vocabulary they contain. Of course, feel free to modify any of your ‘sampled’ phrases to suit your poem. Gather, assemble, transform. Hopefully it’ll be the start of something.

 Stu Hatton is a Melbourne-based poet and editor who teaches writing and editing at Deakin University. His debut collection, How to be Hungry, is available through http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/stuhatton

Spineless Wonders asks Anna Couani

1. What inspired you to write the prose poem/microfiction which is published in Small Wonder?

The piece called The Old Manuscript was inspired by two things, one was a sculpture I saw in the 2012 Sculpture by the Sea show in Bondi and the other was thoughts about an unfinished manuscript I started writing many years ago which is partly about the Greek Australian community in Sydney in the 1960’s.

2.Tell us about that process. (Do you start sparse and widen out, or do you write down every possible association and cut back? Do you research the subject matter you are writing about? Is it pure intuition?) Take us through an example if you want.

I always start with an idea and start researching it. In this case I started researching the sculpture 11:11 and the topic that the sculptor used. Initially I just liked the appearance of the sculpture but I found that the sculptor saw the work as having a particular numerological significance so then I followed that trail and found it led to some unusual political activists who were operating in the 1960’s.They entertained various political conspiracy theories and this reminded me of the fiction manuscript I had started that is loosely about the infiltration of the Sydney Greek community by ASIO. I widen my possibilities initially but write quite sparsely, then edit, mostly by deletion. You can also write a piece as prose and then change it into poetry or vice versa.

3.What advice do you have for other writers ? about the first or last line?  About how to choose the title?  Do you follow any rules?

I don’t follow any rules. You might start with something but then start moving parts of the piece around or deleting things. Each piece of writing has it’s own shape. A title can be anything you want but I think it should have some connection to the piece. But after you’ve been writing for a while, you tend to repeat patterns of behaviour or writing processes. I need for my pieces to have some kind of odd connections.

4. Who or what inspires your writing?

The idea for writing can come from anywhere but I think that other writers or film makers are the most useful source of ideas. I always start with ideas and tend to think formally, even if some content I use has emotive qualities. I think it’s necessary to be able to step back from your work to be able to edit it.

5. Tell us what do you do if you haven’t written anything in a while and you want to get started writing again? Could you share your favourite writing exercise with our readers?

I don’t do writing exercises but I do give them to my students. One nice exercise is to take a line from somewhere, some poem or other text. I tell them to use the line in a prose piece. Sometimes I give them another variable like a journey or some change. The students have produced some very nice results that I wouldn’t call exercises but would call pieces of writing. For myself, I can write on demand but the thinking processes require time and sometimes full time work gets in the road. I spend masses of time reading student texts and sometimes need a break from print.

Anna Couani is a Sydney writer and secondary ESL teacher. Her most recent book, Small Wonders Flying Islands Press, Macao (2012), is poetry with Chinese translations and drawings by Sou Vai Keng. Her previously published work is at: http://seacruise.ath.cx/annacouani/

Spineless Wonders asks Adam Ford

1. What inspired you to write the prose poem/microfiction which is published in Small Wonder?

I spent weeks walking past a poster for that Cowboys and Aliens film and I got to wondering why it is that in science fiction mashup movies the two cultures always have to be in conflict with each other (answer: it makes for a better action movie), but more than that I got to wondering what a movie where the two disparate cultures co-operated would be like. I thought it was a nice idea, and a good excuse to write about cowboys on the moon. Because: Cowboy on the Moon.

2. Tell us about that process. (Do you start sparse and widen out, or do you write down every possible association and cut back? Do you research the subject matter you are writing about? Is it pure intuition?) Take us through an example if you want.

It actually started as a tweet – the first line (including the title) is quite close to what I tweeted, but the idea stuck with me, and I got the itch to expand it. So I did.

3. What advice do you have for other writers ? about the first or last line?  About how to choose the title?  Do you follow any rules?

Don’t be afraid to delete first lines. Even if they’re the first line you had the idea for. ESPECIALLY if they’re the first line you had the idea for. Same goes for last lines. And all the lines in between. You’d be amazed what can happen to a poem when you delete your favourite line.

Re: titles, I’m no help. They always come last and I often just cop out and make the first line the title, or repeat a phrase that I like from within the poem. The only rule that I apply to the poems I write is that they have to have the key to understanding it somewhere within itself. Sometimes I break that rule, though.

4. Who or what inspires your writing?

Too many things to write down in a way that doesn’t just seem like a list that is intended to make me sound clever. But maybe, if I ran that risk, I’d say something like pulp fiction, love, curiosity and pedantry. And a predilection for talking bullshit.

5. Tell us what do you do if you haven’t written anything in a while and you want to get started writing again? Could you share your favourite writing exercise with our readers?

I read. I read my favourite authors, but it doesn’t have to be my favourite authors. Just reading anything gets the cogs turning, but poetry in particular is quite inspirational for the act of writing poetry.

I don’t think I have a FAVOURITE writing exercise, but I do like mashing two disparate things together to see if they can stand up independently, like villanelles and piranha movies, or sonnets and internet memes. Or aliens and cowboys, I guess.

Adam Ford is the author of one novel, three poetry collections and one short story collection, all of which can be sampled at his website, theotheradamford.wordpress.com. He lives in Chewton.

Spineless Wonders asks Kent MacCarter

1. What inspired you to write the prose poem/micro-fiction which is published in Small Wonder?

For ‘Light Foxing’, it was a confluence of events and pet likes. I think similar to most people interested in books-as-artefacts, I’m agog for the crumbling, musty hardbacks that line both the shelves of discerning antiquarian bookseller and bargain bins at naive opp shops.  My first Australian whiff of foxing came while I was perusing a hoity-toity little ‘shoppe’ in Lorne, Victoria where salty, coastal air meets with brittle pages. And, oh! The foxing that was afoot in many of their volumes was rampant (heavy foxing, you might say). It was there I saw a fully foxed Bible; New Testament even.

I’ve been quite smitten with the term ‘light foxing’ for some time now. And I have always been partial to animals-as-nouns-or-verbs in the English lexicon: quit horsing around; are you fishing for a compliment; well then, you’ll have to pony up another twenty dollars; no, only you can ferret out the truth; go ape shit then. It’s one of my goals to start a new definition for ‘mongoose’, but so far nothing’s worked out for me.

Last year I ran across a brief article on what chemically occurs during the foxing process, why it occurs, how long it takes and in what conditions, etc. The degradation of fibers and chemicals got me thinking about literacy and education. I end the piece with a somewhat unnecessary slam again Wyoming – the least populated US state – for two reasons. First, while Wyoming was the state that wouldn’t get off Teddy Roosevelt’s back to enact Yellowstone National Park (the world’s first so recognised), was the first US state to allow women to vote far before any other and is the current home of Annie Proulx – all very good things – Wyoming also gave the world Dick Cheney and bred the despicable Matthew Shepard affair. Second, ‘Light Foxing’ is prose, but my lines breaks and lengths were calculated. I needed a place name or state that I knew enough about that was exactly 7 characters to fill a space just so. I find odd restrictions like this can occasionally help make a good poem.

2. Tell us about that process. (Do you start sparse and widen out, or do you write down every possible association and cut back? Do you research the subject matter you are writing about? Is it pure intuition?) Take us through an example if you want.

For this poem I did a bit of research, although nary an iota compared to what Proulx does for her novels and stories. This piece arrived relatively in-tact. Not sure how my obsession with trains winnowed its way into the words, but it fit the long and winding chemical process and the topography of Wyoming. If Wyoming, jagged chunk of land that it is, was a book, it’d be a Steinbeck tome with all the characters transmogrified into natural elements like trees, petrified trees, water sheds, feral weeds and native wolverines. Perhaps Of Mice and Men with nary a mouse nor man to be found amongst the pages, only the slow jujitsu of boulders, their glaciers and the grassy plains which once was an over-written description of a haircut.

Many of the poems I write are offshoots of something I am fussing over … fussing over to death. As I’ve said in other interviews, I call them ‘host’ poems. The ‘parasite’ poems that a host poem begets (which can be numerous) are typically my better efforts. ‘Light Foxing’ was absolutely a parasite poem. Oddly, I cannot even recall what catastrophe of letters was its primordial Jacuzzi.

3. What advice do you have for other writers ? about the first or last line?  About how to choose the title?  Do you follow any rules?

I don’t have a set of rules, but I advise any new writer to read Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town. It’s a collection of essays, largely centralised around the theme of his teaching creative writing for so many years, an occupation that he was quite renowned for. These are essays, distinctly not hokey how-to trumpetings.

I’m big on titles. Mine are generally ‘of’ and ‘about’ the poem that follows, but I try to put some thought or twist in them to accentuate or clue-in a reader on what’s coming next. I find they can be helpful preambles.

My only skerrick of advice – as I don’t feel to rest on any plinth with height enough for offering – is this: If you run across an event in your day that strikes you as one that you definitely must mine for a poem sometime, some day … it’s usually going to be rubbish.  That and don’t force things out, expecting that which you are forcing to be genius. Writing exercises are great. They work. They can keep you sharp. Not always, but they can.

Six years ago I was on a tram in Melbourne, snaking through the CBD on Bourke Street. We stopped outside what was then Gaslight Records. There, kneeling on the kerb, crouched a corpulent man wearing a smock. His bald pate glistened. He had five one-litre bottles of Paul’s brand milk set out in front of him on the footpath like ten-pin bowling pins, each bottle equidistant from the others in a row of quintuplets. All the labels were facing the same way, outward. During the tram’s pause, I watched him unscrew the cap off the first bottle and slowly dribble its contents entirety over his head, the milk’s viscous jacket zipping all over his contours. Without flinching, he then reached for the second bottle and reenacted the cycle.

Methodically, fluidly, silently. Almost robotically? Yes.

The now-drenched man was reaching out for the third bottle as my tram pulled away.  Nobody on the early week-day morning footpath seemed to notice; only me and another chap on the tram. We looked at each other in silent stupefaction. Occasionally, I wonder if what I’m telling you now actually happened … or if it was that a total stranger and I were locked inside somebody’s errant fetish or feral hallucination that simply escaped them like a cap in wind. But, I swear it’s true. And I thought that that event was one I would for sure write about. I never have. And won’t. It doesn’t need it and I know better now.

4. Who or what inspires your writing?

My inspirations, if you can call them that, come via triggers (a term I freely co-opt from Hugo mentioned above). Mine are various inputs, oftentimes sound. The noise of cash register in a supermarket has triggered a poem. Listening to the album Z-Nation by Melbourne indie band Gaslight Radio, in conjunction with reading a book on population statistics, sewn together with a glass of tempranillo, catalyzed a poem in me about shipwrecks that eventually wound up in Best Australian Poetry 2009. There are occasions where I am reading – typically hefty ‘collecteds’ by O’Hara, Thom Gunn or Forbes as examples – where I am moved to jot some things down. I’d say my inspirations are fleeting.

5. Tell us what do you do if you haven’t written anything in a while and you want to get started writing again? Could you share your favourite writing exercise with our readers?

Lately I have been shoehorning my jumpstarts into exercises with ever more stringent forms than the previous major effort. Most recently, I’ve had a go at producing a series of pantoums that also incorporate a rhyming pattern of quatrains.  This is reasonably preposterous … but it has netted a few poems I rather like, some taken for publication.

Upcoming events and publications

I will be reading at the Makassar International Writers Festival, Indonesia, in early June of this year. I have recently become Managing Editor for Cordite Poetry Review with much exciting stuff to come there. I am also editing a collection of literary non-fiction memoir essays (themes based around expatriation) from a variety of writers not native to, but now living in and writing from Australia. It will be out with Affirm Press, in conjunction with Melbourne PEN, later this year.

Spineless Wonders asks Erin Gough

1. What inspired you to write the prose poem/microfiction which is published in Small Wonder?

I lived in Vancouver briefly a number of years ago and remember a Canadian friend of mine telling me proudly that instant mashed potato was a Canadian invention. This struck me as a hilarious thing to be proud of, until I remembered how Australians always boast about the Hills Hoist. I researched the inventions for each country and when I realised I could rhyme “Trivial Pursuit” (Canadian) with “Ute” (Australian) I knew I had to write this piece.

2.Tell us about that process. (Do you start sparse and widen out, or do you write down every possible association and cut back? Do you research the subject matter you are writing about? Is it pure intuition?) Take us through an example if you want.

I usually write a whole lot, then read it through and cut the parts I hate, which is generally most of it. I read it again, decide it’s too short, and start putting things back in. On the next reading it becomes clear that I have totally overwritten it so I delete swathes of paragraphs. This goes on, back and forth, for about eight years. I end up with a 300-word story by the end of it, if I’m lucky.

3. What advice do you have for other writers ? about the first or last line?  About how to choose the title?  Do you follow any rules?

My only advice is that the process is different for everybody, so ignore people who tell you there are rules. What I can say of my own process is that I sometimes focus too early on getting the first and last lines right because I end up cutting the top and bottom off the story in the editing process in any case. This can be a good way to plunge the reader into the middle of the action and drag them out wanting more. I try to choose titles that I think will make people want to read the story.

4. Who or what inspires your writing?

Everyone and everything. The toaster blows a fuse and I think: how can I turn this into a story?

5. Tell us what do you do if you haven’t written anything in a while and you want to get started writing again? Could you share your favourite writing exercise with our readers?

I read my favourite writers. I read the stories that I’ve written and still like. I try to find in other people’s writing the rhythm of the thing that I want to write next.

Erin Gough’s short stories have been published in a number of journals and collections, including Southerly,Overland, Going Down Swinging and Black Inc.’s Best Australian Stories and have been read on ABC and 2ser radio. Her microfiction, William Shatner vows to save the Great Basin Pocket Mouse was runner up in the Prose Poetry and Microfiction competition and is published in small wonder.

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