A Journal for Linking Poets
IN CLOSE PROXIMITY
Catherine and I began writing and publishing traditional poetry in the 80s. We met each other in 1987 and discovered some amazing coincidences in our lives. We were born within a year of each other, both have four children: 3 boys and a girl (two of our sons have the same name and our daughters also have the same names). Catherine’s family moved to their dairy farm from Auckland in 1973 and I moved with my family from London to Auckland in the same year. Both of us were early childhood teachers.
CM: When did you begin writing?
PP: My poems were first published in the New Zealand magazine Spin. The editor of Spin, David Drummond, encouraged his new writers to try various forms of poetry from mainstream poems to the Japanese short forms of poetry. A subscription to Spin also included membership to an orbit. Orbits contained poems written by members and passed around a group of four or more poets for criticism and feedback. Catherine and I were in the same orbit. When it failed to appear at one time I wrote to members asking what had happened to it and the only answer I received was from Catherine. I suggested that we correspond with one another and criticise each other’s work. We decided shortly afterwards to meet and a friendship was formed that has continued for twenty-six years.
PP: Tell readers something about your commitment to writing.
CM. After writing traditional verse I went on to write haiku, tanka and haibun and later instigated, the Katikati Haiku Pathway, for the millennium project in my town of Katikati in the Bay of Plenty. I also became involved in short short story writing, wrote the text for two books for school children with disabilities, judged poetry and haiku contests and has had my work published in New Zealand, the USA and elsewhere.
PP: How far does one person’s writing influence that of the other writer?
CM: In a way it’s the difference in each person’s writing which excites our responses. Like a kite, one person on the ground holding the string while the other takes flight.
PP: Do you think that part of the impulse in our collaborative writing comes from being in each other’s company?
CM: It’s the natural stimulation of being together and observing events, sights and sounds around us. Capturing the immediacy of the moment.
PP: Is there a sense that one doesn’t necessarily begin a collaborative piece having a specific idea of what it’s going to be about?
CM: There’s no prior idea before composing a piece as it is a natural progression when out walking, for example, where everything around us is noted. The poems are not manipulated but tell their own stories in their own way.
CM: What path did your writing take?
PP: My writing career took a different path: I write poetry, the Japanese short forms of haiku, tanka and haibun, articles and reviews, and am now focusing on publishing interviews with poets and editors. I have also published a collection of poetry, Accepting Summer and edited an anthology of New Zealand verse, Something Between Breaths. I am the co-editor of the New Zealand haiku magazine Kokako, reviews editor of the New Zealand journal Takahe and reviews/interviews editor of the online magazine Haibun Today. I began writing haiku at the time of the publication of the first New Zealand Haiku Anthology and have written and published haiku, tanka, haibun, tanka prose and renga with a variety of poets from New Zealand and overseas.
CM: Perhaps you would like to inform readers about the way our collaborative writing began?
PP: Our collaborations began with the self-publication of a collection of our poetry in the place where . . ., the shortcut home, and other small publications. Catherine and I have also published a collection of our haiku called Every Drop Stone Pebble with an Indian poet. We began writing linked verse in collaboration with each other several years ago, and have since published several collections, including sweet penguin, last rays of the sun, east cape and Morning Glory.
Our linked poems contain lines which are “moments in time” captured in a haiku-like form. The links may be subtle, created by writing in the same place at the same time. For this informal type of linked verse to work there needs to be balance and empathy between the writers. In much the same way that renga evolved in Japan, as enjoyable entertainment and communication, so our collaborative verse began. We don’t see our linked verse as haiku or renku, but rather as “stream-of-consciousness” lines written when we are in close proximity: walking, talking, or visiting places of interest.
Here is an example of one of our linked tanka sequences:
near the carved head
around the camp fire
more and more
For those readers who haven’t seen our writing, I would suggest that our links follow certain themes of time, place, feeling and “togetherness,” rather than following the Japanese idea of the mind “leaping” from one image to something totally different. This, we have been told, is part of the “rebellious” nature of our work, and is what makes it different from the formal style of renga. It is what makes it popular, gives it a certain charm, and makes it more accessible to many readers. An example of one of our linked verses from east cape concerns a journey we took around the East Cape of New Zealand:
Around the Showground
deer hall – a line of wet washing behind the fence
an albino woman tells the whereabouts of the dump site
descending from the clouds a hot-air balloon
from the caravan’s tarpaulin enclosure, a baby’s cry
playing in a puddle half-naked children
a stick for an aeroplane, his red shorts
on the floor of the holding pens, wood shavings
painted on the wall of the deer pavilion – Bambi
shearing competition, an arrow points to an open door
Williams & Kettle wool, the chute gates ajar
on the blackboard the names of shearers
skylights blotchy with lichen
CM: When did you begin publishing your collaborations?
PP: In 2002, about the time that we thought of publishing a second collection of our linked verse, we began writing linked haiku and linked tanka. The idea of writing collaborative haibun came later. The narrative of a haibun sometimes presents itself as a problem – a challenge; and the solution was for one person to begin with a paragraph (with or without the addition of a haiku), followed by a linking narrative paragraph, which would open out the haibun. We were thinking all these things out, and at the same time telling ourselves this was not something everyone could do. One has to have the right temperament to work with another poet, but the energy created by the input of ideas was astonishing. Our imaginations were set in motion and we couldn’t leave the idea alone.
A linked haibun of which we’re particularly fond for its memories is the following:
rustling across the sundeck
They arrive in two cars: recently discovered half-brothers. The 16 month-old has a German mother while the 14 month-old boy’s mother is a New Zealand girl. After the children have had a drink and a biscuit and played with their toys, one of the young mothers decides to take them to see their great-grandmother in the rest home. The boys are buckled into their car seats and off we all venture. Apart from recognizing her daughter, 99 year-old great-grandma has no idea who any of her visitors can be. The blonde girl tries to explain to great-granny that while they have different mothers the little boys share the same father. Being so similar in age, the toddlers confuse her and she thinks they are twins. The black-haired mother is clearly besotted with her son, however unmanageable he is. The boys soon discover how to climb on chairs, bed and walker, stand on tiptoe to look out of the window, and play with the tap in the hand basin. Finally, they find out how to open the door and are off down the corridor like greased lightning followed by their bemused mothers.
CM: What elements do you feel are necessary to create a good collaborative haibun?
PP: We began by writing narrative, in a short story like way, but we felt that the pieces lacked something we wanted them to have. And once the poems (haiku, tanka or a short poem) were included, we felt that what had been missing had been supplied. There are some ideas that are purely instinctive in writing and one must follow what they tell you to do. In our case, it was a particularly strong feeling. One reason is that a narrative doesn’t want to deny anything that’s beyond the prosaic, the real, the factual, and the mundane. It wants to acknowledge something “higher” – an element of the ideal if you like. Therefore, writing the prose and presenting the poems, which are not simply a repetition of ideas in the narrative but something more, seem to give the prose a lift and imbue it with a special resonance. For us, the arts – music and poetry in particular, but the arts in general – are, in our lives, what cooking, gardening, and so on, represent in other peoples’ lives.
It seems to me that we are pulling together two of the strands which define us as creative writers – our work in short stories, articles and reviews and our work as poets – and intertwining them. It was only when we began to write collaborative haibun that we realised for the first time we’d found a way of being both fiction writers and poets in a single work. We simply write down what we experience in our everyday lives as inspiration for the prose part of the haibun, then add the haiku to create a new dimension, to change or alter the scene, voice or time, in a similar way as the two parts of a tanka are related.
As you can see from reading our collaborative haibun, we mine the quotidian, detailing the typical emotional routines of life today – the dullness of work ameliorated by holidays and weekend excursions, the little longings and frustrations of family relations, the intersections and intrusions of the issues of the day, and the occasional time for thoughts about ill-health, mortality and the whole reason why we are here in the first place. Our introspective moments are triggered by stones, rocks, sky, ocean, flowers, birds, emblems usually for the desire to escape the drabness of daily life. Our style, not surprisingly, is lean, often employing prose/haiku, but sometimes we intersperse tanka or a short poem, a technique that makes poems contemporary in an accessible way.
We like to believe that we create an unusual effect in not suggesting to the reader any real notion of what is to come. We allow the reader to drift with us from thought to thought and insight to insight. The thoughts offered are sometimes sensitive and deep, sometimes emotional, often something to which the reader can relate. And we do not just hand them to you, but make a place for you beside us. Our poems are a challenge to see the world as a place of connections and connectedness; poems by two distinct writers.
We’d like to end our collaborative interview with the following linked tanka we published in first rays of the sun: it is a fitting memorial to our dear friend Janice M. Bostok, the Australian haiku and tanka poet.
The Perfumed Air
a thin jet of water
IN CLOSE PROXIMITY
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