Monthly Archives: November 2014

Gertrude Stein is in my kitchen

 

muncher muncher munchers

muncher muncher munchers

Exciting news is on the way about my chapbook THE BITTERS published by Dancing Girl Press. No doubt my next post will be all about that. However, this is an opportune moment to reflect on why Gertrude Stein is the guiding spirit of that chapbook. The Stein who wrote ‘why is there a shadow in a kitchen, there is a shadow in the kitchen because every little thing is bigger’ and ‘Aider, why aider, why whow, who stop touch, aider how, aider stop the muncher, muncher munchers.’ (Tender Buttons, 1914).

Many of my poems in THE BITTERS explore how definitions of the domestic, femininity and mental illness became so dangerously interlinked at the turn of the 20th century.  What I love about the Stein of Tender Buttons  is the way in which she activates the language of gender and of food, domestic objects and interior spaces. By creating images whose ambiguity is impossible to resolve and using language in such a way that it moves from referential function to self-ordering system, Stein makes the domestic chaotic, the orderly demonic, and the routine highly energised. This in turn undermines the possibility that femininity can be defined in any simple or ‘essentialist’ way in relation to the domestic. Cue, many of the poems in my chapbook….

Not only is Stein is the Bad Angel in the Home presiding over THE BITTERS, but her ability to return the domestic to the wild is only too apt as a description of my own approach to housekeeping. Others may have Delia in their kitchen. I have Gertrude.

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What next? Life after a creative writing degree.

Dead Sunflowers

Dead Sunflowers

I should quickly explain, before anybody worries about a blog post that begins with a picture of dead sunflowers, that I have just come back from the brilliant Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy. Images of dead sunflowers, their blackened, seed-heavy heads drooping to the earth, are ambiguous in his work. Whilst sombre, they also depict the cycle of life and the promise of new life in the dying flower. It was a glorious Autumn day earlier this week when I snapped these real-world beauties, a fitting accompaniment to my mulling on the question at the top of this blog post.

It has been a few weeks now since I  handed in my final portfolio of work. Although I haven’t had the closure of the mark yet, the MA course feels properly over (ongoing contact with course buddies notwithstanding). It is a little bit of dying, this end. But hopefully, too, the beginning of a new regime of writing within a different framework.

For the first few weeks, it was hard to feel much sense of new life. More like a zombie, I thought, stumbling out of bed to meet the demands of the day job. But this week I have finally managed to take a little holiday. The weather has been kind. The art exhibitions have been magnificent. The reading (mainly short stories) has been inspiring and challenging. I have even sat in a deckchair on Brighton Pier drinking beer, and gone paddling to celebrate Halloween (spooky!)

Halloween. Yes, really.

Halloween. Yes, really.

And gradually it feels like new life is returning and I am ready to embark on the new writing routine that is about being a writer rather than a creative writing student.

So here are my three resolutions to help me.

1) I want to complete a new outline of my novel by the end of this month. By outline, I mean a shitty first draft. I am going to use #Nanowrimo as the structure to do this. One of the challenges of the MA course is that it has left me with four chapters that I have worked on intensely and an outline of the rest of the novel that no longer fits due to the way characters have changed and developed in the revisioning of those early chapters. This is quite a block to overcome so I need to run at it. Fast.

2) There is nothing like the support of a writing group or circle of writing buddies. This is the biggest loss with the ending of the MA. Fortunately, there are enough of us in and around London/Oxford to recreate something which can provide that mutual support. Now I need to find a venue.

3) Reading. The constraints of the MA have meant that my reading has been very focused on particular topics of study. One of the joys of having a little more time is to open up my reading. I am catching up on my reading of short stories at the moment and challenged people to suggest a reading list for me. My list now includes: Aimee Bender, Kirsty Logan, Sarah Hall, Karen Russell, Daniel Handler, Mary Gaitskell, David Malouf, Charles Bukowski, Tennessee Williams, Jon McGregor, Dorothy Parker, Peter Carey, Junot Diaz and many more.  My imagination is already dancing again. The characters from Raymond Carver’s short stories seem more like people I have known and remember than fictional characters. And I am utterly smitten with Alice Munro’s stories: her images have a searing, metaphysical intensity that I will never forget.

Right, I suppose I had better get going then.

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