SpeedPoets Call Back Final

callbackpoetEarlier this month I shared my cut-up poem. Yesterday I had the pleasure of performing it as part of my set at the SpeedPoet’s Call Back Finals. And allowing myself a moment of additional reflection, it’s a year since I first put down the first few dodgy lines of what became ‘Paper Mâché’ in the cafe area of an indoor playground post corporate Christmas party (and NaNo and 79,000 words in 28 days!).

ACCIDENTAL CALL BACK (with apologies to Andrew Phillips)

The first time you step onto a stage to perform, the last thing in your mind is winning. In fact, I’d only ever been to SpeedPoets once, to the 2013 final and had no real idea how the whole thing worked. So I was a bit gobsmacked when Simon Kindt announced back in April that I had won the Call Back slot for the month.

Since then I’ve been silently (and more recently, not so quietly) stressing about performing eight minutes of poetry. In the last few months, with my self esteem and confidence bottoming out to a new low, the prospect of writing new poetry, practicing and performing felt entirely overwhelming.

Two weeks ago, I started to catalogue in my head what I already had and hadn’t read over the course of the year. I’d been hording ‘Paper Mâché’ just in case I didn’t write anything new–which was lucky, because I hadn’t written a whole lot. There was ‘How Fossils Form When Conditions Benefically Interact’. And upon opening No Need to Reply to look at ‘Eclipsed’, the poem that closes the collection, I hit on turning the final piece ‘Closure’ into a poem. With a few simple tweaks, and then a few extra lines last week, it became ‘Body Warmth of Beginners’, a title I’ve had in my notes app for a very long time.

On the first run through, the three poems came in at 8 minutes and 11 seconds and I knew I didn’t have to look any further. Sometimes you can just be lucky.

For the last two weeks, while I battled a renewed plunge into depression, I practiced when I could–inflicting the set on unsuspecting friends (thank you Rob and Rowena) when the opportunity arose.

THE FINAL

Although I wasn’t able to get up and perform from memory yesterday, as I had hoped I’d be able, I was actually able to perform the poems, rather than just read them. And because I knew the poems well enough, there was a chance to engage with the audience from the stage during my set. There was this lovely moment, where I zoned in on a couple sitting to the right hand side of the stage and I whispered into the microphone ‘his lips pressed to the inside of her wrist’.

Chris Lynch (who read the most exquisite and sensual poem about mangoes!) and savanu (who did not crucify himself on stage although he assumed the stance of the crucified) tied as Call Back Poet of the year. But there was so much excellent poetry – Vanessa Page’s closing line was among my favourites.

As a new poet and a beginner performer, it was an honour to stand on stage yesterday with more experience performance poets. Many thanks to Helen Stubbs and Ben Payne who came along as my pit crew. Thanks also to Sean Wright and Stacey Larner who were exposing me to poetry long before I thought I might even have a chance to writing it. And also to Andrew Phillips, who insisted before he left the country, that I stop calling myself an ‘accidental poet’ and instead embrace it.

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Cutting Up Depression

or how poetry came along to rearrange the pieces of the future

Last week Devin pointed me in the direction of this wiki article on Cut-up Technique. It came at a time when I had started to excavate my depression.

Part of the depression (what originally alerted me to the fact something was terribly wrong, and ongoing wrong, rather than just oscillating in and out of wrong) was my rapidly deteriorating memory. Combine that with an inability to focus and a disordering of the way my brain functioned it’s been a long slide into not being able to write. Add to that mix an absolute gutting of my confidence and it’s become a pretty lethal pill.

But I want to write.

Writing has always been my antidepressant.

To not be able to write compounds the problem.

The Techtonics of Depression

This time I see my depression like layers of earth, each one with its own characteristics and stories compacted between what came before and after. I can see where it started. I can see how over time I haven’t got better, I’ve just normalised how I felt. And with each knock back and each knock down I’ve sunk lower, normalised it and then sunk lower again.

Inside me are strata of misery and disappointment and hopelessness and bleakness and a pervading sense of being utterly lost and alone: this layer here, where the boy first refused to go to school in 2012; this one here where the school shunted us into Distance Education and called it help; here where I turned up every day to help with Distance Education, hating every minute of it; this one here where I suffered through glandular fever several months out from my 40th birthday; the one here, where the boy dropped out of school a second time after 10 weeks of being caught at school everyday and the privilege of driving hours a day to get there and thousands of dollars down the toilet; the one here, where it hit I was going to be imprisoned in my house forever with no hope of achieving anything I ever wanted to do, to watch dreams die; this one here were I came to see how I was already disappearing, becoming invisible to the suburban landscape; this one here where no matter how much others cared for me, I had stopped caring for myself.

On Cutting Into the Future

Conceptualising the last two years of depression, as one might see a core sample of earth, and with almost two weeks of gingko and positive thinking under my belt, I went in search of possible texts that I could put together to create a cut-up poem. It wasn’t exactly writing, but it was interacting with words in a creative space.photo 1I found a personal account of depression, “An Open Letter to Depression” at 20-nothings and the Oxford University of Natural History’s article, ‘How Do Fossils Form‘. I copied and pasted them into individual Word documents, tweaked the font and line spacing so the sentences ran into each other when they were folded in half. This made what I was about to create more ‘fold-up’ than ‘cut-up’.photo 2I then cut each article in half and taped them together. Immediately phrases bleed out of the jumble. Others slowly unearthed in the process of blanking out words and sentences, like a geological dig, brushing dirt from fossils. At the end of blotting out, I came across the title.

photo 3With the poem transposed from the page to the screen and assembled into lines, I moved a few up or down, cut out more words, made consistent (where possible) the tense and other mechanics for readability. And “An Open Letter on How Fossils Form When Conditions Beneficially Interact” was born.

William S. Burroughs, one of the main proponents of the cut-up technique suggested cut-ups may be effective as a form of divination saying, “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.” Sitting here on the cusp of being well again, I like that and how it adds another frame, another filter to the poem.

The future is one I fashion for myself, above and beyond of the bedrock of depression I’ve been trapped in.


An Open Letter On How Fossils Form When Conditions Beneficially Interact
With thanks to Meghan and Oxford University of Natural History

Just because depression is ‘gone’
means nothing.
Sometimes sleeping feels like slipping.
Happiness and well-being rot away.
The animal dies and its body sinks.
Skeletons fall from the ocean above.

Buried, explains how life may die.

The skeleton thickens as sediment,
added to depressions of life.
A story dissolves,
pressure,
and a mould preserving the shape
of the original brilliant visions
crystallise inside happy pills

Illness,
none of its internal features have
a reason to stay alive.
Reason;
medicine and therapy,
worn away
by wind and rain
and minds.