new zealand electronic poetry centre

David Howard

selected collaborations

Mark McEntyre / David Howard: Subtitles, Lifesized




A collaboration with Mark McEntyre for the Christchurch City Council, 1994


A collaboration with Mark McEntyre, McDougall Art Annex, 10 February – 12 March 1995



David Howard


In his preface to The Aspern Papers, Henry James speculates: ‘The other gardens, those still beyond, may be there, but even by use of our longest ladder we are baffled and bewildered – the view is mainly a view of barriers.’ From middle age the view I have is mainly a view of barriers. There are many poets who seem worried that their voice won’t carry over the wall. Perhaps it is too easy to assert that my primary task as a writer is to hear rather than be heard – yet I’ll assert it if only to call myself to attention rather than to call attention to myself.   Then I can honour ‘my’ material while acknowledging that for other poets the question may not present as an either/or, and what appears a problem may be their solution.

For me Walter Benjamin puts the challenge: ‘To enter into the interior of a mode of action is the way to test its fruitfulness. But how to do this?’ (Gesammelte Schriften, VI, 205-06). A writer listens through using language. By placing words on the page I become aware of silence, and then I consider how (never whether) this silence is active. Meaning is the dance of verb and noun through the space of subject-object – but silence is what takes syntax beyond the obvious. Silence is the interior of a mode of action, poetry, and the test of every poem’s fruitfulness.


2           COMPLETE WITH INSTRUCTIONS (January 1995)

(for Mark McEntyre)


you don’t have to go                                         how can I go
inside the eye to be                                         out of the storm to be
sure of your self                                                           with you the truth is the dark

peer through this glass                                                aperture you can make eyes
at fire air water                                                             like a scientist who comes to
understand                                                       ‘his’ senses by stretching

from red to yellow to blue                                             beyond


sure of your senses go inside go                               with your fiery eyes peer
through the dark glass to the storm’s eye go              into water’s aperture peer
beyond ‘beyond’                                                           into the truth you stretch


sure of your self you don’t have to go through fire’s aperture or water’s glass to be sure of your senses like a scientist who peers into the storm’s eye and comes to understand the dark by stretching ‘his’ truth through red beyond yellow to blue



Many of my poems appear linear, however that ur-linearity is often subverted by shifting pronouns. Some pieces eschew rather than subvert the linear by working in a corollary to the artist’s grid. These are column pieces which read across and down with equal grammatical (and imaginal) coherence. The impossible bastard of George Herbert and Helmut Heissenbuttel, Complete with Instructions is an instance of this. The left and right columns were composed simultaneously; rather, given that such simultaneity is an illusion, were produced hand-in-hand, while the final left-to-right margin section was a considered response to the other columns: a ruling-off.

My stimulus was provided by sculptor Mark McEntyre, who asked me to provide text for an installation commissioned by the Robert McDougall Art Annex. In January 1995 we edited video sequences of text rising up from and falling back into footage of the natural world. This was then sequenced between eight television monitors contained by a wooden frame, with lengths of 4” x 2” alluding to the structure of a Mondrian – except that instead of squares of colour there were squares of light and its proxy, the screen. In the catalogue to the exhibition I wrote:

A collaboration is a making over: I sign my idea over to Mark, who remakes it. He gives me an ideal architecture and I proceed to redraft. The tension between our different perspectives engenders the work. In this process conceit is a kind of epilepsy, it prevents comprehension. The opposing values (pluralistic and monistic) that Mark and I hold are proportionately joined in a piece that seems to confirm the maxim of Heraclitus: ‘What we saw and caught we leave behind, what we neither saw nor caught we take with us.’ (Inside the Solid, 10 February – 12 March 1995)

A work of art is productive rather than product; it brings us into being. The grid references yet critiques Aristotelian verities. Beginning middle and end are cartoons of our experience, which is that everything continues but does not move on. Learning to ride a bike, our first love, the conversation we overhead in a Taihape cafe – these are still happening. Still, yet happening.


Last updated 13 April, 2006