new zealand electronic poetry centre


Mark Young

online works


Mark Young
Martin Edmond

(by email, during the autumn of 2004)

As to how we do it ... We could do the formal Q & A or we could just start talking. I think the idea is to work towards publication in brief but that doesn't preclude initial skirmishing before ... whatever. I'm intrigued for example by the book that won the Rothman's Prize but then wasn't published. Could that be a starting point?

If I was asking questions of myself, the starting point would be ‘why did you start writing again?’ I'm not totally sure of the whys of that. I can say what contributed to it or acted as a trigger, but there is either a step beyond that or a step backwards so that I picked up where I left off around twenty-five years previously. I seem to remember writing in an email to Michele that I was having a problem as to how I should approach this current ‘writing’; whether to start anew or to go back & try & build a bridge across the intervening period. I think what I've done, & what I'm still doing, is use the past not so much as a bridge but as a reference library which I occasionally return to.

Agreed – much more interesting to begin with starting again than with stopping: So why did you start writing again? Take it that the rest of your last e is the beginning of a process of answering? Do you feel like expanding?

Let me insert a preparatory/prefatory question & answer that first. What stopped me from starting writing again? A combination of things. Temporal & physical distance – each year that went by dimmed both my desire to write & my memory of writing, & I was not in contact with writers so had no external pressure. Nigel Roberts would ring occasionally but the conversations were brief - no, I don't want to meet whoever it was that was visiting at the time. Additionally I had the feeling of being forgotten in my original arena of New Zealand. This was in part due to picking up a copy of the Wedde & McQueen Penguin Book of NZ Verse when Lauren & I were in Auckland in 1987 & reading there that I was ‘abandoned to the Australians’. Those few words, & the fact they meant I was excluded from an anthology I thought I should have been in, caused a hurt that took me years to recover from & undermined my belief in myself as a writer. So much so that I was ready to dump the carry-bag of my old poems that resided in one of the drawers of my dressing table but Lauren stopped me.

What started me writing again? The simplistic answer is that the trigger was the letter from Michele Leggott asking if she could ‘rummage through the past’ when she & her co-editors were in the preliminary stages of assembling Big Smoke. But another fact was that despite everything I've said above I was still writing. Mostly work-related or university assignments, but in amongst it all was some poetry. Much of it chicken-claw scratchings but amongst it pieces such as Backtracking in the Early Nineties

Which dates itself internally from the time of the (later-given) title.

What Michele did was transfuse me with her enthusiasm for the project & I started going through the carry-bag (which by now had been transferred to a grey document box) to search out poems which she probably would not have seen. Because of their state - flimsy, often carbon copies (remember them?), stained with coffee & smoke from the bottoms of spoons, scarred by cigarette burns – I started copying them onto the PC so there would be a clean collection for her. The copying out became a reappraisal; & I discovered that not only could I remember most of the poems but there were some pretty good ones amongst them. I also found the confidence to polish up some I thought needed it. A couple of the poems in The right foot of the giant are almost complete rewritings. In the subsequent to-ing & fro-ing with Michele &, later, Alan Brunton, my enthusiasm built; jottings for new poems pushed through to the surface or were absorbed from earlier notes; Right foot came out, published by Alan's Bumper Books; & by the time the launch of Big Smoke happened there were some new poems to accompany it.

But still not easy. The poem Nemesis or: Painting by Numbers covers some of the arid ground I found when trying to bridge the years of silence. 2001 was a year of rejection slips. & depression. Could I really write or was I deluding myself? The reviews of Big Smoke & Right foot were favourable to me, but that was the past catching up. & a lot of what I was currently writing I wasn't very happy with, felt that I was still facing backwards & trying to reel in / live off the past while the present charged towards the future behind me. But at least I was still writing. & at last the breakthrough came with Lunch in Glebe which although it talked about the past did so in a way that led towards the future.

A number of questions occur to me, viz: What were you reading during the hiatus period? What about the Australian context that poems like A Season in Hell were written and published in? Mid-seventies, Sydney, was it? Did that dissipate or was it never as sustaining as NZ in the 1960s seems to have been?

I'm also interested in this: ‘I think what I've done, & what I'm still doing, is use the past not so much as a bridge but as a reference library which I occasionally return to.’ Do you mean that in terms of the things you wrote in the past, or in terms of memories; or something else entirely?

I suppose another question might be put in terms of the major changes in technology since the sixties or seventies (carbon paper, yeah!): not just that we now have computers to do our remembering for us but, perhaps more significantly, there is a whole new arena to publish in, which is instant and amazingly accessible. You seemed to have adapted seamlessly to this new arena is that because you spent a lot of time in the intervening period becoming computer literate in other fields of study? Or because there's a relationship with some of the strategies for immediate publication (i.e. readings; broadsheets) used in the sixties?

My time in Australia splits into two equal but quite divergent periods; let's call them, for the time being, pre-Lauren & since Lauren. In the earlier period, there was really only the one year – late 1973 to 74 – when I was really writing & living in what could be called a stimulating environment. Twenty of the poems in Right foot date from those twelve months. The end of 1974 saw me drop back into another twelve years of smack. Within a couple of years I'd sold off my library except for three books – The New American Poetry, a biography of Paracelsus & Bronowski's The Ascent of Man - which were the three I decided I could not do without. A bit more transitional background can be found in Left Behind.

From about 1976, for the next ten years, I don't think I read anything.

Junk is a state of just-being with no redeeming qualities. Therefore there is nothing one can bring from it. That puts paid to anything memorable or accessible coming out of it. When I write about using the past as a reference library it means the memories & experiences & formative influences that happened at the time; I was writing then / I am writing now – my creative processes then are used as a template for now; & there are ideas & thoughts that I've reinvigorated now that I'm writing again after having let them stand for 30 years – see A Recipe. Now there's a new more recent body of experience, plus the expertise that comes from writing again, but occasionally I still go back, take books off the shelf & look at them again.

I've always hated the, as it's now called, snailmail process of submission. Stamped self-addressed envelopes, few journals in NZ to send poems to so try the overseas ones but that takes time & you never get published anyway because you haven't got a name .... That's why Dave Mitchell & I used readings to disseminate our work. Not alone there. I'd got used to PCs when I went back to TAFE & University in the early nineties. I did my degree externally from Monash, & because there was a computer stream in what I was doing, it meant electronic submissions, at first through a dial-up direct modem & then through Netscape. When I started writing again I went first to the print journals & still hated it. My first ‘new’ publication came with the collection of NZ poets that Michele curated for Jacket. I'd been thinking about submitting to the seeming plethora of ezines, & this tipped the scales. There are still delays at times; but because the poems that you submit are embedded within an email or attached, they are easy to transfer & I have had poems published with two weeks of submission. Also, there are a variety of electronic journals out there & that suits me also because I tend to write across a couple of styles – the zen jottings of calligraphies & the more crafted poems of the collection I have called Pelican Dreaming. There is also the sophistication of word processing packages. Things that I used to only dream about are now a simple act of electronic formatting. A poem such as ‘Pi, Pythagoras & I,’ with its twin columns in different font size, one side the traditional jagged edge poem, the other justified, was easy to format but would probably have been impossible or terribly time-consuming in the old typewriter days.

Then there's the blog format. Out into the ether five seconds after finishing a poem. I like As/Is>  because it's a collective poetry-only forum with a group of poets that I like & there is an amount of bouncing off one another. Plus you can engage in whatever the postmodern name for light verse is. At this point in time I do not envisage starting my own. Too much soul-searching & soul-baring.

If The New American Poetry, the Paracelsus & the Bronowski were the books you could not do without, was that because they represented or exemplified or just kept you in some kind of touch with poetry, magic and the history of the race?

There's so much delight in your writing now, and joy for the reader that I wonder if there was not a concomitant pain in not writing? Meaning not the junk years but subsequently in the late 80s and 90s. This is not about trying to uncover the sources of said pain, rather I'm interested in what I'd call the deep chuckle I sense beneath your work now: not the laughter of alienation but of connection with what is, which turns out to be rather different from received versions. I especially like the fabliau poems for the ways in which they extend into areas of the unthought.

The three books. Probably kept because I doubted I'd be able to replace at least two of them. I have a history of recreating libraries – make that reconstructing – so I knew that sometime in the future I'd being doing it again. Always the optimist! On a slightly separate plane, probably because one had what were for me iconic poems, one was about a personal icon, one contained iconic images. A phrase in the streaming part of ‘Pi’ goes ‘certain tokens that were given or found & have acquired a patina of magic’.

Run three poems in sequence:

The poem about the poem
The science lesson

plus a touch of ‘Left behind’ & you start getting the framework of what I call my jukebox of the soul. Probably The New American Poetry & The Ascent of Man were reasonably obvious choices. To explain Paracelsus a bit more I've attached a university essay from 1994  & would also refer you to the epigraph of Poem for Paracelsus in Right foot.

Probably a lot of potential pain in not writing (poetry) was anodyned (is there such a word?) by my writing in other areas. (& it's not till you start writing again that you wish you might have started a bit earlier.) My business proposals were extremely well-written .... & I've always had humour running through my work although admittedly a lot of it was standing back & poking fun or mocking rather than what I think is now the fact that I'm in, & have been for a number of years now, what is a good place for me & the humour is now more humanitarian (?) though probably still oblique. Though things like Codex are I admit straight out overt humour with a few personal asides - the Paracelsus essay will introduce you to St Theophrastus - to keep me happy. But what do you mean by the ‘fabliau’ poems? Do I write metrical fables? Or do you mean what I loosely call my ‘journey poems’ – as distinct from my ‘poems of the instant’ – like ‘Codex,’ or ‘Lunch in Glebe’ or ‘Lunch with F O'H’?

Perhaps fabliau is the wrong word they're only fables in the sense that some of Borges’ ficciones are. Meaning a construct that takes you somewhere else where the real/unreal distinction ceases to determine what happens. Just like life. Yes, I think I probably am talking about what you call Journey poems.

Paradigm shift is a term that recurs in your work - clearly a central concept, and something you appear to have explored in your formal studies as well. The Wedde/Landfall review suggests that something like that was going on in the 1960s but somehow the moment was lost. (As someone who came on the scene in the 1970s I'd dispute that but anyway ...) How would you characterise that shift from today's perspective? And do you think we are in throes of another one now? Or is it the case that the implications of such a fundamental shift cannot be calibrated over such a short period of time?

Ficciones I can easily get my head around. & I understand now where you're coming from. Unreal landscapes that are more real than the real until we cannot tell where one ends & one begins - if, in fact, such terms are applicable. & following on from that statement I need to qualify the division of my poetry that I used earlier & this might bring it more in line with your comment. Both my journey & moment poems can be ficciones, sometimes entirely, sometimes an incursion, sometimes an excursion. I'd also add another strand, that of horror at the direction the world, under the tongue-to-arse leadership of the ÜBERPOWER Amerika, is going. This is concerning me more & more.

But instead of talking about that, I'll segue into libraries – courtesy of the blind Argentinean librarian – & early influences. My first serious reading was science fiction which is reality in unreal landscapes. My brother, twelve years older than I, was in the Public Service in NZ – who isn't? – & on one of his transfers left all his SF books at home & I worked my way through them. SF is interesting because it very neatly splits into left- & right-wing strands. Someone like Robert Heinlein is/was a fascist; but the prevailing sympathies in much of forties & fifties SF were left-wing. If McCarthy had ever realised that .... So I read Leiber & Kornbluth & Vonnegut & Blish & Philip K. Dick & my views on what's ethical & moral about life started forming. & kept on reading which meant encountering Ballard & Delany & Zelazny & Leguin & Gibson & Moorcock. & science morphed into speculative which meant no problems at all in picking up on Borges & Umberto Eco & Thomas Pynchon & William Burroughs. (&, in passing, I think the first translation of Borges that appeared in the US was in the Ellery Queen Mystery magazine.) & later rereadings confirmed that these people were excellent influences for one so young. (As was jazz which I got into around the same time.) & when I have rebuilt my libraries it's always these SF writers that I have rebought first.

& segue back to paradigm shifts. The sixties was a time when the social paradigm shifted, courtesy of Dylan & The Beatles, the Vietnam War, TV, relaxing censorship, those sorts of things. & I think that carried on into the seventies & beyond & is really only now coming under serious threat thanks to George W. Borg & John Howard & their fundamentalist friends. In terms of poetry in NZ, the shift came around 1969, the year that I left. If you look at Big Smoke, 1/3rd of the poems are pre that time, 2/3rds post. I do not see myself as part of the shift, more as someone who outlined a few of the paths to follow. Dave Mitchell probably had more to do with it than I. He was mixing with the Auckland University people who produced Freed in that year, I can't remember Alan Brunton even though our paths must have crossed. I had enough of a reputation to be part of mainstream poetry even though I was desperately trying to keep my shit together, & didn't succeed, & left the country....

The thing that Ian talks about in his review of Right foot I'd characterise as a small coming together of people from different disciplines that had the potential to go on as a distinct entity but which didn't although the various strands succeeded independently. I'm reminded of an appraisal of Haight-Ashbury that says that in reality it lasted a week before the drug dealers & the pimps & the crims moved in. The summer of love over in seven days. Nothing so violent entered the Auckland scene, but the universality of it was over before it began.

This isn't really a question but I suppose I'm asking about the ways in which writing can open into areas which are literally incognita until someone tries to go there. And, following on, do you think that kind of speculative exploration is one of the things the fundamentalists deeply distrust and want to close us off from? Or is it rather an argument about what the future will (can?) be? i.e. who has the power to imagine what will be?

I think what the most insightful of the speculative writers are doing is telling us how to react & behave in an imminent future, & at the same time what it is possible we may find there based upon the current world. It may not always be correct - see my Chaos theory does Hollywood – & there may be many ways for that future to come about.

What the conservatives are doing is trying to protect the values of their perceived past & present. I don't think they're trying to stop us thinking about possible futures – I think they're aware that they can't, otherwise they might try & do so – but they appear to be doing their damnedest to stop our thoughts from becoming manifest.

There's been one of those shifts here, backwards, to Maori-bashing as a way to get votes; like what Howard did over Tampa, & likely to be just as (politically) successful. So: 2 questions: How do you (we) make your (our) thoughts become manifest? In a personal sense, where and when would you locate your own paradigm shift(s)?

How we make our thoughts manifest has to do with opportunity; & in a world that is dominated by a superpower which seems inexorably moving towards a right-wing fundamentalist-Christian stance, & believes it has the right to convert the whole world to its way of thinking, I do not think there are many opportunities left. The avenues of independence that used to be have been taken over. Music - popular song – is now about how much money you can make rather than getting a message across. Where are the troubadours d'antan? Will another Dylan ever get to come dancing out onto the stage of American Idol? (As I write this, an Army Sikorsky troop-carrier helicopter goes juddering overhead.) What books / films/television (now that Buffy has gone) have you read/seen recently that enlighten & carry a liberal message & which will reach or convert a greater audience? Or have you retreated to the prescient Kafka? & LOTR was fabulous but escapist where Apocalypse Now actually plunged you into the burning heart of Mount Doom. Where are the real-life heroes? Mandela is old, & has been replaced as President of South Africa by someone who thinks that voodoo will cure AIDS.

I took part in the Reconciliation March across Sydney Harbour Bridge. I write poetry.....

The internet gives me some hope with its diversity of views. But it is struggling under the weight of porn, & now Google, who is the major hoster of the blogspots where thousands make their thoughts manifest is talking of a public float ... If you can't beat them, take them over & control them. As an example of what a blogspot can do & how it can collect & disseminate information, I offer up American poet & gender activist Kari Edwards' blog  – which is currently in overdrive against George W. Borg's plan to amend the US Constitution to ban gay marriages with all the implicit conservatism that that act would carry with it.

& one person with the power can do things. When I was growing up in NZ, capital punishment was in when the National Party was in power & out when Labour got in. But in 1958(?), when the Nats got back in, their Attorney-General at the time got up in Parliament to say that if the government-sanctioned taking of life is dependent upon what party is in power then there were no ethical or moral grounds that would vindicate it. & promptly moved a motion to excise it forever. Which passed, despite the Prime Minister voting against it.

For my own part, I can only offer up the third link of The Return of the Hapsburgs

& that sort of leads in to paradigms. The time of cohesion for me came probably in the mid-sixties. All the influences had been absorbed & I started to find my own voice. The music was loud & gave a solid beat to march forward to. Certainly there have been changes since then – many quite major – but that was the time I found a balance in my core beliefs. & started to believe in them. & me.

I wonder if we could leave the future for the moment and loop back to the past? Your disappearance from the NZ scene in 1969 was so profound many people thought you had died. And there doesn't seem to have been an immediate Australian context for you even though people like Nigel Roberts were presumably writing and publishing there. Was that a deliberate disappearance or did you feel somehow extinguished ... If that's the word?

Ancillary to that is another, which is that many people who disappeared into a protracted drug experience lost part or all of their marbles - but you seem as intelligently aware now as then - any thoughts on how you survived?

Getting back to the future, I often wonder about the masses (old word), those more than fifty percent who not only didn't vote for Bush but didn't (& don't) vote for anyone. These disenfranchised masses exist all over the world now, in different forms in different places. Sometimes, as in Brazil, a government comes along which seems to be trying to represent them. Then there's hope.

And I guess there's the virtual communities you speak about, all these individuals all over the place trying to open up a space in which something else can happen. What was the question again? Even though the activist stance may seem futile, is that a reason to abandon it?

Okay, let's go back to ’69.

I started the year off at Kingseat – the ‘Cuckoo's Nest’ of the two eponymous poems in Right foot – going through another ‘cure’, at the end of which I came out uncured but, after much machination on the part of others who had some authority, with a legal script for morphine, six 10mL ampoules each day, every day. What that meant was that the hassle, threat, humiliation, etc. of constantly needing to score was removed. I could basically live a normal life. But this upset the police dreadfully. Here they were running a ‘hard drugs are bad & will kill you’ campaign, & here I was getting around the place in obviously good health with everybody seemingly knowing I had a habit. Took them about six months, but they finally persuaded the Health Department to prohibit the morphine script & replace it with one for a much smaller dose of methadone.

At which point I started going downhill, & back into the nasties.

Towards the end of the year I was warned by an ex-Drug Squad detective that come what may the current Squad were going to make sure I went down. I'd been charged in 1968 for possession, based purely on testimony, & had beaten the charge because, in those days, the first step in obtaining a conviction was the prosecution proving that what was possessed was actually a prohibited narcotic. & since they had found nothing on me, they couldn't prove it.

So my moving to Sydney was not leaving an artistic milieu & going into hibernation or something, but exchanging one drug culture for another. My final act in Auckland was to do up all the methadone I had left & flush down a toilet in the Auckland airport the Jena syringe with its bottle-blue plunger that I talk about in ‘Left Behind’. I arrived in Sydney to an electrical storm that had lightning coming off the wings of the plane. I knew where no-one lived; took to the streets of the Cross, walked around, at about 11 p.m. found someone I knew who knew where someone lived who knew where the people I was looking for lived so around 3 a.m. I was having my first shot of Sydney smack. & about to go downhill even faster.

What I got up to I won't talk about, only that about eight months later, broke, dependent on friends for my dependency, squatting in an apartment block in Rushcutters Bay that was due for demolition & infected but not yet showing the symptoms of Hepatitis B, I walked into the drug bust of a friend, was questioned but since I had nothing on me was not charged, only told in no uncertain terms that if I wasn't in Wisteria House, a drug & alcohol rehabilitation centre in Parramatta, I'd be charged with something, anything.

(All the above is something I have hardly ever talked about; & that it still affects me is evident by the number of corrections I've had to make to my spelling.)

Wisteria House meant food, bed, shelter, sickness benefit, library, fatness, trips into Parramatta, counselling, methadone sustenance, straight sex, buying books. I went in with a shopping bag one third full. All my worldly possessions. I came out with a full suitcase, a couple of bags of books & the key to a bedsit in East Sydney.

I got a job through the CES. They had a favoured place up the road, a tea factory, that they sent the hopeless cases to. Apparently no-one ever stayed & then couldn't get back on the dole because they'd quit which meant that the CES didn't have to worry about them for another six months. But after I'd been there for two weeks I managed to pull a pallet down onto my foot which split my big toe like an orange that a brick had been dropped on. Went onto compensation, wrote a letter to my boss to tell him that I'd be off work for about five weeks, & he was so surprised to have somebody working for him that was actually literate that I got a promotion when I went back.

Weaned myself off methadone, bought more books, kept a sort of journal, wrote a little bit, lived totally by myself; & one day saw an advertisement for a poetry reading at the Opera House - Poets of the Pacific: Hone Tuwhare, Albert Wendt & someone from Papua New Guinea. Went to it & ran into Nigel Roberts. Started visiting him & meeting people. The eight poems in Right foot from Gonna Roll the Bones through to ‘The Ritual’ plus ‘The Evening Note’ all come from this time. Amongst them ‘A Season in Hell’ which was started in the first floor flat of a friend that overlooked a park in Balmain. Moved into a house on the harbour in Birchgrove that Nigel had rented & wrote some more, the next fifteen poems in Right foot. & after about six months got back into smack again.

Not so much downhill this time, not at first anyway. You ask how I managed to keep my shit together. I think the contributing factors were (a) I had a job & this imposed at least some discipline on me. The tea firm had been bought out a couple of years before I worked there by a larger company which was sold again & was sold again & as it changed I kept getting promotions but it also meant that I had continuous social interaction with a large diverse group of people; (b) I learnt through unhappy experience that you need to look after yourself so I ate properly & kept most of my bodily functions intact; (c) I went back onto methadone early on which gave me a bit of a fallback position when times were bad. I remember the day I applied to go on it, November 11, 1975, Dismissal Day. I was sitting in a room with some other ‘applicants’ telling the counsellor why I should be readmitted to the programme & someone burst into the room with the news that Gough Whitlam had just been sacked.

& that way for the next ten years, with a slower decline.

Looking back over the above, there are a couple of additional things that contributed to my decision to leave NZ. One was the fact that although Auckland may have started to become the Big Smoke, it was a Little Big Smoke & I was feeling more & more towards the end like a big fish in a small pond. Usually at my readings I tried to involve the audience. Late in 1969 I read as part of an anti-Vietnam War protest concert that Con O'Leary had organised. For some reason, probably chemically-induced, I decided that night to be aggressive towards the audience. & they loved it. Two days later I'm walking down Queen St & this person I'd never seen before came up to me & all breathless said that he'd never heard Yevtushenko & Vosnesensky read, but how I'd read the other night must have been what it was like. First step towards the plane door. The other thing was that I never intended to remain in Sydney but to continue on to other (unspecified) countries.

Michele Leggott wrote in an email to me during the compilation of Big Smoke that ‘the thoroughness of your disappearance is outstanding’. I used it as an epigraph to Mirror/Images which is also some sort of summation. Though one where I'd learnt how to dance again.

& despite everything, I've never abandoned the activist stance even though it has occasionally lain dormant. Being an activist is not necessarily about taking to the streets. It can be something as small as deciding what newspaper you're going to buy. But I've probably written more ‘political’ poetry in the last couple of years than ever before, both as quantity & as proportion of output. Funnily enough it's not local, but that's probably because Howard is nothing more than a lapdog to George W. Borg, & Dubya is someone who really riles me. I have always had this incredibly dualistic attitude towards the US. Which is not surprising because it really is a dichotomy. Right-wing Amerika; & the other America which has produced musicians & artists & writers who are so close to my heart.

Can I just be blunt and ask: What happened in the mid-eighties to pull you out of your slump into junk and how did the recovery manifest itself over the next decade and a half?

The early eighties were a pretty tough time. Smack got scarcer, the quality deteriorated & it became more expensive. Apart from purchase & possession, I still refused to engage in any illegal activities; so by about 1985 I was predominantly maintained on methadone with occasional smack usage but still enough to leave me permanently broke. I used to catch 1 a.m. trains to avoid ticket collectors, & would grab a couple of hours sleep under a bridge near work ...

But I suppose my head was getting clearer.

Lauren worked at the same place as I did, in a different department but our paths crossed quite often. As I emerged from the morass my interest in her grew. She was totally opposed to drug use, & yet she was the first person in something like fifteen years of working for the company that I confided in about my addiction. It was the first time in a very, very long time I felt that I could trust someone.

A bit of an overlap between the old ways & the new, but I was off methadone within a few months, we were married in 1986 – one of the great days of my life, a beautiful day on the John Cadman cruising around Sydney Harbour, the blessing of the Italian fishing fleet going on in the background. I changed jobs within the year – a fresh start without the baggage – & stayed for sixteen years with the new company. Lauren worked as R&D manager for a couple of big food companies then went off to University where she ended up with a doctorate. I went to TAFE to see if my brain could still learn things, discovered it could & then did an applied science degree in Operations Research. As I’ve said earlier I must have been doing some intermittent writing through this time. & then that letter from Michele came ...

As someone who has lived in Australia for more than thirty years, how do you see yourself now? A New Zealand poet, as you perhaps were in the 1960s? An Australian poet? Or are you unconstrained by nationalistic considerations?

I see myself as I’ve always seen myself, a poet who is a New Zealander. My stance is still as it was when I replied to Ian Wedde’s questionnaire all those years ago. I still carry a New Zealand passport, I still try to maintain some links which is why I get especial pleasure from having work published in places like brief or Trout. But I primarily publish in the States with side trips to Canada or England or Switzerland or Finland. I’m currently doing some collaborative stuff with a Finn called Jukka-Pekka Kervinen whose work is primarily computer-generated or -filtered. I’ve always been influenced by the American grain as WCW. called it. The web with its blogs & electronic publications gives me the opportunity to work in a milieu heavy with it. I suppose these days I could class myself as a New Zealander living in redneck Rockhampton & whose writing is read by an international audience.

One final point. Earlier in our conversation you said you did not envisage starting your own blog because it involved 'Too much soul-searching & soul-baring'. Now, several months later, you have not one but two blogs happening. Why the change of mind?

The fact that I used ‘envisage’ at the time did not mean that I hadn’t thought about starting a blog. In fact I’d thought long & hard about it. As/Is gave me experience in it, showed me the ease with which it could be done.

Two things made me take the final step(s). The first was that I needed a single repository for my Magritte poems. I considered the nzepc but I would have had no control over them there, control, that is, in the sense that on a blog I can go in & revise, delete. Also, there is the phenomenon of linkrot, where something you’ve linked to suddenly disappears & updating links is not a task I’d like to foist onto someone else. (I’ve had that happen to me with about four poems, have had to go looking for alternative sites.) A blog that I had total control over, where nothing else would be posted except this series struck me as being ideal.

& I’ve just realised writing this that pelican dreaming came first, that one of my earliest posts was a Series Magritte poem, & it was at that point when I decided they needed their own site. Which means, qed, that the pelican flew first. & the soul music above is, in fact, a red herring. What it really comes down to is "do you think you have enough worthwhile whatevers to warrant marking your own spot on the globe?". So I dipped my toe in the water.

Prior to the pelican dreaming blog – Series Magritte is still me writing for me - I did not write for other people but I loved the fact that there were readers out there. Now I do write for/to other people. I correspond with them through my posts & sometimes they write back. The poetry I still write for myself apart from what I call bouncebacks, where someone else has written something & you respond. As/Is is very good for this. There was a series of hai(na)ku that flowed through about ten authors. I do not believe I am soul-searching or -baring in my posts but I am putting forward pieces of me that start compiling a picture. It’s like a kind of jigsaw.

There are drawbacks. Because I’ve done so most of the way along, I feel obliged to post every day. I find I write blogpoetry at times – poems that I don’t mind posting but which I’d never send away to a journal. & I also find myself not sending all that much away these days because I’ve already ‘published’ it.

But these are far outweighed by the joys of a sense of community. People I would never have known if it hadn’t been for my participation in As/Is are now close friends because our blogs bring us into daily contact with one another. I find wonderful writers through links in other people’s blogs – Kirsten Kaschock’s work at NEGATIVE WINGSPAN is the most recent example. My collaborative work with Jukka-Pekka Kervinen came about because I used one of his nonlinear ‘lines’ as the first line of a poem I posted to pelican dreaming. Now we have work published or due for publication in at least five journals plus an e-book due out from Meritage Press in California in a couple of months.

pelican dreaming is now getting an average of about 50 visits a day. That’s not much when compared to the hundreds visiting the blog of, say, Ron Silliman; but it’s been going for three months now, & the number of visitors has doubled every month. & I think my pleasure in doing it has been increasing at about the same rate. Interpret that how you will.


© Mark Young

Last updated 14 July, 2004