Module 1:

[William Blake: Satan Observing the Love of Adam & Eve (1808)]

The Notebook Process

Graham Lindsay / Peter Reading

[Graham Lindsay: Lazy Wind Poems (2003)]

Graham Lindsay:

Anthology Readings [pp. 7-24]:
  • ‘Playground.’ In Big Boy. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1994. p.53.
  • ‘Cloud silence,’ ‘Subject’ & ‘Life in the Queen's English.’ The Subject. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1994. pp. 24-25, 32 & 46.
  • ‘Residence in silence.’ In Legend of the Cool Secret. Christchurch: Sudden Valley Press, 1999. pp. 43-44.
  • ‘Chink.’ In Lazy Wind Poems. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2003. pp. 46-47.
  • Interview with Jack Ross.’ NZEPC.

If you've read the interview with Graham Lindsay which I included in the Course Anthology, you'll remember that he talks there about his "notebook process":

"I started writing and publishing when I was in my late teens, and that’s twenty, twenty-five years ago [the interview was conducted in 1997]. Over that period of time I’ve been using a kind of notebook process. When something occurs to you, you have a notebook handy so that you can actually put down some approximation of that idea or thought or feeling at the time, whilst you’re hot, whilst you’re familiar with it. So, having adopted that approach, I’ve found that I don’t really know at the time that I’m writing something, whether or not I’m going to be able to do anything more with it. I’ve got to go through it, perhaps months, years later, to see what is of interest there, what I can do something more with.

At this point Graham got up to show me the notebooks in his desk. The bottom drawer was packed full of red, hard-backed 4B1 notebooks. Above was another drawer, perhaps slightly less full. There were, he told me, 132 of them.

During their third birthday symposium in July 2004, Graham was presented with one of the nzepc's special Tapa notebooks. He returned it to Auckland University Library's Special collections for archiving in July 2005. Here's one of the pages:


she said they get some
weird people off the street
during the writing courses
I said I'm one of those people
pretty soon she made a gesture to the effect
'the purpose of my visit had been met'
maybe she shifted in her chair

Yay, Graham! I fear that I might be "one of those people", too ...

only two or three weeks ago we said to each other,
How long has she got? and agreed
two, maybe three years at the most.
The following week she was dead. That last night,

following her up the stairs (my job in case she fell -
he daughter pulling her by wrists) I said the usual
encouraging things like Shake a leg, Granny, and
Go Granny, you're doing well (she had lost the ability to retort).

She put everything into it,
as if it were the last leg to the summit.

Graham also provided an introduction to the notebook:

I felt really honoured to be presented with my tapa notebook. Stephen Innes's choice for me turned out to be a good one too. The cover looks to me to suggest a cosmological scene or one to do with navigation, a dark star seen over the shoulder of a solar flare or above an outrigger sail.

I decided to use my notebook to present a selection of notes from my time as the 2004 Ursula Bethell / Creative New Zealand Resident in Creative Writing at the University of Canterbury. Michele indicated some graphic elements would also be welcome so I began sketching signs on roads and pathways on my cycle route to and from the university.

I've been keeping notebooks for ages, but I've never tried to develop a handwriting style. Occasionally, I've been impressed when a 't' makes a sort of mast or the looping tail on a 'g' looks pretty wild. But I've always considered notebooks as places to catch thoughts and language rather than aesthetic objects or places where thoughts are completed. I usually go back to see what still interests me to see if I can do anything more to it to make it publishable.

So the idea of making a selection from my notebooks, even though it seemed straightforward, caused various performance anxieties, like having my teaching inspected, or replicating a 'spontaneous' conversation.

Which is why I thought Murray Edmond was onto it when he used a ringbinder for his 'tapa': if he made a mistake, he would be able to have another go. I'm not saying he did, just that he could.

In fact I was given two tapa notebooks, I used the other one to do dummy runs in. (It has a cover that vaguely looks like a handmirror with a pixie face in it.)

I did some drafting on my computer too. Though I often went back to the original wordings and constructions because of not having an open-ended amount of time. In the interim I came across this quote from Toss Woollaston: 'Smoothing over work you have just done is going backwards. Tidying up is the devil—you don't touch that in painting. If relations are wrong you make huge alterations, you don't tidy up—you repaint the whole thing every time you touch it.' (From Gregory O'Brien's book Lands & Deeds). I think that's relevant? Also I roughed out a layout on my computer.

I had thought about making my own 'tapa' notebook using locally made paper and learning how to bookbind. I had thought about learning calligraphy. I've always admired my father's handwriting, he used to transcribe his favourite poems by Chinese poets onto a newsprint block. He had a beautiful hand. I've hankered for years to have a go at painting my poems. These thoughts were all part of that. When I accepted Michele's invitation to meet a deadline though I had to get on with it and so the originally intended format was retained.

The title The Priests of Nothingness comes from a quote, which I have included in the notebook, about these Japanese monks called Fuke monks who used the flute as a meditation tool. As the quote says, 'They would walk through the streets . . . trying to play the one note that would enlighten the world.' That's partly what I think poets try to do. I think poets are priests of nothingness.

curtains shifting in light air

shaft like a lift well
on its side:

at the near end
blue light playing along its edges

the far opening on smokey-grey
star clouds


It's this "notebook process" I'd like to start off with at our next session. You'll note that the tapa notebook process was far more elaborate - almost staged, in fact. The spontaneity of a notebook can hardly be evident when you've done "dummy runs" in another notebook first, and even done some drafting on the computer first.

I guess that's the reason why Graham had provided that semi-apologetic introduction to "The Priests of Nothingness," as he ended up calling the collection as a whole.

[Graham Lindsay
(Photograph: Bill Lindsay)]

[Peter Reading: -273.15 (2005)]

Peter Reading:

Anthology Readings [pp. 25-62]:
  • ‘South Bank: Sibelius 5’s …’ In Perduta gente. London: Secker & Warburg, 1989. pp.[5]-[21], [58]-[59].
  • ‘CLIMATE COL …’ In -273.15. Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books, 2005. pp. [22]-[31].

I think we'll start off by looking at the Alternative, or Nonconformist tradition in English writing and culture generally. This goes back at least as far as the English Civil War in the 17th century, but, in a larger sense, one could date it back almost to the great cultural rift which eventually resulted in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.

Perhaps the easiest way to present it here is as a series of binary opposites:

William Langland (c.1332–c.1386) / Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343–1400)

On the one hand we have the Anglo-Saxon vernacular, homespun, deeply religious alliterative verse of Langland; on the other hand we have the courtly, Norman-French, establishment worldliness and urbane satire of Chaucer.

Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) / William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

On the one hand the fanaticism of the puritan revolution and the Commonwealth; on the other hand the richly subtle world of Elizabethan theatre and Tudor political theory.

William Blake (1757–1827) / William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

On the one hand the visionary intensity of Blake; on the other hand the university-educated nostalgiac idealisation of the working class of the Lake Poets in their early period.

Peter Reading (1946-2011) / Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

On the one hand the eternal rebel: the recusant, the muck-raker; on the other hand the Movement poet par excellence.

The distinctions are not always easy to spot. Wordsworth and Larkin would both look like outsiders if they weren't set alongside such extreme examples of the other side. There is a kind of roll-call of honour which does end up adding up to a complete, unassimilated culture-within-a-culture: or at least the belief that such a thing once existed (or should exist).

It's difficult to appreciate the extent of Peter Reading's technical innovations without reading at least one of his books as a whole. He does seem to have had something of the novelist's temperament - or at least an interest in overarching narratives.

Perduta gente (1989) is still probably his most celebrated single volume, with its critique of Thatcher's Britain, the nuclear industry, and the monstrously proliferating cardboard cities in the great cities of Europe.

Later, in such works as -273.15 [absolute zero] (2005) he shifted his attention from social engineering to ecology.

He was definitely an angry man, but one might argue that there was a great deal for him to be angry about ...

[Peter Edwards:
Peter Reading: Poet]

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