JJ: Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about Death in Venice lately, as both novella and film, for various obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, and the links not simply to plague and decay and the city of Venice itself, but to eros, ideas of beauty and, as you say, aesthetics. I can hear that Adagietto from the Mahler 5th floating out before me sometimes as things appear to trickle away, decompose.
But to get back to the book. Definitely, it’s the way A History of What I’ll Become came together, or how it came to fit together that I’m happiest with. As I intimated before, it was a structure I very loosely planned then figured out more in the doing. But I was also allowing a freedom of association, of form and theme, to unfold where it would. In fact, I upped the ante on a manuscript that had floated around just a little fairly recently but needed more work, apparently and obviously. I had some extended leave to work on a project so I went for it.
Someone said to me that it has a kind of libidinal drive, which was a reaction I was hoping for, so in another space and time, the discussion about poetry and sex would be good to continue. There are certainly some bodily obsessions in there – clothes, dreams, sex, death. And also, the Sapphic – not only in the sexual sense, but the idea of the lyric as both intimate and social. Sappho’s poems were public performances – hymns, wedding songs – as well as reflections of more private-seeming moments.
I became focused on ideas around decay – in a cellular sense as well as a sonic sense – which leads into recomposing (that compost idea, I guess). So, as well as the collaging and sampling, there are poems that take over other poems. Or poems unravel or present as different versions of themselves. Because I’m just a touch not-young anymore (OK, who am I kidding, I’m simply much older), I think a lot about how bodies and places unravel, so I did some pre-emptive unravelling. The formal devices, of course, all gesture to composing and recomposing. I played around with a lot of modulations, hence the fragmented symphony idea, if you like. Thinking of that phrase in pinky swear, ‘drowning in stimuli’, makes me think of how we’re in the midst of a kind of paratactic anxiety. I wanted to allow ideas of metamorphosis and remaking some free rein, intensely, cheekily but generatively. I leave it to others to decide if it works.
I wanted also to rethink some much older material that had been written, even published, over a decade ago, in my Sydney years. Some of them were poems which had never seemed to fit into other books. I revised and repositioned them.
Someone also suggested the book was a bit punk as well. If a reader out there also finds some EMO flashes, a little disco glamour, and some classical, syncopated or improvisational moments as well, I’ll be pleased. Or if it just sets off a few ideas and emotions. And in it, there’s the beginning of ideas I’m working further on, ideas around mistranslation, the poem as monster, of maps of emotions, a few other less well-formed thoughts. Inevitably, those ideas will shift or fall away. Nothing stays the same.
Thanks, Claire, for the questions and thinking around manuscripts, in particular. In my line of work, I talk a lot to others about their manuscripts, not about my own so much. Here’s to a future somewhere down the track where we may meet again in the real grit of one city or another to talk some more.