2014 Writing notes

So if you’ve ever read my work and thought, where the heck does this all come from, where does it sit, who are its friends? Here are some things I read in 2014 for my MA in writing, and the accompanying notes. Obvs, I don’t just write based on writing I’ve read. Everything comes from everything – interactions, snippets the tube, films from childhood, twitter, my wonderful friends, art on walls in galleries.

  1. All Men Are Whores – An Inquiry, a play, David Mamet

  • a short play (1 hour), three characters, 17 short scenes, mainly monologues, some interjections from mysterious voices from off, final scene where all three are speaking but not to each other

  • sexually explicit, intelligent, curious, articulate characters interested in questions about existence – my audience

  • why 17 short pieces? what is the connection? When you analyse it, there is a thread. Each character gets equal time. So the examination of the one thing – existence (big questions) vs. the desire for sex (seemingly base and every day, animal)

  • Like Mamet: I want to write something that works on the page. A consideration of existence via singleness with device of exes/breakups as each section. The distant style of people who are not quite real, more symbols, like Billy Pilgrim. Or Whit Stillman characters, Dawson’s Creek – verbose, faintly ridiculous. The science and educated voice. Mysterious use of word combinations.

  • Not like Mamet: Sections that are pop and colloquial, to break up the rhythm, more prismatic, so it’s not so earnest or serious.


  1. Our Late Night, and A Thought In Three Parts – plays by Wallace Shawn

  • his sex plays

  • enquiry

  • “my plays are a response to the world we live in” p.xii,

  • “an artistic object can induce a sort of daytime dream…Agnes Martin’s paintings put the viewer in a trance, while Bertolt Brecht’s plays were specifically designed to wake people up. Let’s just say that I’m trying to square the circle by doing both things at once.” p. xiii

  • self-aware, NY intellectual,

  • contemplation of an artistic object leads to dreams -> “Dreams can help, although they don’t make their points in a direct way, and sometimes no one can say for sure exactly what their points are. Dreams can even agitate for change, or for a better world, sometimes simply by offering people a glimpse of something agreeable hat might be pursued – or crystallizing into a nightmare something awful that ought to be avoided. Dreams are actually involved in a serious battle. Despite a certain lightness in their presentation, they’re not joking.” p.xv

  • Shawn considers his work art. A lot of playwrights do not. I want to write art in that it is crafted, thought through; I want to induce dreams as he does.

  • He says that some of his characters in Our Late Night “may not be quite real”; they may be expressing what’s going on inside the hosts.

  • “A play is a wonderful pile-up of bodies, lights, sets, gestures, clothes, nudity, music, dance, and running through it all and driving it all is a stream of words, sentences. Words and sentences are aesthetic materials, and a purpose which I think one would call aesthetic is the governing element in the book…I’m playing with sentences…because they’re unpredictable…I’m stirring up and mixing up various elements in order to create an artistic object, an object that exists for the purpose of being contemplated. The object doesn’t mean one particular thing, it doesn’t say one particular thing – it’s just sort of there, and you can walk around it, look at it from different angles, enjoy it whatever way you like, and take from it what you like.” p. xii-xiii

  • “I’m a person. Get it? I do things. Do you want them? This is my cunt. Do you want it?” p.24

  • LEWIS (Staring at Annette): “Who put you together? How come you’re alive? How did I get you? Who gave you to me? (He leaves the room.) p.28

  • His final stage directions of the repeated lights up and down and the two protagonists always apart though together. Contemplation of being alone.

  • Like Shawn: create something 3D, an object to induce contemplation; sliding, unsignaled, in and out of sexually frank and shocking parts to replicate a certain level of stream of consciousness absurdist use of words e.g. “And they all came. (Pause) Sally, Billy, Tissue, Cunt, Pole, and Face.” p.7. A degree of staging. Scenes fading in and out and coming back into focus. SImultaneous scenes. Ridiculous social situat to show tension between how we ought to be behaving vs our animal minds eg. drinks party. Long intense monologues. I want to write something “worthwhile”.

  • Unlike Shawn: I’m not sure of the social change aspect. I mean, these two are pre-The Fever, his most overtly political play. But I do know that in my circle of friends, we find these works comforting, reassuring us of our place in the universe.


  1. Bernadette Mayer, poetry, Sonnets

  • love poetry

  • modern language, frankness, female sexuality, “cunt”, “love is a babe”, present, “ put your startling hand” and romance, “ be my baby” – colloquial all in one piece

  • danger in love – “a bomb”, urban setting, grown up, educated, cultured voice knowing about pop and modern life.

  • there is a relish in the sensations and emotions but also the mundane, ridiculous, self-awareness, danger, hurt, acceptance (?)

  • Unlike Mayer: I won’t be using a formal traditional structure e.g. sonnet form


  1. Povel, Geraldine Kim

  • prose poetry

  • the ridiculous, self-awareness

  • Devices: long titling; almost all components of the book are constructed (Author’s photo, reviews, intro; stealing from others e.g. Jim Carrey’s speech, use of bold font; overly long sentences

  • The absurd e.g. the list of characters as musical instruments

  • The colloquial language and smiley faces

  • right and left justify, fragments that do connect

  • appendix that contains whole pieces

  • Like Kim: slang, smiley faces, twitter; not so much an appendix but the device of using one tiny detail in the piece and writing a whole piece on it somewhere else (Bee). Choosing when the fragments connect directly and when not -> when my segments start interlacing. Prose poetry.


  1. Trout Fishing in America, Richard Brautigan

  • experimental novel

  • short chapters, no narrative

  • one connecting character/motif: Trout Fishing in America

  • Devices: Insertion of lists, recipes; use of underlining and bold; letters; narrated as though it’s all true though encounters are bizarre and absurd, “ the cat’s name was 208.”

  • Poetic phrases sit side by side with prosaic sections: “He created his own Kool-Aid reality and was able to illuminate himself by it” and “Fried potatoes and eggs and coffee.”

  • Font is particular

  • It all ties up in the end but it’s not clear what it is “about”. It makes me thinkg about journeying and the immense beauty in the world/within ordinary people despite death, absurd pointlessness, & mundanity and our incomprehension of our existence.


  1. i cannot pretend to be a ghost today, Sasha Fletcher

  • booklet of short prose poems

  • I understand it as a series on grief

  • unreality of the encounters: “I saw him pull a ghost out of his hat. It looked just like his assistant. His hat turned into his assistant and his assistant crumpled up. They took a nap.”

  • Language: clean, simple, open style; unafraid to use repetition or lists: “I woke up… I woke up… From a gunfight. From hiding under a bed.” Unemotional descriptions of what happened or what is being experienced leaves plenty of space for the reader. Because the writing is clean, when he uses longer sentences, you notice the effect of it.

  • Devices: physical object is beautiful – paper, size, colour of ink, font. Very little punctuation e.g. no speech marks, no semi colons.


  1. Cunt-Ups, Dodie Bellamy

  • prose poems

  • text as a “(feminist) desiring machine, its writing a prosthetic device mediating the traces of physicality, imagination, abjection, and pleasure.” So the text as a site of a happening.

  • like Mayer, (and the terrible, terrible book by Katherine Angel) gave me courage to insert, if only a little, slivers of explicit sex and violence and desire


  1. Bedouin of the London Evening – Collected Poems, Rosemary Tonks

  • lyrical (violent love personal) poetry

  • Devices: unafraid of exclamation marks

  • Language: forceful. “full of damning judgements, insults, extremes, resentments, betrayals and irreconcilable opposites.” “declamatory, bold, spirited”

  • “I don’t understand why poets […] are terrified of writing of passions. […] People are born, they procreate, they suffer, they are nasty to one another, they are greedy, they are terribly happy, they have changes in their fortune, and they meet other people who have effects on them, and then they die; and these thousands of dramatic things happen to them, and they happen to everyone. everybody has to make terrible decisions or pass examinations, or fall in love, or else avoid falling in love.” – Tonks


  1. The Migraine Hotel, Luke Kennard

  • a combination of verse and prose poetry

  • he switches from lyrical to open prose from piece to piece, but he has a clear voice running through

  • Language is very clear but he is obviously highly literary. I like this style. References to modern life, exclamation marks, direct questions. Mixes high style (“Lo!”) and pop (“Hooray!” in the same piece.

  • He knows he is middle-class and bourgeois and exposes himself with grace and humour.


  1. Poetry, etcetera:Cleaning House, Jacques Roubaud

  • what is poetry?

  • “In the end, you’re talking about love.” “Poetry is the love of language.”

  • “we are (schoolishly and ideologically) used to seeking something else, namely one of the typical forms of meaning.”


  1. Against Expressionism – An Anthology of Conceptual Writing. Ed. Craig Dworking and Kenneth Goldsmith

  • theory on appropriating, deforming, rewriting others’ work

  • Texts I do this to: transcription of films I’ve co-made, Arthur Miller (one line), pop lyrics, names of famous pairs, real and fictitious, conversations I’ve had


  1. New Playwriting Strategies – Language and Media in the 21st Century, Paul C. Castagno

  • in particular Mac Wellman’s unrounded characters/how to use characters in an unrealistic/symbolic way – naming them etc., Bad English, use of language


  1. Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by other means in the new century, Marjorie Perloff


  1. Environments and Happenings. Adrian Henri.

  • Environments as works of art. Relating to the idea of text as a site of a happening (see notes on Bellamy.)


  1. June 30th, June 30th. Richard Brautigan

  • poetry (diary)

  • “a long poem that offers us its bounty in fragments […] it is a true song” – Jim Harrison

  • Language: very clean, crystal clear. Conversational and frank. Very personal account of days in Japan. Makes the poet seem extremely alone but very approachable.

  • Immense violence and loneliness yet with plenty of air.

  • Some of it is so mundane and not like poetry, more like notes to self. They sit well in as part of the whole, where there are more “crafted” sounding ones.


  1. the tatters. Brenda Coultas.

  • poetry

  • meditation on contemporary life

  • Language: lyrical. Image-heavy and the images are of traditionally beuatiful subjects e.g. pearls, shells, light, nature, feathers, jewels, large lost beasts, underwater, geology

  • Tone is very quiet

  • It is very clear in its overall purpose – processing the death of her friend, the senselessness of it, considering how she learns about the world through objects and encounters

  • As an object, it is a beautiful book and ties in with the tone of the writing


  1. Ballyturk, Enda Walsh

  • a play where the experience of it (driven by language and staging) gives it huge form above it’s narrative

  • mysterious multivoices from the walls

  • frenetic movement and extreme quiet

  • characters making sense of the strange world of loss they are in


  1. Illuminations, Arthur Rimbaud (John Ashbery trans.)

  • prose poetry

  • Incredibly beautiful. How to write of beauty. Longer sentences, big, sweeping pictures, romance, exclamations. Little fantastical stories with characters but he makes everything sound “business as usual” – the “simultaneity of all life”

  • Interesting theory re. shift, modernity, “destabilization” effect of presenting multiplicity

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