We Name The World With Words

Sydney Writers’ Festival provided me with pure literary nourishment across a breadth of written forms – that at first glance may seem unrelated to copywriting. However, just as taste may seem a given topic to cover when writing about food, MasterChef winner Adam Liaw says writing about taste is boring; food is about the total experience so humour me, if you will, for a moment.

From non-fiction and fiction to poetry, I explored the full gamut of language with Australia’s best-known authors, journalists, critics and poets.

In the session Slicing, Dicing, Writing chefs and restauranteurs, Rick Stein and Adam Liaw; food writer Andrew Lewins; and restaurant critic Miffy Rigby discussed food writing from menus to marketing, trends in cookery books, blogs, and celebrity chefs.

The language of love and infatuation was presented beautifully by author Robert Dessaix in What Are Days For. Keeping It Real: Realistic Issues in Young Adult Fiction was discussed by Young Adult authors: Laurie Halse Anderson, Melina Marchetta, Erin Gough and Barry Jonsberg. In Family Matters authors Kate Grenville, Barrie Cassidy and Ramona Koval told of their experiences on the ethics of writing about family for memoir. While in The World In Three Poets, acclaimed poets Les Murray, David Malouf and Ben Okri wove their spell with the music and beauty of words in rhythmic lines.

Each written form and genre can be relevant to commercial writing because each can fire the imagination and inspire a new perspective that can be adapted, repurposed or simply used as a muse. In the business of copywriting, we write stories for many brands across diverse industry sectors and forms. Whether it’s a headline, a new product or an engaging story about a service, communication wears many hats and has many voices that can either reach the high notes of soprano or be way off key. Take food; according to Rick Stein, when writing a menu it’s about getting emotional meaning into a small space, which is a bit like writing a headline or a new product name.

It’s good practice to read across all genres in order to improve your writing, and to discover what kind of stories lull you. You will notice that each form has its own unique language. Young Adult fiction is a prime example; this age group share a very specific language. Barry Jonsberg said when he read about a group of teen boys in a sports locker room telling each other to “Rack off!” he knew instinctively this wasn’t the language they would really use, but was the result of a publisher’s conservative editing! I take my cues from dialogue in fiction; finding the right tone of a person’s authentic voice is a little like finding the right voice for a brand. Does it ring true or sound fake?

Developing fictive characters is similar to building brands. Like characters, brands have shape, personality, and are all very different; some use humour and sarcasm, some seduce, while others are serious. They spring into life when they speak – visually and verbally. Award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson said that during the process of writing a novel, the story begins when the characters begin to whisper to her. While I don’t claim to have experienced brands actually whisper to me, I love the sentiment.

Poetry, in all its flowery mystery and romance, may seem like an irrelevant or inaccessible form. And yet, as Ben Okri so eloquently defined it: “poetry is the beauty of simple things that tell the truth of human experience.” It’s not all romance and flowers either, Australian poet Les Murray talks about taboos such as depression and autism. Poetry is a way of expressing reality in all its beauty, ugliness and difficulty.

As Okri said:

“We name the world with words. Words have a great impact on our consciousness. They spark the imagination, and have a magnifying effect.”

 

This blog post was written and published on behalf of Zadro: http://zadroagency.com.au/marketing/we-name-the-world-with-words

 

Still Life Warrior

I’m expecting a woman with curves like hills, creamy skin and

ample breasts. We get lanky Terry in his little blue robe for our still

life. His moon-white body is all angular, arms and legs in a tangle.

His only elegance is tapered fingers, delicate as a piano player.

“It’s not the done thing to laugh,” whispers my accomplice artist

friend, I swallow a wave of giggles. The bell chimes,

 

Terry dances and struts in one-minute warrior poses as we

scribble furiously, etching his sharp features, capturing

character onto our pages. He carries a shield, wields a sword.

A gladiator in Roman courts, next reclining on his velvet

chaise longue in his boudoir, cavorting with buxom ladies,

laden with his bunch of glorious grapes.

 

More like Rodney from Only Fools and Horses with Steve Coogan’s

wine-stained pout and greying comb over.

My drawings depict monkeys in various stages of evolution —

knuckle-dragging to Neanderthal. Eyebrows knitted in comical

surprise, hoods of his eyes raised, thoughtfully. Terry has a day job

 

at the post office, he tells us during break as I hastily slurp

Sauvignon Blanc. Next week please let it be a woman,

let my strokes look less like a monkey, more the moody

musings of real artists, who don’t gawk like a gaggle

of schoolgirls at sparse pubes and shrivelled pee wees.

 

 

A Dollar A Day

Every day I drop a dollar in the homeless man’s hat.

The chink-clink of the coin is a sign that hearts are alive.

It’s the dog that pulls at our purse strings. Little Jack Russell

in her pink woolly jumper curled in his lap, head bowed

like his. A life of luxury awaits with one of the ladies

in lipstick and high heels, who bend to pat her and

chat to her master at Central Station. Always a fresh

bowl of biscuits but no warm bed.

 

As autumn falls breath steams in the cool morning air,

she needs that jumper but his is stained and threadbare,

like his life, caught in the crevice of society. It could happen

to anyone who falls off the edge when there’s no-one to catch

them. I imagine my nails that grubby, my hair that messy,

half moons under my eyes that black. Is my dollar a day enough?

It does little to ease my sorrow for this man and his dog, as I huddle

into my cashmere coat I’m grateful for the gifts of my own life.

 

There’s a man on every corner at Central Station, many lives frayed.

If every passerby spared a dollar a day to one man would that

be enough? Yesterday he was frisked by police, the dog watched

helplessly, in her pink coat, along with other voyeurs, wondering,

he hitched up his tatty jeans and buckled his belt. Did they find

the magic dollar in his pocket, the winning lotto ticket —

an escape to dignity, warmth and freedom?

 

I’m searching for a happy ending but I only have a dollar a day.

 

 

Ode to New Year

 

Like the first bud bursting in spring

like dawn’s chorus that sweetly sings

like a baby’s first surprised breath

like a crisp white page, the papery possibilities

of a new year hold hope in hearts

like the smell of earthy air after rain,

like plunging into salty ocean on a summer’s day.

 

Aren’t these blessings enough? Isn’t waking alive

each morning to the sun rising enough to satiate our desires?

To wake happy and peaceful is a wish the whole world shares.

Why make more goals to break by February?

They steer us in the right direction, inspire change,

wipe away gritty disappointments, grey failures,

with the promise that this year, this year will be different.

 

As the frenzied year trembles to its elliptical end

at the chime of midnight, as the fireworks light the sky

be thankful to be here, to celebrate, embrace,

drink your wishes like wine with eyes tight closed,

as if it this year was your last.

 

One Day

“One day you finally knew what you had to do,

and began, though the voices around you kept

shouting their bad advice.” ~ Mary Oliver

 

Have you ever felt like this? What words would you use to describe the experience?

Some More Light Verse~A Challenge for the Unpoetic

Dad in Sydney, our house and my birthday 2007 020

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you read mainly information-based stories, such as blogs and Twitter, and believe poetry is obsolete in today’s world, I challenge you to read this. If you believe you don’t understand poetry, that it isn’t relevant to you, I dare you to read on—it will only take an investment (or waste) of two minutes out of your entire life.

This poem is a shining example of contemporary poetry; it is accessible and funny in its depiction of our ordinary lives, struggles and neuroses. I feel like Wendy Cope took the words out of my mouth!  I’d love to hear how many of you relate to it.

Some More Light Verse by Wendy Cope

You have to try. You see a shrink.

You learn a lot. You read. You think.

You struggle to improve your looks.

You meet some men. You write some books.

You eat good food. You give up junk.

You do not smoke. You don’t get drunk.

You take up yoga, walk and swim.

And nothing works. The outlook’s grim.

You don’t know what to do. You cry.

You’re running out of things to try.

 

You blow your nose. You see a shrink.

You walk. You give up food and drink.

You fall in love. You make a plan.

You struggle to improve your man.

And nothing works. The outlook’s grim.

You go to yoga, cry and swim.

You eat and drink. You give up looks.

You struggle to improve your books.

You cannot see the point. You sigh.

You do not smoke. You have to try.

 

What did you think? Is it a story of hope or is the outlook really grim?

Have I convinced you that poetry could be relevant for you? After all, poetry is (to quote Elizabeth Bishop) “observations in lines”. Did you enjoy this play on language?

 

Park Bench~Poem by Tina Wild

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My poem Park Bench was recently published in Swamp Writing. See: http://www.swampwriting.com/?page_id=540

Park Bench

Everyone has a place in this park

a space to sit, escape chaos, to dwell,

zest of gum trees, hibiscus halos,

agapanthus lined like pews in a pulpit.

 

Up top where the birds of paradise crane

nosey necks, there’s the smoochers

shrouded in a cloud of smoke—

all glazed eyes and giggly.

 

Midway on the slope by the roses and palms

the pigeon lady and her faithful flock gather,

everyday at three she scatters seeds

to the clucking clamouring mass.

 

The freckly lady sits upright eyes closed.

Not seeing the God-given green, the tinkling stream.

Willing the world away, her veins unfurl

sturdy roots rich in soil.

 

At the bottom there’s a stand off –

homeless Les drinking his tinnies

hides in the rockery, tangled dreadlocks

like willow sap hang in ropey strands.

 

She knows he’s there, the girl with the dogs

hears his slurring, ranting mantra.

In the scrap of sun she sits—oblivious,

steeped in spacious botanical breath.

 

 

I would love your comments on this poem. Sydneysiders may be interested to know the inspiration came from the beautiful Ivanhoe Botanical Park, Manly, NSW.

Why Poetry Is Good For You

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPoetry is an art form that is largely absent from popular culture. Just like music or any other art it provides pleasure, uplifts, inspires, excites, energizes and nourishes.

T.S. Eliot said ‘poetry isn’t an expression of emotion and personality, it’s an escape from it.‘

In our fast-paced culture people need to escape; we need solitude to slow down, recover and reflect. Poetry is recuperative; it’s the antidote to modern living but the irony is when we’re in a state of sensory over-stimulation, appreciating poetry is difficult.

Why is poetry considered a dying art and why is it so inaccessible?

It is one of the hardest art forms to write or read. Its value lies in its resistance to degrade language. It is the antithesis of the generic information, news and social media most people consume.

I spoke to Judith Beveridge, one of Australia’s most highly acclaimed poets, to get her view on why poetry is good for you. Judith is the author of four award-winning books of poetry and is the poetry editor of Meanjin. She appeared at Sydney Writers’ Festival at the Poetry and Music Salon to discuss: ‘Do Poets Tell the Truth’ and Real Worlds/Imagined Worlds.

Judith Beveridge

Judith Beveridge

 

 

 

 

 

Who is your favourite poet?

“I have many favourite poets, but my top ones would be Charles Wright, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Alice Oswald, Derek Walcott, Philip Levine, Elizabeth Bishop, Sharon Olds. Amongst Australian poets, Robert Gray, Robert Adamson, Les Murray, Judith Wright, Gwen Harwood, Anthony Lawrence, Stephen Edgar, Jordie Albiston, Bronwyn Lea, Sarah Holland-Batt, Philip Hodgins.”

Who or where do you gain inspiration from when writing poetry?

“For me writing poetry is less about inspiration and more about being disciplined and working hard, but I do find that reading other poets often puts me in the right mood for writing. If the work is good, I feel moved or energized to have a go at a poem myself. I also find that nature is an enormous source of beauty.”

Do your poems tend to be autobiographical? If the subject is fictive is there a truth in them?

“Most of my poems are not directly autobiographical. I’m one of those writers who like to explore material which is not familiar. If I know too much about a subject, I don’t want to write about it. The fun for me is entering other worlds not directly linked to my own experience and trying to imagine what those situations might be like. Jean Cocteau has said that the poet is a liar who always speaks the truth. I remember when I was in my early twenties reading an interview by the American poet, James Dickey, who I greatly admired, and he said, “I think I really began to develop as a poet…. when I saw the creative possibilities of the lie.” He says “I was constrained by fact. I thought if I put into a poem something I hadn’t actually experienced or seen, it was in essence lying or cheating and was therefore immoral. When I kicked that straw dummy down the stairs, I began to write stuff that satisfied me.” When I read this by Dickey I felt enormously liberated. I realised my main allegiance needed to be to the poem, not to the ego or poetic “sensation” and that a poem could be made to be much better by fabrication and invention. So early on in my writing life I acquired the notion that poems can be fictions or imaginative constructs. I do try to make my poems feel emotionally true. It’s hard to fake emotions in poetry, so I aim to get my characters, voices and personas as authentic as possible.”

Is the purpose of poetry as a work of art to convey beauty and pleasure? Or does it have other purposes?

“Poetry has many purposes and many people come to poetry for different reasons. For me, poetry has always been the most powerful and effective form for addressing and exploring deep spiritual questions. Partly this is because poetry is connected so intimately with the breath. Poets know that the breath can act as an interpreting spirit, something which will help move, uplift and carry lived experience into rhythms and tones which allow both writer and reader to feel as if they are in communion and intense dialogue with the world around them. Poetry as an art form employs repeating structures of sound, image and rhythm, and this patterned approach enables both writer and reader to access knowledge in non-discursive ways. Patterns can lead to insights and revelations, which may not be attained or reached through logical or rational methods alone.”

Why do you think poetry has lost its popularity?

“There are many reasons why poetry is not widely read. It is still very popular amongst a certain number of people. You usually find that while poetry does not have a large readership, those who do read it are intensely passionate about it.

 

Today there are so many activities competing for people’s time and attention. Poetry is a serious, high art and requires a level of attention and attunement that some people find hard to give. The best serious poetry expects that its readers will be, as the American poet James Wright so deftly put it, “intelligent readers of goodwill”.

 

The popular arts, because they are produced more quickly and have an economic basis to their rationale, do not usually hold such respectful expectations about their audiences. The popular arts do not aim towards sophistication or complexity and lack the intensity of purpose that good poems have. What we are required to bring to the reading of poetry, and also the writing of it, are many of the qualities that tend to be eroded, dismissed and marginalised by mass media culture and the demands of a consumer-driven economy, based mostly on greed.

 

We don’t value stillness, or endeavours which promote self-reflection, or the art of careful discrimination. We don’t value complexity and as a society we don’t value our language. Many people will say that they just don’t know how to enter a poem. It eludes them, befuddles them. In our culture, the poetic voice has lost much of its authority. In the past, poetry was more community-centred. It functioned to draw people together; it was directed towards the making of community. It is certainly more difficult for poets to reach an audience in our culture than it was in traditional cultures in which poetry was a vehicle for transmitting the stories, beliefs and values of a people.”

 

 

Is poetry still popular anywhere else in the world i.e. where art is more highly valued?

“There are many places in the world where poetry is highly valued. Some years ago I went to a poetry festival in Medellin in Colombia. On opening night there were 15,000 people in the audience. These were just the local people and they were manly young people. Throughout the festival, each event was packed with interested listeners. It seems that poetry is least popular in rich, Westernised cultures where money and power are dominant values.”

 

It could be said that poetry is no longer relevant/accessible to the way people communicate now – fast, imprecise, ordinary language of blogs, twitter etc.

Do you agree and do you think poetry will ever enjoy a revival in popularity?

“The value of poetry is that it is all the things that the marketplace is not. Its value is in its resistance, in not playing the obfuscating, euphemistic, mincing roles of a degraded language. If you want to obfuscate, misrepresent and reduce people’s awareness then you avoid the language of poetry – you avoid specific concrete forms of expression. We know this to be one of the most sinister manifestations of the language of politics, and the obvious examples are all the sickening euphemisms used war-time propaganda.A poem, no matter how difficult its overall approach, needs to be precise and clear: the words need to be exact, the images need to be discovered and apprehended not just approximated, the thinking can’t be vague, the emotions can’t be blurry, the insights can’t be lazy. Fast, imprecise, ordinary language has always been with us, it’s just that technology has allowed it to spread to an extraordinary degree. I think poetry will always be with us and there will always be an audience for poetry.

 

It may be that people become sick and tired of blogs and all the internet noise and turn back to poetry for nourishment and rejuvenation. I hope so anyway.”