‘I found myself here’

Billy Kahora from Brittle Paper
Billy Kahora left home to study in another country at the end of school because he and his parents could not see a future for him in Kenya. His parents wanted him to go to the US but it was expensive and a year studying there would cost the price of a degree in South Africa, so he came to Rhodes. His parents were keen for him to get into urban planning, but Billy chose journalism, English and politics. Visiting Rhodes last week he said to a class of writers: “I found myself here, trying to find a form.” Continue reading “‘I found myself here’”

‘Writing is social as well as solitary’

I’ve been struggling with a piece of writing for an academic journal which needs revising. The editor of the journal sent the two reviewers’ comments to me and my co-author with a simple comment “you’ll see that the one reviewer is a tough customer”. This review is nearly seven pages long and feels like somehow we touched a nerve and set this person off. The lecturing tone also makes me feel like an intruder into someone else’s disciplinary home, so the decisions about how to rework the piece feel very fraught. This was the state of mind I took with me into a writing workshop with Pamela Nichols one recent Saturday. It didn’t take long before Pamela’s use of the “Toulminised” method of argument and lots of little squares of white paper with words like “claim”, “context”, “reason 1”, “reason 2”, “evidence for 1”, “evidence for 2” had sorted out this particular fog and indecision. I (and my co-author who was there too) now have a very clear idea of what we want to say, and how to find the important bits in the review and to ignore the unimportant bits. Continue reading “‘Writing is social as well as solitary’”

On Poetry — “White”

I’ve read only one chapter of this book and I’ve had to stop and take a breath and a break. I’ve never read anyone talk about poetry this way, and I’ve never been addressed (Glyn Maxwell brazenly talks to “you” — me!) like this before, as though I am a poet, a fellow poet, a reader of poetry, a person who breathes because of poetry, as though, of course, poetry is the stuff of life.

on-poetry-maxwellSo let’s start at the beginning: this little white book starts with a chapter called “White”. White the page, white the blankness, white the silence. Unlike musicians, says Glyn Maxwell, who write their lyrics against music, the poet writes against the whiteness, the emptiness, the space, the silence. Against this yawning nothingness is the movement of time, the poet  only masters time by mastering that whiteness, and poetry, says Maxwell, surprisingly, is all about the mastery of time (and he does a quick little march through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries with three poems to prove it). “Poets are voices upon time,” he says (page 14). Continue reading “On Poetry — “White””