Tuesday, March 24, 2015

New Margins by Joan Fleming

On the way home from art school she stopped to shave off a piece of her hair. The skin was new under there, soft as soft bristle, a new field of thought. She started meeting with a living room of women, drinking tea without the buzz. They invented hand gestures so everyone could talk at once. This means, I hear you. They talked about all the things they had and did, which others didn’t and couldn’t, like social unevenness was a cause they caused by never thinking about it. I think it looks fine, he said when she came home. Whatever you want. He started to never mind. His never-never mind never minded. He drifted off someplace and left his head behind. The centre of their story lost its centre. It bloomed like a cauliflower. All the florets were edible, dense with nutrition in blank colour. She stitched sorry text on a charcoal face and signed her name. She questioned all the structures. She read dense text for doorways. The fine things she was born with became a weight, she rubbed at her white skin. She tied a set of wrists and tamped gold leaf at their sawn point, penance and gleam. Sorry is an art. Marriage is an art. Art is an art. She stitched for hours, and he was her rock. A rock on the couch. A rock in the kitchen, washing the dishes. He washed a dish every twenty minutes. What do you want? I don’t mind. He went to work where he talked about assets. Losses and gains. Gold and string. Every stitch is held in place by another stitch, is held down. They stayed up nights with furred questions. Could you love me, plus some other? What kind of enough is enough? The questions had the smell of old pets. They cared for no creatures in the day, in the day light. Then one more question. What about a baby? The thought of it floated, it glistered, they could almost hear it, it had no smell. 


In November last year, with poet Anna Jackson and doctoral student Angelina Sbroma, I organised a conference about biographical poetry. We had a great time, with poets and scholars (and poet scholars) from New Zealand and Australia, and so many interesting conversations were started.

Before the conference we invited all the participants to submit a biographical poem for an anthology, which is, as far as we know, the first ever anthology of biographical poetry. The poems in the anthology take the idea of biographical poetry in all kinds of interesting directions. Some deal with the lives of the dead and famous, though generally in some unexpected sort of way. Others, like this poem, are about the lives of the anonymous.

In this prose poem, which is part of a series, we get an insight into the lives of an unnamed couple. It is very much showing rather than telling - like much good poetry, it nails just a few details, but gives us a whole world, a whole life. I love this poem because it is enigmatic, but also very specific, very precise. These are qualities I have found in other of Joan's poems, including those in her fine debut collection, The Same as Yes.

'New Margins' will be included in Joan's second collection, Failed Love Poems, which is forthcoming from Victoria University Press - I think later this year. I am definitely looking forward to reading it.

Joan Fleming is a doctoral student at Monash University’s graduate programme in Literary and Cultural Studies in Melbourne. Her research focuses on power dynamics and competing epistemologies in poetic texts. She is the author of The Same as Yes (Victoria University Press, 2011) and a book of failed love poems, which is forthcoming. You can find Joan's website here: http://www.joanflemingpoet.com/.
And you can read a piece she wrote about love and failure, with the gorgeous title 'Poetry as a child on fire who is trying, and failing, to pronounce itself', here: http://nzpoetryshelf.com/2014/05/02/an-occasional-series-on-poetry-joan-fleming-on-poetry-as-a-child-on-fire-who-is-trying-and-failing-to-pronounce-itself/.

This week’s editor, Helen Rickerby, is a poet and publisher from Wellington. She has published four collections of poetry – her most recent, Cinema, was published by Mākaro Press in 2014. She runs Seraph Press, a boutique publishing company with a growing reputation for publishing high-quality poetry books, and she is co-managing editor of JAAM literary journal.

And check out the other Tuesday Poems in the side-bar to the left.


Claire Beynon said...

I find Joan's prose poem riveting --- those cauliflower florets! The stitching of text on a charcoal face. . . Wonderful stuff. Thanks to Helen and Joan for this week's bounty.

Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros said...

Great piece. Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed reading. I love the questions posed. "Could you love me, plus some other? What kind of enough is enough?"

Helen Lowe said...

I love the way this feels so real: we recognise ourselves in the work emotionally even if the situation is not "exact." This is art as mirror at work, I suspect...

Michelle Elvy said...

I like what Helen wrote there -- how this is so accessible, as if it's about anyone, or perhaps just one couple. Very good stuff. I really love the way she works in such big themes with tiny details. His never-never minds... this captures the mood of this unnamed couple so well...

Sorry is an art. Marriage is an art. Art is an art.

And I really like the titles of Joan's poetry collections too -- The Same as Yes, so good