Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Late Walk, Matapouri Track - Concept and Verbalisation

Limited vocabulary poems offer good opportunities for expanding writing skills. When using this technique, concepts involved must be clearly defined within the restrictions of a finite lexicon. In some ways, this may be seen as constraining,which it is, but it also offers freedom to describe in unorthodox and creative ways. It also offers the writer an opportunity to investigate questions such as whether it is possible to hold a concept without the ability to describe it, or how words are constrained by, or can be liberated from, the concepts to which they have become attached.

A Late Walk, Matapouri Track

To enter, I badly needed
Vixen nerves
The courage of midnight,
A shadow path
Into the hollow clearings,
The stink of den deepening
With the starless darkness.

Mortified I imagine hands,
Feel the pelt forest,
From the fur riven stump,
And something touches
My cold face,eyes,
With sacrificial fingers
Tearing delicately.

I imagine a legend,
Blank heirlooms,
Run through dreams,
The thrill of fronting
A long, distressing,
Hot-house death
A cold loneliness.

In sharp recognition,
A fox-faced sun
Springs into the
Redstained half-light,
Brilliantly red,
Then burnt yellow.

With a deeper cry
My child shadow,
With a sharp history
Alive with her instinct
Of self-preservation,
Sings Her birth-yell.

© Martin Porter 2012

"A Late Walk, Matapouri Track" is a poem written about the Tutukaka coast using words taken excusively from three poems, Ted Hughes “The Thought Fox” (1957), Adrienne Rich “Abnegation” (1969) and Adrienne Rich “Fox” (2001). The challenge was made easier by selecting a range of eras and two different poets, but more difficult as there are no foxes in this area of New Zealand.

Although the limited vocabulary might be seen as a serious constraint, it turned into a remarkably liberating experience, revealing opportunities for metaphors that would have remained invisible otherwise. In some ways, this can be seen as a subordinate of the syntax-semantic-vocabulary model of ekphrasis, but where the semantics and syntax are not constrained, only the vocabulary.

An additional, unexpected, benefit was the development of the concepts by the vocabulary. The development from dark fear to bright relief was steered, but not created, by the available lexicon, but the remaining words revealed an unthought-of opportunity of further investigation into self-realisation, progressing the poem from a merely descriptive piece to one with a moe sophisticated meaning.

More detail of the actual process of writing this poem can be found in my blog "Small Stony Notes and Jottings" here and in additional entries in the same month.

Monday, January 7, 2013

More notes on Ekphrasis

I said in my last entry “By providing already processed material (ekphrasis) provides constraints but also different approaches for the writer and even new ways of thinking.”

One model I use is to consider the process of creative writing as utilising three different language processes:

■ Vocabulary, which provides a lexicon of words as descriptors
■ Semantics, which provides an understanding or meaning
■ Syntax, which offers structures in which words can be arranged to give meaning.

Recognising a framework such as this is useful when writing is based on another art form:

■ Unmodified description of items and actions provides a limited lexicon for use
■ The perceived subject of the source (including any title) and the response to that subject provides an understanding to be conveyed
■ The structure of the source and the techniques used can provide structure eg: repetition of motifs can be reflected as repetition of key words or phrases

In this way, writing can be creative, but limited by the source material. It is an author’s choice whether to supplement the constraints with additional material.

“So we all find the shore before sunset”, based on “War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet” by Turner attempts to limit the vocabulary to material presented in the painting, including shape and colour. The perceived supernatural and accusatory semantics of the painting have been reflected in the inclusion of the observer as well as the haunting guard and infantry. The structure of the poem includes cliche to reflect the subversion of the traditional “victory” painting by Turner and stanza break to reflect the balance of elements in the painting.