It's like vomiting on the page, and I go back and pick up the bits that are still solid, so that I can feed them to other people.
Miles Merrill describes his writing process, noting too, that when you write the feeling comes from your head and moves downward, but when you perform, the feeling comes right up through your feet.
It was the Meet the Poets: Crossing the Line session at the Ubud Writers' and Readers' Festival, and it brought together four poets to strut their stuff and talk about their writing process, whether they can make a living from poetry, and why they chose to perform their work.
Merrill (billed as "Australia's spoken word tour de Force", but actually born in Chicago) described how he came to performance poetry via music, writing lyrics for a band. Now he say he makes a decent living touring with spoken word events (he has even performed at the Sydney Opera House and you can't get more artistically kosher than that!). There's much good stuff on his website, including a piece called Rain Song which he performed in this session.
Wiramadinata (below) has been a journalist at Harian Serambi Indonesia and has written for and edited a variety of other publications. Now he works in the coalition of Human rights NGO's in Aceh.
He found though that poetry finds a way to express what cannot be said in journalism. He read a very moving poem which he had written after the tsunami: How it Shames Me to Write Poetry. Here's the translation of the first part on the screen:
Tusiata Avia describes herself as "a poet, performer, and world traveller", she is a New Zealander of Samoan descent, and her first collection of poetry was Wild Dogs Under My Skirt from which she performed several pieces at the festival. I loved the voices they evoked. Here's one we heard: Alofa.
She says that she feels the label "performance poet" doesn't really fit how she writes:
Everything starts on the page for me, and then I see what will make it to stage.Angelo Suarez from the Philippines is already an award-winning poet at 23, and works as a copywriter for Saatchi and Saatchi. Isn't that an uncomfortable compromise? No. His eyes grow huge with enthusiasm as he describes his day-job and the way it enables him to work across media, blending words, image and sound:
Advertising is ... so fucking everywhere!he exclaims.
He reckons that people tend to forget that poetry is fun, and did all he could in this session to remind us of the fact.
With his first piece he literally roped in the audience!
He asked for two volunteers, gave a dictionary to one woman, asked another to count slowly out loud for two minutes.
Starting from a word given by another audience member, the dictionary reader read one entry, and then took the last word of that entry find as the starting point for the next entry to be read, and so on, creating a chain of definitions over the chanting of numbers.
Meanwhile Suarez took a large ball of pink plastic string and began wrapping it around as many members of the audience as he could in that two minutes! And he managed to get us all bound together (as in the blurry picture below)!
And talk about life imitating art.
The next day I was wandering along the main shopping drag in Ubud and I saw a whole line of people on the curb holding a long black rope made of rubber.
I wondered if Angelo's performance poetry had come to the street, and was listening out for someone reading from a dictionary but didn't hear anything.
Then I thought maybe it's an ancient Balinese custom, since the street always seems to be busy with people carrying out one ceremony or other for the gods. Maybe this was a traditional ritual to bind people together?
It turned out to be neither. A role of rope had fallen off the back of a truck and become unravelled. Everyone had stopped to help the driver straighten it out so that he could wind it up again!