Monday, December 19, 2011

Taking the salt cellar

Early mornings are the best time for scanning the patient. I can lie in bed and go through what needs to be written, what needs to be moved where. Does this part need to go right at the beginning, or towards the end?

This reminded me of Lily Briscoe, the painter in To The Lighthouse, and her moment of epiphany in the middle of dinner.

In a flash she saw her picture and thought, Yes, I shall put the tree further in the middle; then I shall avoid that awkward space. That's what I shall do. That's what has been puzzling me. She took up the salt cellar and put it down again on a flower in pattern in the table-cloth, so as to remind herself to move the tree.

Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse (1927)

More than anything else, I think this novel is about the pleasures and problems of creation. It's a book about writing a book (the one that's being written), and the way memory and time works on the imagination.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Things fall apart

My Macquarie Dictionary:

It's not my oldest book, but it's probably my most used one, and one of the most decrepit, considering its age, less than 20 years.

I really should get a new one, but I like things that are falling apart (I sit here writing this in a t shirt at least 15 years old, coming apart at the neck, full of holes, and not fit to be seen in in public  - though I have worn it shopping in Lismore recently - I didn't like it nearly as much when it was new.)

So I stick with my old Macquarie.

One of the reasons I like it is that I've put flowers and leaves between its pages, mostly at the appropriate spot. There's a violet from the garden

Magnolia leaves

and a gum leaf

which I don't think is in the right spot. Oh well...

A little flying insect has also insinuated itself between the pages somehow and somewhere (not my doing - I wouldn't kill an insect) - I come across it now and then, and it looks very pretty, but I don't know where it positioned itself, so can't take a picture.

But I love dictionaries, and the Macquarie is Australian - you'll find words like wop and hoon.

We got a Scrabble dictionary so that the Macquarie wouldn't get such a work-out - it's also falling apart, but I don't love it. The Mac still gets consulted now and then, as the Scrabble one doesn't have rude words, or much Australian slang.

My favourite word: quim. Oh, look it up, Hortensia.  A clue: the Scrabble dictionary doesn't have it. The only place I've seen it used is in a novel by John Banville.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Trying to Catch the Voice

My Wrappings is falling apart.

In the 1970s, the book Wrappings, by Vicki Viidikas was a must-have for a young feminist in the inner-west of Sydney, along with several Joni Mitchell LPs, The Dialectic of Sex, by Shulamith Firestone, and various other cultural artefacts.

But Vicki Viidikas (1948-1998) was closer to us than all the others. She was our contemporary, she lived in Sydney, and she wrote about the sorts of places and people that we were familiar with, in uncensored language and indeed, thought.

 (Did I ever meet her? I think she may have answered the door of a house I was visiting, once. The 70s was like that. )

 Viidikas wrote poetry, and things that she called 'pieces' and things that could be short stories. Or not.

I'm  not quite sure when it was, the first time I wanted to say something about myself, that I was quite definite I had to speak, and someone would listen. Whenever it was it was early, I wanted to run into the darkness and start talking to the night, standing in that black tent, a voice in dark veils, imagining an answer. Or walking about in daylight addressing myself to the sunshine, calling out as it drew me out, to be turned like a mute thing, to be cooked and gone brown. Maybe it was the trees I imagined had ears, putting my arms round their knobbly trunks, laying my face against their skin as they stood there tall messengers.

Vicki Viidikas, 'Trying to Catch the Voice', in Wrappings (Wild and Woolley, 1974)

Some of her words make me laugh. Look at the imagery and brilliant economy in this sentence:

"They made love that night like crocodiles on a rampage, and again in the morning before she went to work." (in 'It's just the Full Moon')

and others I know by heart, the way you never forget a line of poetry :

"I am not making love at the time of writing this story, in fact it's been some time since I felt any sunlight streaming through the skin." ('The Incomplete Portrait')

Her work is funny, angry, gutsy and real - and it will last. She is someone who certainly caught her own voice. She is brilliant and inimitable.

Fortunately, for those not around to get their own copy of Wrappings in the 70s, a selection of her work, some of it previously unpublished, was published last year.  Vicki Viidikas: New and Rediscovered.

There's a review here.

New and Rediscovered contains many of her poems, including her first published poem, at the age of 19, 'At East Balmain'.

I love this from it:

A hermit dog lives here, in a burnt-out boiler turning
orange. He stays inside all day - I've seen his eyes
glint in the dark, he is huge and black and solemn.

What a noticer she is, what strength of writing, and what compassion.

Finally, I'll let the page speak for itself, as it always does.

'The page should fuck back': from 'The Incomplete Portrait'