Tag Archives: Project Rebuild

January Pin-Up Week #2: Michelle Dicinoski

It’s Friday, time to check in with our January Pin-Up-Poet, Michelle Dicinoski.

In asking a handful of people to send me their poetry pick of 2011, Canadian poet, Jacqueline Turner turned me on to Sachiko Murakami’s, Project Rebuild, where she invites people to renovate both her own and other writers’ poems and in doing so asks, what is poetry but a rental unit of language? What is your take on this question?

I agree with Murakami that everyone inhabits a poem in a different way as they read it, write it, or re-write it. I probably wouldn’t use the word ‘rental’ because it makes me think of rental properties, which can’t be physically altered by their occupants. A poem, on the other hand, is a very satisfying thing to inhabit, because you can knock it down in the afternoon and rebuild by dinnertime—and that’s part of the thrill of Project Rebuild. Murakami also said that the project aimed ‘to challenge the notion that the poems we write belong to us, that we are anything but temporary residents in the tenement house.’ This is absolutely true of poems, as it is of everything that we make or have. I had a go at renovating Phoebe Wang’s poem ‘Vancouver Special,’ which is a renovation of Sachiko Murakami’sVancouver Special’, which itself is a renovation of Murakami’s first version of ‘Vancouver Special’ .

My renovation is called ‘Brisbane Plain.’

While we’re talking about (im)permanence and houses and renovations, I’d like to mention that this week marks a year since the Queensland floods. And precisely a year ago, on January 13, the Brisbane River reached its flood peak at about 4 a.m. My house flooded, so I have quite strong memories of that week. For the longest time, reporters were talking about the flood height at the ‘city gauge,’ which is one of the official spots where the river height is measured. So for this week’s poem, I thought I would share my poem ‘The City Gauge,’ which is all about that weird time. It first appeared in the Australian Literary Review.

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The City Gauge

The twenty-first century quits at two
when the water drinks the fusebox and the house blacks out.
Now, we raise our lives higher by torchlight
and listen to the frogs’ admonitions:
your houses are islands, yep, yep, yep.

It’s true. Every hour drowns another front step.
Inside, telling storeys of desire:
we stack poems on clothing on mattress on table
(how high is high enough?)
till our histories loom all around us.

All night we lift, and listen to the radio
our nerves turned electric with news from the west.
All night we listen to talkback callers
whose voices ring out in our emptying rooms.
A woman says her neighbours are sleeping

so close, but too far to wake,
and the water’s rising
and she doesn’t know what to do.
Why does the darkness make voices more likely
to win or break our hearts?

Soon it will be dawn, soon it will be
weirdly beautiful—the water a foot from the floorboards,
high-set verandahs kissing their reflections,
six-foot fences vanquished—and soon we’ll realise
we’re trapped.

But for now, it’s night, and there’s just
the torchlight, and the radio voices
and the raising things up, the lifting that is like belief:
the best that we can do
but never high enough.

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Here’s a link to a photo of Michelle’s street taken almost a year ago to the day by Beard Street resident, Angus Sinclair and this is a link to an in depth review of Michelle’s stunning debut collection, Electricity for Beginners by Fiona Scotney.

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Poetry Picks of 2011: Jacqueline Turner

One of the standout poetry projects for me this year (beside the BookThug sweep of the Canadian Governor General’s award for poetry shortlist and ultimately the winner of said prize) is Sachiko Murakami’s Project Rebuild  (Read about the project here) which is an experiment in radical collaboration. The project is created out of the compelling question: “Can you inhabit a poem?” You can go and “renovate” poems on this site and I invite you, specifically, to renovate mine. The multiple iterations of the poems show how language can move from one idea to another, while still maintaining a trace of the original, almost like an elaborate game of telephone.

The project is connected to her second book of poetry, Rebuild which I reviewed here. Her book asks us to look at the ridiculousness of the structures we inhabit and the identities we attempt to derive from them. She looks closely at the city of Vancouver (where I live – think Sydney) where the architectural splendour signifies “Enough failed attempts at beauty” to “Let the home stand for us,” even though “There’s nowhere to hang a metaphor.” The repetition of the structure indicates a civic reliance on sameness built into the visible history of the city. She uses a housing type called the “Vancouver Special” to show how this “sameness” comes to represent the identity of this Canadian city while at the same time showing that change isn’t just always possible, change is the thing itself. In the end she asks, “What is poetry but a rental unit of language?”

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Jacqueline Turner has published three books with ECW Press: Seven into Even (2006), Careful (2003), and Into the Fold (2000). She writes poetry reviews for The Georgia Straight, and is on the board of Artspeak. She teaches creative and critical writing at Simon Fraser University and Emily Carr University of Art + Design. She was Queensland’s inaugural poet-in-residence at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Brisbane, Australia in 2005, a poet-in-residence in Tasmania in 2006, and a guest writer at the Queensland Poetry Festival in 2007 and the Tasmanian Poetry Festitval in 2010. Last year she read at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York. Her most recent publication was from Nomados, called The Ends of the Earth. Her work has appeared in anthologies —How the Light Gets In (2009), Companions and Horizons, (2005), and The Small Cities Anthology (2005).

Links:

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter
Audio from Seven into Even
See list of all her books
Archive of her poetry reviews for The Georgia Straight

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