You can also check out my reading of Wheels Within, a great poem from Under the Dog Star, here:
This poem had a profound impact upon me as a beautiful and mystical articulation of my own philosophical bent. My husband and I traveled to Australia recently to meet the poet, John Holland. Afterward, I was inspired to record this reading of Wheels Within, at dawn, at my husband’s and my apartment in Townsville.
“Are we all interconnected by a cord/twisted from the strands of pure/white fabric no man can truly name?”
Today’s interview is with author/poet, John Holland, whose latest book, Under the Dog Star, has hit number one and stayed near the top in Amazon Books > Literature & Fiction > Poetry > Australia & Oceania. If you don’t win one of the five freebies I’m giving away today (or even if you do win and want to give copies away as gifts), you can buy it here:
Autographed print copies: http://poetrysansfrontieres.weebly.com/online-store.html
Welcome, John, and thanks for being interviewed for my Inside the Artist’s Mind series. Note to the audience: I’m giving away 5 copies of John’s new book of poetry today, to a random selection of anyone who leaves a comment or emails me by going to my website (niasimone.intuitwebsites.com) and clicking the “Email me” button. (I don’t post my email addy here in case of spam.)
Nia: John, you are another of what I call the “open spigot writers,” meaning your writing seems to flow out of you. You are a very prolific poet and I happen to know you are also working on a novel. Let’s start with the poetry. Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
John Holland: I find my methods difficult to explain. In some cases I start with a line and just write whatever comes into my head as quickly as possible. A brief revise, mainly line breaks. Then leave it at that.
At other times I might spend a lot of time writing and revising a short poem.
Nia: Your new book, Under the Dog Star, has a mix of styles in it, something of a range between spare bites and stream of consciousness and shades in between. Another Helen struck me as an in-between one because it has a dream-like quality to it even as it alludes to the classic Helen of Troy story. (“day slides/slipping away/from under me…” Holland, John (2013-07-25). Under the Dog Star (Kindle Locations 113-114). Hammer & Anvil Books. Kindle Edition.) Can you tell us about your process in writing that poem?
John: Another Helen was written as “a stream of consciousness” poem. Or more correctly, my version of that. Almost automatic writing. I did have something in mind when I wrote Another Helen. But still allowed it to flow with the “stream”.
Nia: On the further end of the spectrum, Wheels Within seemed very stream of consciousness. How did that come about?
John: Wheels came out of thin air. Another Helen was written with a purpose in mind.
Nia: I can relate to different modes of writing. I’ve had similar experiences. Although I didn’t get anywhere near Wheels Within or Another Helen, I had those kinds of experiences in the spring when I was writing so much poetry. I love that kind of writing. And dream-inspired writing, even prose, is my best. But you can’t really decide to write that way, can you?
John: I can. At least to a degree. But it is probably not a good thing for most poets. The work does come out a bit disjointed and “jiggly” as your mind quickly reacts to the preceding line. Of course you can revise when you are finished. But I think any more than minimal revision destroys the whole purpose of the exercise.
Nia: I agree, don’t overdo the revisions. There’s a fluidity to the auto-writing that is powerful and beautiful. Thank you for sharing a bit about your poetry writing process. Now, you are also working on a novel and I’ve seen bits of it. Okay… for readers who’ve made it this far, you’re the first to know… John and I are co-authoring a series of novels. So, I’ve seen quite a bit of your writing and it interests me because we are opposite types of writers in many ways. I like to think through and do a lot of planning on plot. I tell you what I have up my sleeve and you’ll say, “That sounds good.” Then I don’t hear anything. Then you tell me you have a little time to write today. Then I get 2,000 fantastic words from you, with likeable characters, vivid scenery, realistic and individual dialog, all aligned with the big picture of the plot. Do you do the same thing as you did with Another Helen? Have an idea of what is needed (from the plot) then let it pour out of you?
John: Yes and no. I do write fairly quickly while the thoughts are fresh in my mind, but I take a lot more time to revise. With poetry you can leave more unsaid and allow the reader to put flesh on the bare bones. With prose I try to add that flesh for the reader.
It has been a learning experience for me to work with you on our first novel of the series. But I think our styles blend together well.
That we are both intensely interested in the metaphysical aspects of our perceived universe is a big plus I think.
Nia: Way to slip in a sneak preview of the theme, there, John! Writing with you has been a learning experience for me, as well, and a lot of fun. I can’t wait to finish telling this long saga with you and sharing a bit of our totally different backgrounds, Australian Outback and California Sierra Nevada, through the vehicle of this story.
Thank you for sharing a bit from inside your artist’s mind and best of luck with Under the Dog Star.
I’m sure John will answer questions if you would like to post one here and comments are always welcomed. Today they are also rewarded! So, do say hello.
Hammer & Anvil Books is the new imprint for coloratura fiction and international poetry from the creative team behind Danse Macabre. Comment on this post and be entered to win a book of your choice from this new list!
Old book, fresh phrases…
A profound, albeit disturbing, autobiographical, coming-of-age novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man takes you inside the forming mind of a deeply impressionable person who feels words.
The audio version evokes the author’s experience particularly well. As a Jesuit education and interactions with rambunctious peers shape the wide-eyed, innocent boy and transform him into an independent, incisive, if cynical young man, you encounter the effect on his growing mind of words — one scene has the young Stephen Dedalus coming upon a group of boys crowded around a desk, in deep conspiracy. They run away and he approaches the desk where he finds the word, “fetus,” scratched into it. The juxtaposition of the boys’ reactions to the word and Stephen’s reaction, from inside Stephen’s head, shows the catalytic potential of a single word.
Of course, poets rely upon words affecting the reader in both predictable and unpredictable ways. To reiterate, do check out Dry Bones, John Holland, for a contemporary experience of word power.
And if you like the talent of the Irish and desire a thriller along the lines of The DaVinci Code (only better), check out another contemporary wordsmith, The Istanbul Puzzle, Laurence O’Bryan.
And writers, here are some fresh words and phrases noted from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, simple words, yet fresh:
A spine of rocks…
he bent toward the lane that led to his house
a short laugh broke from his lips
Stephen’s heart had shriveled up like a flower in the desert…
… his heart folded in on itself
he ceased to clasp his hands before him
The rector paused and then, shaking his clasped hands before him, went on.
He looked at them keenly out of his dark, stern eyes.
A little wave of quiet mirth broke over the class of boys
from the rector’s grim smile
he passed from the hall… and halted before the stable
a movement of impatience escaped him
this welcome ended in a soft peal of mirthless laughter
…had drawn from him a movement of impatience
The following section is interesting in how Joyce conveyed the protagonist’s inner shift, or realization, that his private experience was safe from and untouched by the boys’ teasing:
Stephen’s movement of anger had passed. He was neither flattered nor confused but simply wished the banter to end. He had scarcely resented what seemed to him at first a simple indelicacy for he knew that the adventure in his mind stood in no danger from the words and his face mirrored his rival’s false smile.
In the following excerpt, the “stroke” is from a switch (whip) against Stephen’s leg inflicted by his rival. Interesting observation… the gesture had grown more aggressive, and this fact is conveyed subtly yet effectively:
The stroke was playful, but not so lightly given as the first.
When placed on a page by John Holland, yes.
The use of pauses makes this book read like it’s breathing.
Breathe along and:
iridescent blue of tropical shallows
From Blue Dreaming, Holland, John (2012-11-20). Dry Bones (Kindle Locations 229-231). Stonesthrow Poetry / Lazarus Media LLC. Kindle Edition.
***** SPOILER ALERT*****
A gracious man as well as talented poet, Mr. Holland supplied these answers to my questions.
General question: In your bio, it says you’ve worked as a stockman. Is that the same thing as a cowboy?
Points of clarification about some of the poems:
Tea and Sugar
* Tea and Sugar is very Australian. Some early settlers in the north poisoned tea to exterminate large groups of aboriginals. The tea was heavily sugared to mask the taste. Captain Bradshaw was an early settler who set up a huge cattle station. There is no indication that he was involved in such practices though. I used his name because his grave was on one of the cattle stations (ranches) I lived on as a child. There was also a massacre location we children were forbidden to go near.
Now You See Her
* The man in the poem is seeing visions of a woman. He is alone at a campfire and the light reflected from rocks is playing tricks on his mind.
* Falling apart. Losing control and vanishing into one’s own mind.
* He is a Vietnam Vet. Scarred by his experiences. She is a woman he knew in Saigon.
Chewing Sugar Cane
* There are two reasons for using the term Mango Madness. One is there is a drink called that. The other is a reference to the “madness” that affects people in the tropics during very hot and wet summers.
* The pig’s blood is just to signify that Satanists might get up to all sorts of bad things. The reader can supply their own particular demons.
* Written about the day after Cyclone Yasi came through Townsville.
* Some aboriginal tribes gather the dried bones of their dead and chew white ochre and spit it out all over the bones. The bones are then placed in a hollow tree or a cave. In the end that’s all there is to life and death.
Dancing in the Dirt
* Love that wasn’t meant to be, but happened anyway. Now she is back crying in other man’s alley.
* The dark we emerge from. The dark we return to.
* It is about a drug addicted woman. What she will do to satisfy her craving and how the innocent might be injured by it.
All Through the Long Day
* Days can seem forever in the saddle. That gives you too much time to think about where you are, where you’ve been and where you are going to.