February was a huge month of poetry, with the successful hosting of Post-It Note Poetry by Christina Hira and myself. It was our first foray into the world as public partners of a creative or poetic project (though if we’re honest, Post-It Note Poetry is less of a project and more of an ocean with a tide and mind of its own).
This year, we chose to infuse the month with the theme of ‘poets write poetry’. This was all about claiming ourselves as poets, something both Christina and I have struggled with…how the word ‘poet’ holds a torch for our words in a very different way.
Among the possible ideas we entertained under this umbrella of ‘poets write poetry’ was to publish a collection at the end of the month.
We are very proud today, to share with you the very first collection of Post-It Note Poetry, containing the work of the following poets from the 2021 round:
Robert G. Cook
Rebecca Bielik Zick
Post-It Note Poetry (PINP), incepted in 2012 as a writing dare, returns for its 9th year in February 2020. Begun by writing partners, Adam Byatt and Jodi Cleghorn, the challenge was to write bad poetry on post-it notes for 28 days. From humble beginnings, it quickly caught the quirk and imagination of poets and non-poets alike across social media. Many foundation participants return each year to exercise their micro poetry muscles.
Curators of this year’s event, Jodi Cleghorn and Christina Hira, are excited about what awaits.
“I am in awe that what began by accident nine years ago is both a calendar event for seasoned Post-It Note Poets but something which grabs the imagination of new people who jump in to try it each year,” said Jodi, who published her debut cut-up poetry collection, Shades of Paradox in 2020. “Often for those new people, it is their first time playing with words poetically since they were teenagers. For the returning poets, it is very much like getting the band back together.”
This year PINP21 embraces the theme: “poets write poetry.”
“The fear of living up to the title poet is one that often stops me from beginning in the first place” said Christina, whose debut poetry collection Her Webs was published in 2018. “As I was creating the image for this year’s PINP, I came across the 1980 dictionary by Funk and Wagnalls. The definition of a poet is as follows: One who writes poems. It isn’t one who writes good poetry, or one who writes poems every-day, or one who has a published book of poetry. No, just one who writes poems.”
“We invite everyone to be a poet in February,” said Jodi, “by letting go of value judgements or expectations, and just having fun with word.”
Curation duties will be split between Instagram and Facebook with Christina facilitating the challenge on Instagram and Jodi in the dedicated Facebook group.
Hashtag for this year’s event is #pinp21
ABOUT POST-IT NOTE POETRY
The philosophy behind Post-It Note Poetry is simple:
To encourage people of all skills sets and persuasions to explore and have fun with poetry – whether they are seasoned poets or curious souls attempting poetry for the first time.
To create within a confined physical space (the size of a post-it note) as a positive limitation. It is also a way of making poetry composition possible for 28 consecutive days.
To come together once a year as a community to write, read, share and amplify the joy of poetry.
The rules are simple for those who’d like to play along at home (at work, on the bus or in any of those in between places perfect for scribbling poetic words on small squares of sticky paper).
Write/build/create a poem every day of February*
Poems must fit on a post-it note (or be an equivalent sized poem – ie. no more than 8 lines on a larger backing).
Poems must adhere to the original light-hearted spirit of permission to write badly – in which poems can tackle serious content, but internal editors/critics all get a break over February.
Post poems to social media with the hashtag #PINP21
Follow the hashtag and enjoy what others are creating.
*or as many days as feels comfortable and capable for you.
Dear Reader (or future investor in words and magick),
This would usually appear at the beginning (or end) of the book, but Shades of Paradox was originally intended for an audience of three (one of whom is writing this to you) and therefore wasn’t created to have something like this in it.
In August this year, I put together the images and poems from Shades of Paradox (the May-June chapter of The Daily Breath, my poem a day subscription service) as a present for an old friend (who has been staunch champion of all aspects of my creativity since we reconnected in 2013). The intention was to print three: one for Kim, one for Kaolin—who graciously gave me permission to work with his photos (who many of you know, but perhaps are new to me!) and one for me. The thing was, as the book took shape, well a book took shape. A book that took the physicality of the original poems and the pointy beauty of the words and turned them into something else. Something more.
It is hard to articulate.
When I was younger, I would arrive at a certain destination in my thoughts (often late at night when I couldn’t sleep) and I would wonder how I got there. Then with a meticulous kind of reverse dissection, I would move backward through each permutation to arrive at the seed of the train of thought. It was often a strange revelation—long before I knew about phenomenon like seven degrees of separation (though my thoughts travelled in similar kinds of kinks and ripples). While Shades of Paradox was set into the form you’re holding (or considering holding) in August 2020, it actually began in 2015, with my dog eating Calvino and later, trying to find respite from shingles pain with paper weaving.
MY DOG ATE CALVINO
I had taken Kim’s copy of Calvino’s Six Memos for The Next Millennium on a day’s outing to the Gold Coast and ended up stashing it in my satchel with a peanut butter and chocolate biscuit. I’d eaten the biscuit when I got home, left the book on the kitchen table and gone out to a QWC event only to arrive home and discover Smuppy had eaten through most of the cover and had got about eight pages in before he realised it only smelled of chocolate and peanut butter. While it was abundantly obvious I was going to have to replace it, I didn’t have the heart to throw the book out. (I can’t tell you how relieved I was that it wasn’t a special marked-up copy, with brilliant observations pencilled into the margins!).
Fast forward several months later to early August; I was weaving paper for a handmade postcard as a form of pain relief for the shingles which had begun blossoming across my back and down my left side. The postcard looked pretty special but it also felt kind of empty. So, I dug out the chewed copy of Calvino and cut into it; retrieving words and phrases, reassembling them, pasting them down…and my first cut-up was born. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d made in a long time.
From then on, I was somewhat transfixed with building poetry from cut-up books. It was the lowest point of my creativity in terms of writing fiction, and cut-up gave me an unexpected outlet. From single pieces created for birthdays, I started to explore longer runs of poems in series loosely umbrella-ed beneath thematics related loosely to the texts they were taken from. I cut up Kelly Link. I cut up Audrey Niffenegger. And yes, I cut up more and more Calvino. I cut up Jeanette Winterson. I even cut up some of my own writing.
The poems were often odd. They formed up in ways my natural thought processes and creativity would never have found their way to organically. And I loved them for that. Bowie said in 1995 of cut-up:
“…if you put three or four dissociated ideas together and create awkward relationships with them, the unconscious intelligence that comes from those pairings is really quite startling sometimes, quite provocative.”
I marvelled at the way creativity could flourish in such small spaces with so few words. I cut up the pages of zentagles I drawn for sleep therapy and pasted micro poems to them. And to my delight and surprised, when I listed them for sale, they sold! I alternated between 10x10cm origami squares and small standard postcards as my canvasses. I used at least three separate Post-It Note Poetry months to go deeper. I went from pasting words onto existing postcards to making my own. I experimented with sample paint swatches from Bunnings. I played with the form and shape the words could take. For several years, I let it be a creative survival space and when I was ready (though I would actually say I wasn’t ready, but when you’re called, you go!), I surrendered into the flow this style of poetry and creativity opened to be a space to thrive in.
THE DAILY BREATH
In 2019 I launched The Daily Breath: a poem-a-day-for-a-year project. Several things were fundamental to The Daily Breath. The first was it would honour my creativity in a way I hadn’t been quite brave enough to ask for: it would be a private, paid subscription service. In this way it generated a small income but also gave me the freedom to come and go from social media as I chose, which was the second important element. Lastly, it challenged me to show up every single day for 354 days to create (the number of days in a lunar month) regardless of how I felt, how inspired I was or whether I thought I was making a difference in the world (or not).
The Daily Breath, for the most part, was a physical project: where possible, I made everything from scratch. I sometimes used commercially produced postcards, mainly for a particular aesthetic and there were also the occasional digital series (chapter), again mostly because it allowed a flexibility that analogue items couldn’t give to that idea.
Across the 18 months of The Daily Breath, I made more than 500 poems, a large proportion of them actual physical pieces which now reside in the many corners of the world.
THE PARADOX OF A SECOND LIFE
I had considered creating collections from the poetry I was building, but reproducing cut-up poetry in digital form is tedious as fuck (I know, I’ve tried). I considered just the words without the pictures but that felt empty because there was always an interplay between the words and the pictures. I considered creating a hybrid but the photos had been chosen to make postcards and were not all in uniform orientation needed for a book.
Shades of Paradox was a perfect storm in so many ways for reproduction. It was the most ambitious series I undertook. They were created as longer, thinner pieces, where the photograph was only pasted at the top and was lifted to reveal a longer poem behind. In the space below the photograph, a short poem appeared. It took me more than two hours to make these every day. While the world hunkered down mid-pandemic and then howled with injustice and erupted in violence across late May and into June, I turned up and found solace in the daily practice as my own trauma bubbled to the surface and ate away at my desire to be here.
All my poems mean something to me, but the poems for Shades of Paradox were more. They were my anchor to stay here when my tired heart really wanted to leave. And as others urged for me to give these particular second life, it was almost a way of inviting myself into transforming the difficulties I’d found in making them: of putting the world ‘trauma’ around my experiences since late 2012.
It was early August, late one night and there were so many reasons why the words and photos I started to assemble in Indesign could have been a hot mess, but there is magick in this collection. It created itself. And when I got parts of it horribly wrong, it pivoted itself into a better fit. And then again, when I returned to my (disappointingly imperfect) proof copies a few months after they arrived. I dug into the poems in a new way so they could be the best possible poems, letting go of the need for them to accurate reproductions of the original, and in doing so, releasing them to be what they wanted to be. So, for anyone who owns an original Shades of Paradox poem, you are more likely than not to see your poem in a different rendering here. Or perhaps yours is untouched.
If nothing else, 2020 has shown us how the concreteness of stability, order and structure is an illusion. The world we live in is far more complex and simple than we thought it was. It is freer moving and more stubbornly resistant than we gave it credit for. The words of Shades of Paradox held me in the most patient and comforting of ways when I was falling apart. The words, the poems and the images exist in the light and the dark, and I believe there is a mercurial nature to them, so they are in no way firmly fixed in either, but have the capacity to morph to be what they need to be for you, in any particular minute of any particular day.
For that reason, it is a wee book, perfect to be tucked away in handbags and satchels, to be ready to hand when you might need it most. My hope is you too find a gift in these words as I did; where they can hold a space, and hold you, in the extreme of times and in all the shades between.
Kaolin Fire for giving me access to his photos and then bringing his friends to the part to find this book.
Jeanette Winterson for writing the original text of Art and Lies which provided a rich and varied pool of words to work with (and now that I have thoroughly gutted it for my art I can get a second copy and actually read it).
The Daily Breath Subscribers who made it possible for me to build the poems.
Devin Watson who many, many, years ago sent me a wiki article about block-out poetry (and its variants) saying: I think this might interest you.
Christina Hira and Kim Roberts who agitated (successfully it turns out) for these to find a wider audience than the original one they were created for.
Kate Wildrick and my group of magickal women who have helped open new ways of thinking, feeling and dreaming to allow this work to move out into the world in vastly different ways.
Adam and Rus, for their love and support which creates the unique container here at The JAR Writers’ Collective to put works like this into the world and who are quite simply exceptional humans which I have the very good fortune to call friends and collaborators.
And finally Dave, Dylan and Smuppy who are the best home-base a creative soul could ever ask for, especially when they (well, those with opposable thumbs) take the inevitable deluge of word fragments across the house with the good grace of an opportunity to make their own ‘floor poetry’.
As we ease back into JAR blogging, and while uncertainty and profound change swirls around us in eddies, we have decided to explore the maxim: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
Today, something old.
There is comfort in the old and I like that (even when I am always wanting to rush forth into the new or novel). I was reminded of that this week when it was finally cool enough to pull out my favourite jumper. But this isn’t an article about how much I love that jumper or how it drags up memories which have not been entirely laid to rest.
My “old” is two fold; both are forms of retreat.
The first is my poetry; a retreat in terms of space for daily moving meditation. My tools of quiet are scissors, glue, fragments of book text, cardboard, photos and a willingness to let go and allow poetry to form up through the text. This is where I can be most free and held at the same time. Where I can be true to myself but also in service to others.
Spark and Essence #19 Jodi Cleghorn 📸 Michael Rogers 📖 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
My second retreat is a formal commitment to silence and withdrawal. This has been a decision to delete my social media and messaging apps. I am in digital seclusion and I have not been more at peace in a long time.
Silence has extended to music, podcasts and recorded classes. There has been nothing but bird song and the intense symphony of multiple small children in my corner of suburbia and their emotional state in any given five-minute block.
Digital seclusion is a stillness, solitude, silence and simplicity I know well though it has been more than a year since I have retreated like this. I am not at all surprised to find myself here.
Spark and Essence #13 Jodi Cleghorn 📸 Chu Son 📖 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Both are old, but unlike my jumper, neither are worn or pulled out of shape, no matter how much time I spend in them.
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief All kill for inspiration and sing about the grief.
So sang Bono in “The Fly,” the first single from the album Achtung Baby, an album which, in sound, was a radical departure from The Joshua Tree, the album that made them stratospheric rockstars. Both albums are brilliant in their own way.
I like the old for the anchor that it can serve in our lives. The old can be a sense of certainty, a foundation, a building block. The old can be the rituals and traditions of family, the liturgy and recitation of beliefs forming the locus for who we are and what we are. The old becomes the central tenets we adhere to.
The old is what we are an apprentice to. We learn from the old, the ancient, the wise who have travelled before us and said, “This is what I have found” in their voices of poetry, music, dance, philosophy, faith.
When we have learned enough to not be ignorant, but too little to be wise, we draw the anchor, relocate our position and fix ourselves to a new point to see how far we have travelled, or moved away from, in our own individual transformation and development, perhaps seeing those fixed points we used as our focal point in a different way. As another constellation to map our progress.
And in all this we return to the maxims and mantras of the masters, the proverbs and parables of the prophets, and understand them in a new way. It means returning to what was our first love, our awareness of what some would call vocation, or ministry, or calling, the idea that initially sparked our pilgrim’s progress.
I like tradition for the symbolism and meaning it conveys but I look for ways that the old can be communicated for the new, in order that I may point them back to the old. As a teacher, I teach not to draw attention to myself, but to help students focus on what has come before them, to help them understand how to create their own foundations.
Our lifetimes provide us with more moments and memories than we know what to do with. Sometimes, we hold on to the older moments that keep us prisoners to our past, where we allow regret or desperation to grip us in our present. They are tempting, though, aren’t they? They lull us into “what-ifs” that make us believe the past is still attainable.
It is not.
What we are afforded from our past, however, are moments of great strength that serve us in different ways now. For me, that’s time spent living in a cabin along the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Instead of letting the “what-ifs” grip me, I embrace the still-present smells of the cool brackish waters mingling with the clays of the ancient cliffs around me, the sounds of a low-flying heron looking for a sunrise snack, the feeling of cold grains of wet sand formed around my feet like customized, natural sandals protecting me from the pin-pricks of fossilized teeth, lost millions of years ago by the sharks that inhabited these waters.
When I first experienced these things 33 years ago, I savored them for the moments in which they were born, and sometimes with the people with whom I so graciously shared them; today, though, I cherish the tranquility and solitude they bring me in the most hectic of hours; they bring peace to a present that is often far from the days living in a hand-built cabin in southern Maryland.
From this that is old, I do not wallow in regret; I bask in the glow of experiences gained to sustain my balance, my peace, on this long journey that carries me decades beyond those first hours spent along the shores of Chesapeake Bay, where I pondered my own existence among the cliffs that held fossils millions and millions of years old.
We are gifted with what is old; we are lifted by what we take from it.