Easter, seaside

Tonight my friend Meg and I are staying at Paekakariki in a house owned by the Sisters of Compassion. The house has an eclectic mix of furnishings, and, over the years, has had a series of unsympathetic renovations. Still, it overlooks the sea, which is fierce today. It’s been a lazy Good Friday: I have been reading a few poetry books for review; we took a walk along the parade and then looped back around to the township; we did yoga; we ate some perfectly ripe avocados.

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Sunday long run, in pictures

Each Sunday morning I try to do a long run. My usual route is an out-and-back from the Te Papa markets to the Evan’s Bay needle. If it’s really windy I will loop back through Hataitai and up over the Roseneath hill. The run is usually around 11-14km depending on how I feel. Before I had Sam I used to run longer distances and train properly for races. As part of a training program the long run is used to increase your raw endurance and give you confidence in that endurance. It creates trust in your own grit. That’s still the reason I do this run every weekend. These are some of the photographs I took during my 2013 long runs. There is a tiny airplane in that last shot.

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Back to the mat

Since finishing the PhD I’ve been trying to do yoga every day, even if it’s just ten minutes of sun salutations. I hope to finally end up with a 20 minute daily routine. I used to have one years ago, although after doing a few headstands and crow poses, I’m finding I’m not as strong or flexible as I was in my twenties! I’m not good a solitary meditation – my head has too much chatter — but I know how beneficial it is for mental and physical health. So yoga is my answer. I’ll let you know how I go!

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Tuesday Poem: “Sex Without Love” by Sharon Olds

Sex Without Love

How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
Gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other’s bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth, whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio
vascular health—just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.

I’m quite a fan of Sharon Olds, one of America’s leading poets. I discovered her through this poem which is part of the reading materials for 139.123 Creative Writing, which I teach at Massey University. In 2013 Olds won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection, Stag’s Leap - a remarkable exploration of loss and intimacy that documents the end of her marriage. As the Poetry Foundation states: “Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry” and Stag’s Leap certainly fits that description.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.

Bunnies, bow purse

One of my goals this year is to hand make all of my gifts. I’ve been making the bunnies for awhile now, and basically can’t stop. They are so adorable! I’ve even made myself one. The bow clutch is a new pattern I found online. Although they call it a clutch I think it would be better as a makeup bag or to hold small odds and ends (I have a similar purse by EmmaMakes that I keep all of my stamps in). I’ve always had a fear of putting in a zip, but this pattern makes it simple. I made quite a few gifts over the last few weeks as an IOU backlog was happening while I finished my thesis!

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On finishing my thesis

Today I finished my thesis: Nature, Fidelity, and the Poetry of Robert Hass. It is comprised of:

41971 words of criticism on Robert Hass and ecocriticism.
12394 words of poetry.
Four years, four weeks, and one day.
Many tears.

When my father returned to the US university where he did his PhD, he went to the library to see how many people had checked out his thesis. In just over thirty years there had been three. Since my thesis is probably going to have a similar audience (although the poems have been published in journals and I hope two will make it into my second collection), I want to blog my acknowledgments. A thesis is not a solo effort, and without these people – especially Bryan – I could not have finished.

Here you go.

Foremost, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my supervisors, Dr Bryan Walpert and Dr Jack Ross. Their support, unending patience and guidance not only helped me to write this thesis but helped me to see the beauty in literary theory and criticism. There were tears. There were disagreements, but without a doubt it has been my privilege to work with such sharp, funny, and impressive writers.

It is important to thank Massey University for the doctoral scholarship that enabled me to undertake this thesis. Without that essential financial support this work would not be what it is today. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

I would also like to acknowledge my writers’ group: Pip Adam, Sarah Bainbridge, Dave Fleming, Chloe Lane, Bill Nelson, Lawrence Patchett, and John Summers. Along with poet Amy Brown, they are a steadfast support in my writing life.

Last but not the least, I would like to thank my logical and biological family: my parents Pauline and Nikki for their proofreading and advice, my many friends for their support, especially Matt Bialostocki, Megan Hinge, Mike Kmiec, Sam Searle, and Andrew Smith, and my sister Jennifer Barnett-Melbye. I would also like to thank my amazing proofreader, Margaret Cahill. Finally I need to thank my husband Tim Rastall and our son Sam Rastall for their love and support throughout every day of this process.

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Six copies of my thesis. Off into the world they go.

Summer’s end

The last few weeks have been a supreme act of juggling motherhood and finishing my thesis. Sam broke his toe. He’s teething a molar. I edited 189 pages of work. I tried to run, see friends — you know, the usual things. Thoreau said, ‘And so the seasons went rolling on into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher grass,’ and so the year rambles by as well. I’ll be glad to see autumn and to find out what’s happening next. I hope to do more with this blog in the coming year.

Top to Bottom: Evans Bay, taken on my precious Sunday long run; summer happening outside my window while I work; Sam and I saw the Little Blue Penguin (Kororā) at Wellington Zoo.

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Summer outside, Northland Wellington

Little Blue, we love you.

Thesis abstract

The submission date for my doctoral thesis is just around the corner! If you want to know what the thesis is all about, here is my abstract (although, like everything to do with the thesis, it is likely to change):

This thesis uses two methods of investigation—a critical essay on Robert Hass and a collection of poetry—to explore the relationship between contemporary poetry and the natural world.

Central to the early collections of American poet Robert Hass is the question of whether language can depict the natural world. Hass uses techniques to try to accurately describe the natural world in some poems while suggesting in others that language is limited in its ability represent the natural world. Hass’s use and refusal of poetic technique, and the tension it creates, has not previously been explored in the critical literature.

To address this critical gap, I use ecocritical approaches to examine Hass’s depiction of nature in his collections Field Guide, Praise, Human Wishes, and Sun Under Wood. During its short development, ecocriticism has fostered two main approaches for examining a text: a first-wave or realist approach, and a second-wave or evolutionary biological approach. Both approaches have been criticised for rejecting poststructuralist literary theory in favour of realism. The criticism has prompted the recent development of a nascent third-wave approach. I use two case studies to dramatise the limitations of the main approaches, respectively, and a third case study to test a third-wave approach developed for this thesis. The critical essay, then, uses three ecocritical lenses through which to examine ‘nature’ in Hass’s work, while simultaneously offering a new approach to add to the discussion about how the third wave can move ecocriticism into a stronger theoretical position.

The first-wave / realist case study explores Hass’s use of scientifically accurate names and descriptions to depict the natural world. This case study suggests that Hass sees the natural world as particular and valuable, and that he trusts language to represent the natural world. The second-wave case study concludes that Hass’s poems depict a Darwinian nature by drawing comparisons between human and nonhuman behaviour. While the parallels depict humans as animals, Hass also suggests that humans are separated from other animals by language, rational thought, and self-awareness. While both case studies usefully reveal aspects of Hass’s depiction of nature—that is, how his poems would seem to conceive of nature and the role humans play in it, they also serve to show that both first- and second-wave approaches are unable to investigate the tensions in Hass’s work between an attempt to represent nature and a scepticism about the representative powers of language; that is, these two popular ecocritical approaches are unable to address the poems in which Hass draws on poststructuralist notions of language.

A picture of a happy orangutan to encourage you to keep reading.

The final chapter of the critical essay proposes a third-wave case study, which uses an eco-performative approach to address these limitations. It concludes that Hass uses three methods—that of showing the limitations of language, qualifying language, and the theme of loss—to explore the role of the poem in our relationship to the natural world. The critical portion of this thesis concludes that, at times, Hass implies the poem is its own phenomenon, and that we should put issues of representation aside in order to take pleasure in the experience of poetry. In this way, Hass’s depiction of the natural world is a statement about poetry. The critical essay also concludes that for an ecocritical approach to have the sophistication necessary to examine a contemporary poet such as Hass, it must engage with poststructuralist notions of language. The critical essay, then, both offers a new way of conceiving of the role of nature in Hass’s poetry and proposes a means for the field of ecocriticism to move beyond its traditionally realist focus.

The creative component of the thesis—a collection of poetry—has been shaped and informed by the investigation of the critical essay. Similar to Hass, the creative work uses a series of strategies to explore the relationship between poetry and the natural world. While less polemic than Hass’s work, the poems call attention to the way our depictions of the natural world are constructed.

A central strategy of the creative work is the use of technical language and terminology from the fields of geography and geology. Rather than rely primarily on traditional lyric imagery, the poems use scientific discourses to suggest human emotions and situations. The unexpected and out-of-context use of technical language creates surprise in the poems, which highlights the constructed nature of scientific discourse. As the discourse has become part of the poem, the strategy suggests that—when also viewed out-of-context—other discourses about the natural world will reveal themselves to be equally constructed.

Other strategies used by the creative work include: depictions of the evolved human animal (with a focus on sexuality, mortality, and procreation), and a self conscious use of metaphor and double denotation in order to suggest how we conceptualise the natural world in terms of our own needs, for example, nature as a place of solace, as ‘other’ and ‘wild.’ While the strategies are used both explicitly and implicitly in the poems, as with the critical essay they call attention to the way poetic depictions of the natural world reflect human culture and intention, rather than the physical world.