This week, if:book Australia is proud to publish a series of remixes from its 24-Hour Book, Willow Pattern. The source material for the remixes goes well beyond the finished text of the book to include the entire database of edits collected over the project's duration.
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Nathan Curnow's The Leak is a cento poem, stitched together from quotes, paraphrases, and references culled from the book's data and, in the process, transformed into something new. The poem is available in both text and audio forms where each reference to the original author has been meticulously annotated.
An interview with Nathan Curnow
The Leak is in the form of a cento poem, a 'patchwork' form of poetry that predates 'sampling' by a good few centuries. What was it about the cento form that made it a good fit for The Leak?
To be honest, I would have used the cento form no matter what. Even if the source material had been music or visual art, I still would have explored fragments as a way of hingeing (or unhingeing) a poem. It’s been a new direction of mine in the last couple of years and one that continues to fascinate me. Using fragments challenges both myself and the reader to think about the function and make-up of poetry. What can juxtaposed images or ideas create when grouped together? What is their power and effect? How do they create a narrative thread? I want the reader to go on a rollercoaster ride that has a few risky corners, ones that will throw them around in interesting ways. The potential ‘flaws’ of a poem make for a better buzz.
How did you go about selecting the quotes from Willow Pattern? What drew you to the author interviews as a secondary source?
I spent days reading over Willow Patterns and circling words and phrases I liked. I evaluated them for originality, flare, strangeness, darkness, humour and the potential they have to be used memorably.
I went to the interviews because I like to throw the net wide and know as much as I can before launching off. It’s a tendency that’s fastidious, pedantic and kind of stalkerish, but most writers have catfuls of curiosity. The interviews helped me understand what the project was like for the original nine writers ie. the issues, pressures, process, and the seemingly inconsequential asides amid it all. Who knows, if Willow Patterns morphs for a third time perhaps somebody will use this interview.
In presenting the poem you have meticulously referenced every quote, sometimes to an extreme level (One of my favourites is the quote from Steven: "or sailing the"). What was your thinking behind this treatment of the source material?
There was so much data collected from the nine writers in the first part of the project that I just wanted to reveal something of my own process and construction.
As you say, it’s to an extreme level. Mostly it’s to show how I used the material, and where I deviated from it, but there’s been much discussion about attribution lately in Australian poetry. Using terms such as ‘cuckoo clock’ or ‘dungen trunk’ is certainly not impinging on anyone’s ownership but when it comes to whole phrases such as your ‘we know that spiders like doing words’ then I’m getting very close to using images, ideas and an order of words that are unique to you and the way you write.
So although these phrases are now part of a larger piece which has its own artistic legitimacy and merit (ie. I’ve used it in my ‘uniquely’ Nathan Curnow way to create something else), I personally like to share where they’ve come from. That’s the reason for the opening attribution to the nine writers of the original project.
What does ‘unique’ even mean? And if it’s a personal decision then where is the line for all? These are interesting questions. But it’s just so easy to attribute and acknowledge, plus it shows respect to the craft and to the original writer. Respect is always the bottom line.
There seems a delicate balance between using source material and crafting the text into something new. Did you have to fit your quotes into a preconceived idea for the poem or did the poems flow emerge as you worked on it?
All I knew is that I wanted to touch on the major points and themes of the project (ie. flood, vase, and missing girl etc), while also adding something of my own madness. So, yes, it is a delicate balance. Words and phrases have to satisfy the poem on a micro and macro level. After hours and hours things become clearer until I have something that makes satisfying (non)sense to me.
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.futureofthebook.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Curnow_Nathan.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Nathan Curnow lives in Ballarat and is a past editor of Going Down Swinging. His work features in Best Australian Poems 2008, 2010 and 2013 (Black Inc) and has won a number of awards including the Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize. His most recent collection, RADAR, is available through Walleah Press.[/author_info] [/author]