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  • makes a claim for the veracity of what it tells It points us back and relates itself to a real world it presumes to remain real even when the essay is done and our backs are turned This really happened it says Go check the record This is me talking it says This is my voice No doubt I ll get some of this wrong no doubt you ll see some of it differently but this is how it seemed to me This is what I make of things and this is what they make of me Essays are what some of us write who aren t much good at making things up for whom the actual world is more than enough Compulsive truth tellers write essays bad liars write essays If fiction at its best is the lie you tell to tell the truth the essay is the truth A more direct mode though not as direct as a piece of journalism or a scholarly paper or a brochure There s plenty of scope in it more than enough rope for poetics An essay tells the truth beautifully strikingly memorably in any case And to tell you what an essay is about is to tell you next to nothing about it I found my way into my writing life by reading and writing essays some of my heroes are essayists James Agee Karen Blixen Isak Dinesen Joan Didion Annie Dillard Barry Lopez Jim Galvin Natalia Ginzburg Tom Griffiths John McPhee Walter Murdoch Mary Oliver George Orwell Octavio Paz Michael Pollan George Seddon Henry Thoreau E B White And of course Michel de Montaigne When I discovered these writers and heard their voices I also found my own And I found my subject the human condition as I lived and contemplated it close to home about now The varieties of essay There are many kinds of essay And the Calibre to its great credit invites them all the memoir or personal essay the prose poem the rant the lecture the letter the homily the book review the character study the meditation the familiar essay the lyric essay the natural history the philosophical disquisition and the rest No doubt I write a kind informed by the styles and voices of the essayists I admire But with any luck what I end up with is my own kind of essay One part chant one part chat If you called it both lyric and familiar I wouldn t deny it Between the news room and the academy The essay occupies a wide and diverse literary geography But there are borders It is both possible and important to say what an essay is and what it is not A piece of writing isn t an essay if it isn t most of these things 1 True an essay is a kind of story about real things real thoughts real people the palpable and actual world you make up the essay but you don t make up its subject matter 2 Voiced an essay is a literary conversation it s someone in an armchair or on a horse or behind the wheel or maybe in bed beside you talking with you halfway toward singing to you about something they ve learned by heart it is a careful but casual oration 3 Personal an essay is a personal and partial account it may be about the speaker or it may not but its ideas and its expression must have about them a particularity we recognise as the speaker s or at least some authentic person s own 4 Wandering like a good walk and a good talk and a good poem an essay mustn t go too straight and hard at its end an essay is an artful meander through an idea or a place or a life or something 5 Wondering an essay is not an expert discourse it is an open minded attempt to come to some understanding of its topic to essay is to try but not to prove to essay is to wonder 6 Humble an essay s tone is modest writing one is a test of character posers write bad essays because one must never show off and yet one must not be afraid That leaves a huge range of possibilities It leaves open the whole bag of what are often thought of as novelists and poets tricks And in my view we ve not often used enough of them I m generalizing of course but we ve written on the whole a fairly mainstream conforming kind of essay In her introduction to Best American Essays 2003 Anne Fadiman speaks of the journalistic academic spectrum along which the essay runs Too much like journalism where as she puts it content trumps style or too much like academic discourse where logic trumps voice and the piece of nonfiction stops being an essay it becomes an article at one end a paper at the other We ve written essays as though they were a less objective kind of journalism or else a looser kind of scholarship We have chattered away learnedly we ve discoursed objectively we ve outlined the salient facts We ve put the arguments But we haven t made a lot of fine and intelligent music An essay can have a great story it can make a compelling case it can deal with wonderful country it can have sex and death But an essay has nothing if it doesn t have a voice If it doesn t have a music suggestive of one particular mind and even one particular place on earth one local genius The reason we keep reading an essay is the same reason we keep reading a novel It s not mostly as David Malouf has argued that we need to know what happens next it s that we can t bear to break the spell of the writer s voice This is as true in the literature of fact as it is of a novel by Michael Ondaatje Raymond Chandler or Helen Garner What matters is not what an essay is about what matters is how It s not the tale that coutns but the telling Great essays can be about great subjects or about nothing at all Like all art Like all literature For all art is about the mystery the triumph and tragedy of the human condition It s about death and how to survive it And it is about the miracle of artistic creation itself about the wonder that art is possible at all it s a celebration of what a mind and heart can do in concert Like a poem a good essay is mostly an architecture of voice Memorable speech Auden s definition of poetry We have an immature essay culture We ve not had many writers who ve treated the essay as their real work their day job the way that Dillard did Not many writers have thought especially seriously let alone long and hard about what an essay is and all the ways one might write one We haven t for one thing published essays as literature for long more accurately we used to write and read them more commonly than we now do I think of Charmian Clift and Walter Murdoch But even then and by contrast to the US we didn t write read or publish them as art Our literary magazines until recently haven t understood the essay as a literary form until the past ten years the only essays you read in the little magazines were critical essays Only the poems and the fiction were seen as creative writing We haven t had many course in creative nonfiction until the past five or six years not many bookshops have very rich or large essay sections We ve not had Best Australian Essays for long we ve only had the Calibre Essay prize for five or six years So it s no surprise that we ve written most of our essays at one end or the other of Anne Fadiman s spectrum We have all the ground in between to explore and plenty of work to do there and a fair bit of that work has to do with the musical aspects of the writing business with the lyric side of talking on paper From that exploration I believe will emerge a more distinctive robust vernacular Australian literature of fact The strings of the lyre So what would a lyric essay be To put it simply a lyric essay would emphasise the lyric dimensions over the narrative dimensions of the looking and the telling involved in making an essay It wouldn t so much converse as quietly rap it might sound like a poem being read well a speaking half way toward song Lyrical writing in a sense is writing that takes a lot more trouble over the shapeliness and aptness of its words and phrases their texture and rhythm out of an instinct that the voicing is at least as important as what s voiced The lyric essay is the essay written as much with one s ear as with one s eyes and all the rest of it The lyric writer uses language as much to sound as to mean She s not merely making sense Or the sense she makes includes the texture and rhythm the life world of the words and phrases she chooses and choreographs Words for a lyric writer are physical things not just symbols or as Ellen Voigt turns it semaphores They don t just signify they breathe One s lyric writing is in part play or dance with words it s a physical engagement a weighing and rolling around in one s mouth and the writing is a structure made of voluble stones The writer s And the reader s relationship with language in the lyric mode is haptic you touch the words they touch you back In the narrative mode by contrast one chooses words mostly for their sense to advance a story to make a case In narrative mode the purpose of the words as Orwell put it is to get out of the way of the story of the point In lyric mode the point is somewhat less than the point And the words aren t there just to make it They are not meant to disappear As Beckett put it the sentences are there in the lyric mode to draw a veil across one s meaning The intention of all this musicality and indirection is to reverberate and continue not merely to report the writer s encounters with the world beyond but including herself the figures of lived experience Significance for the lyric writer lies in the world as it gave itself to her It is the lifeworld of that encounter she wants to resound for her reader in her poem or lyric fiction or nonfiction She is not telling you about her encounter she is not telling you what it meant or what she thinks of it or what anyone should do about that She is trying in a sense to give you that experience that place that moment that love that episode That moment that life transfigured The lyricist makes a work that gives you an impression of experience of the witnessed and contemplated world an impression a transfiguring that adequates it to use Francis Ponge s word for it or represents it in itself she is trying to make a work that participates in and perpetuates that encounter and carries it to the reader She is singing the moment your way And her own self her own presence in the moment or the thought or the place is only another of the vivid phenomena she experienced The lyric is not a heroic discourse the I is not what a lyric work is about The I is the string of the lyre How the piece sounds and much of what it says is how the writer is moved by and moves in the world of the moment the writing sings The voice of the work belongs then not only to the writer but also to the time and place that moved her Lyricism is not just beautiful writing which one either responds to or does not according to its strength and your sensibility it s more than merely a way of expressing one s self It s a way of being in the world and registering the world first in one s self and then in one s work Not of construing or constructing it but of plumbing and seeing and hearing it of wondering and wandering the world of essaying it The lyric is not so much a mode as a stance An ambulatory stance Consider the artistic possibilities offered by the lyric stance in the essay The essay that not only means but sings The essay as dance not disquisition The essay as poem It could be I m built this way but I think the lyric lasts longer the story or the case the telling long outlives the tale What I m left with and I don t think I m alone is not the plot which unravels or the argument which fades What we re left with is the weather of the writing the country of the telling how the writer took the bends Attending to the lyric dimensions of perception and expression the artistic not merely the intellectual dimensions of nonfiction can only enrich our essay culture We don t all need to write them of course But there are readers out there waiting even if they don t know it yet They will be touched they ll be swayed they ll be relieved The lyrical Australian I also have a feeling that it s going to be through working at the lyric elements of essay writing that any Australianness worth finding will speak itself into and out of our essays All of us who write here are in our many our almost infinitely various ways but chiefly by living here or by having once lived here in these ecosystems in this light in these latitudes in these many antipodean countries Australian And if more of us were to work harder here under the influence of the locales in which our living and our losing our aspiring and our forgetting were taking place at the music of the arrangement of our passionate Australian facts imagine how much more like Australian places our nonfiction might begin to sound If more of us like poets and musicians and painters worked lyrically away at evoking the body and the inner life the organic and mysterious material reality of our thoughts and moments and memories and places by writing them from the inside as it were not merely from the outside by listening to the country of our lives and thoughts not just cogitating learnedly about them in diction and rhythms that belong on one s bookshelves better than in one s actual world think what a distinctive literature of fact we might begin to fashion and how much truer in might ring to the ground of our being here Absorbing one s geographies may happen I guess as a side effect of evoking the full and musical reality of our actual lives or it may result from the kind of practice of attention the sort of mindfulness of one s landscape the locus of every thought and experience one ever has that Judith Wright had in mind Until one s writing belongs here Wright felt and I feel with her the way the light belongs and the fire your work won t do justice to the place or to you within it and it won t feel fully realised The lyric stance is the way to let the country in Reconciling lyrically our experiences and ideas with the weather and social ecology in which they occur thinking our thoughts as though we were thinking them somewhere in particular namely here we re likely to find before too long a language for our tellings in particular our tellings of passionate fact that prospers and belongs here the way eucalypts and sheoaks do a language just as elegantly adapted to and expressive of fire and scarcity as those trees On missing the point Lyric essay is a new coinage for an old kind of nonfiction The American poet and essayist John D Agata first used it in 1997 It names in his view a style of essay that runs all the way back to the Greeks and Romans It describes an essay that does very little telling that pulls its punches that makes its points through small and large scale musical gestures and fragments much more than though anything like argumentation or even very much exposition James Galvin s book The Meadow is an instance indeed it was the book for which D Agata invented the phrase It is a book as I say in The Land s Wild Music that puts a reader on a horse and lets her ride through thoughts as shapely and lean as conifers past stories like beaver dams in which a hundred conclusions lie unstated But it makes no pitch It does not even attempt to be complete or neatly made p 251 It is an accumulation of lyric and narrative fragments Rather like life Rather like a landscape as I argue there An essay as Montaigne famously sets it up in French is an attempt It tries It tries on some arguments and ideas for size A lyric essay is an essay that doesn t try Doesn t try specifically to be an essay or to say anything in so many words But of course a lyric essay tries it tries to be a work of art all that a piece of writing can be It

    Original URL path: http://www.marktredinnick.com.au/index.php/writing/more/the_lyric_stance_voice_place_and_the_lyric_essay/ (2016-05-02)
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  • I wrote in The Little Red Writing Book take a walk Take it again sitting down at your desk Last Tuesday morning having as ever no time to spare I stole some and went down to the river I carried with me only my self Read More A Peaceable Revolution Published Friday April 26 2013 Label I have an essay A Peaceable Revolution in a fantastic new book Project Republic and argument for the republic we should have become years ago The book comes out late in May but my advances arrived today and I can feel the book s energy essays especially by Larissa Behrendt Tom Kenneally Henry Reynolds and Mark McKenna and the foreword by Malcolm Turnbull who if he won t switch parties and become prime minister might consider standing as the republic s first president radiating into the autumn sunshine already Here s some of what I have to say about the republic Read More Sulphur Crested New Year Published Monday December 31 2012 Label I m bringing in the new year thank you Kit with a sulphur crested sonnet in the Wonder Book http wonderbookofpoetry org mark tredinnicks sulphur crested cockatoo at dusk Kit Kelen is publishing my sonnet Sulphur Crested Cockatoo at Dusk in his online Wonder Book of Poetry Get onto the Wonder Book it s a treat Not just a online journal more like a communal scrapbook of ideas inspirations lineations and spells And may 2013 defy the omens and yield wonder and peace and poetry Read More Catullus in Hawaii Published Tuesday December 11 2012 Label Seems like a long time ago now but it must have been 2004 or 2005 I travelled to Hawaii to be part of a tour of international writers hosted by Takiora Ingram and there Pacific

    Original URL path: http://www.marktredinnick.com.au/index.php/writing/P5/ (2016-05-02)
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  • the essay with some pictures from the book alongside it they re publishing my new poem Pavane Here s how that ends From the pear trees That stand at my study window fruit hang heavy Read More Catching Fire Poems in Meanjin The Lampeter Review and Contrappasso Published Tuesday December 04 2012 Label A clutch of new poems has just appeared 1 Catching Fire My poem Catching Fire Or the Art of Sitting which I wrote in February 2012 remembering the previous spring performed on my tour of Canada in March and April 2012 and read again soon after my return in the Jenolan Caves has had its first publication in Meanjin 4 2012 John Kinsella has also chosen the poem to represent me in a comprehensive anthology of contemporary Australian poetry being published about now by Desperation Press out of the University of Louisiana That anthology appears soon Read More How To Get Over Your Self Forewords on the Craft of Self and Poetry in Sparks and AWAW12 Published Tuesday December 04 2012 Label 1 Getting Over Your Self Each original story is a proof of integrity a proof against anonymity each poem is a flame that refused to go out a silence that would not be kept That could almost be one s own So I found myself saying in the middle of an essay Getting Over Your Self which I wrote mid year as a foreword to this year s University of Sydney anthology of creative writing The anthology is called Sparks in part for that obdurate flame of self I had in mind and it was launched in November at the university Read More Love is an Endless Improvisation on a Forgotten Theme Jazz in Extempore 2012 Published Tuesday December 04 2012 Label Jazz Or Every

    Original URL path: http://www.marktredinnick.com.au/index.php/writing/P10/ (2016-05-02)
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  • were the work of novelists alone Despite its wisdom and circumspection Life Class is a piece of life writing without much life in its writing Niall an accidental biographer whose subjects have included the Boyds and Judy Cassab confesses that writing biography felt to her for many years Read More A Terrible Beauty Published Tuesday November 14 2006 Label Critiques I wept at the end of The Road as I ve never wept over a book as though I had come the whole hopeless way with a man and his boy death at every corner and no birds singing and knew with them that the whole world was over and would never be put right Then I went outside and was shocked to find the living world still living on out there and I wept some more at the beauty and contingency of it all of it lost in McCarthy s novel the sun in the sky butcherbirds at song jacarandas Read More Page 34 of 34 pages First 32 33 34 What s Writing For What makes writing worth writing and reading is what the story or the poem achieves beyond the tale it tells its music its wisdom

    Original URL path: http://www.marktredinnick.com.au/index.php/writing/P165/ (2016-05-02)
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  • mood the arc and flow the poetry of the writing that endure when the storyline fades Literature doesn t aim to tell anybody anything To tell a story or make a poem that makes sense of course you re going to have to convey some information But that s not really what the work is for Creative writing makes art out of the stuff of life it makes it out

    Original URL path: http://www.marktredinnick.com.au/index.php/writing/more/whats_writing_for/ (2016-05-02)
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  • would already have stood and let themselves be milked and sent back to the paddock and the river and I walk back to the house Read More Page 1 of 1 pages The cowshed I work in a cowshed For over a hundred years my shed has stood here on ground that rises just high enough out of the floodplain of the Wingecarribee River where that river throws a loop

    Original URL path: http://www.marktredinnick.com.au/index.php/writing/letter_from_cowshed/ (2016-05-02)
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  • a lake a range a woman a pink robin Read More Quartet For The End Of Time Published Monday October 29 2007 Label Poems I Too much summer too close to home Warm days in mid September Each year summer comes early and each year we forget and say what happened to the spring as though we ever had spring on the sandstone coast of this dry eyed island inching its way north to the equator And then whatever we re call ing the season goes and Read More Rules for Walking Published Tuesday August 28 2007 Label Poems I Theory I have a general theory keep going I have a rider watch for transitions And another beware false summits II Practice Prepare for the walk by taking the walk Go a little faster than you should and a little slower than you d like Notice the pink mountain berry brilliant as a hooker s lipstick the pink robin on the Read More Lake St Clair Cycle Published Tuesday August 28 2007 Label Poems Casting Walking the other sunny afternoon along the Frankland Sands I heard a fish jump in shallows The sound drew me and then it drew the

    Original URL path: http://www.marktredinnick.com.au/index.php/writing/poems/ (2016-05-02)
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  • January 02 2010 Label Books The Blue Plateau was the first book I sat down to write It changed a lot in the writing and I wrote a lot of other books before I got to the end of it but it was always going to be the book it became once I became the man I needed to be to write it The book is my attempt in my accent to do for the Blue Mountains west of Sydney what Henry David Thoreau did Read More The Little Green Grammar Book Published Saturday January 02 2010 Label Books The Little Green Grammar Book twin to The Little Red Writing Book UNSWP October 2008 aims to do for grammar what the red book does for style And in the same tone of voice It s useful but it has attitude It s fun I m told to read Grammar is the rules for paradise I say in the book writing is the paradise Grammar is the set of rules you ll need to know and sometimes cleverly break but never forget Read More Writing Well The Essential Guide Published Saturday January 02 2010 Label Books Writing Well is what my writing primer The Little Red Writing Book is called in the edition published by Cambridge in 2008 for the US and UK and other English speaking markets Essentially the same as the red book 2006 Writing Well is adapted for use outside Australia more US and UK examples my best shot at US spellings and a few improvements Read More A Place on Earth Published Sunday October 28 2007 Label Books A Place on Earth UNSW Press 2003 University of Nebraska Press 2004 is my anthology of nature writing from Australia and North America It starts with an introductory essay in which I managed to say better than I have perhaps said since some things about nature and nature writing and why they matter so much My book includes my Falling Water about living in two Read More The Little Red Writing Book Published Sunday October 28 2007 Label Books UNSW Press 2006 Reading The Little Red Writing Book is the next best thing to participating in a workshop taught by one of the wisest most gifted and ingenious writing teachers you could hope to find precisely what Mark Tredinnick is Michael Pollan In Defense of Food Part meditation on the writing craft part writing primer part cry for grace part manifesto The Little Red Writing Book is a manual for everyone who wants to write or Read More A Small Manifesto A Speech made at the launch of Little Red Writing Book Published Sunday October 28 2007 Label Books Like some failed but persistent thief I ve lived my life in sentences some of them are my own but most of them belong to other people What you have here is just about everything I haven t forgotten from having lived my life that way listening reading writing and

    Original URL path: http://www.marktredinnick.com.au/index.php/writing/books/ (2016-05-02)
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