Saturday, September 6, 2008

Poetry Session 5: Fiona Farrell

[Fiona Farrell at Scapa (2002)
- photograph by Jan Kemp]


Fiona Farrell is a writer who's extremely difficult to pin down to one mode or genre or even tone of voice. As you'll see from her author page, she's published three books of poems, a number of plays, and seven books of fiction (including five novels).

This session is intended principally as an examination of her poetry, but I don't doubt that we'll be straying into the whole question of "genre-bending" -- what it means to straddle different creative forms in this way.

There are, of course, a number of precedents one could cite. Herman Melville and Thomas Hardy, two giants of the nineteenth century -- and, in New Zealand literature, both Robin Hyde and Janet Frame wrote poetry as well as fiction.

Fiona Farrell is the only one of the eight poets we're discussing in this course to have published substantially amounts of fiction (unless you count Anne Carson's experimental verse novels Autobiography of Red and The Beauty of the Husband).

Emma Neale, though, whom we've been reading as a novelist, has an almost equally strong reputation as a poet, so it's perhaps not a particularly unusual trend in New Zealand letters.

I guess what I want to discuss principally is the tendency (I would suggest) for novelists writing poetry to be quite conservative in their conception of poetic form. Whether the same holds for poets writing fiction is another question. The categories tend to merge into each other after a while.

Historical novels are never really about the past. They are really about the preoccupations of the time in which they are written.
– Fiona Farrell, Notes on Mr Allbones’ Ferrets (2007)

I wanted to engage the reader in a game – because that is what reading fiction is, after all: it is play, an adult extension of “let’s pretend…”
– Fiona Farrell, Notes on The Hopeful Traveller (2002)

I enjoy rough or unfinished things: preparatory notes, the rough cartoon for a painting, the back of a piece of embroidery, the backsides of buildings …
– Fiona Farrell, Book council blog (2007)

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