Monday, January 2, 2017

A month on Project 366 - soon to be between covers

Hi. I'm Melinda and it has been eight months since I posted regularly to Project 366.

I was a guest during April 2016 (here is my first post and here is my last) and came back for one cheeky festive season post on 6th December. I figured I should come here to the meta-blog and do a reflection on my experience before the whole thing receded any further into the past.

Looking back over 2016 I am amazed and gratified by how helpful that frenetic month of daily draft-posting in April was, and I want to thank Kit and everyone here for making such a stimulating and safe space for the sharing of new work. More than half the drafts I started here in April 2016 have gone on to become poems in my new book Goodbye, Cruel (out in April 2017 with Pitt St Poetry). And of course Project 366 gets a special credit in the book's acknowledgements.

I must admit I was apprehensive about joining Project 366, even for a mere 30 days. This was because I had just completed an exhausting project writing 365 micropoems in response to 365 photographs of the sky by artist Rhonda Ayliffe  (one taken every day of 2015). It had been a huge effort completing all the micropoems in time for the festival where our photo+poem installation was to be premiered (in March 2016), and I had vowed never to do deadline-driven daily creation ever again. But I knew and admired several poets on the project and was impressed with the range of work appearing here - and so somehow I allowed myself to be convinced.

(If you are curious about the sky photographs project, you can check it out on instagram @lookup.project - we will be sharing each photo+poem pair there in real time, each day of 2017)

My first few posts on the Project 366 blog back in April were simple exercises in play, trying to respond poetically to various photographs I had taken. I added a layer of experimentation, using an app called Phonto to overlay poem text directly onto the photographs, with mixed results. Some of these poems (those that could work well without the pictures that inspired them) have ended up in a light, playful section of my new book (the title of the section is 'Tiny Carnivals').

Also in that section of the book is a poem (called 'pine') intimately connected to this blog: a cento composed of lines from all the other posts that had been made so far on 8 April 2016 by the time I composed it. I did ask permission from every poet whose lines I used (not wishing to repeat any plagiarism scandals!). Check out the 8th April draft of pine here. The (fully credited) version which will appear in the book has not changed much from this draft. It began as a simple wish to pay homage to the collegiate and positive atmosphere of exchange and encouragement on the blog, but ended up a good enough poem to make the final cut. For which kudos (and thanks) is obviously due to all the Project 366 poets who wrote its constituent lines: Andrew Burke, Jeltje Fanoy, Lies Van Gasse, Brian Purcell, Robert Verdon, Anne Walsh, Lizz Murphy, Coral Carter, and Sue Rawlinson for her picture posted that day.

Moving on from the earlier 'exercise' - type work, the pressure of the daily deadline soon forced me to tackle more difficult poems which I had been subconsciously putting off. One example was a group of poems inspired by 10th-century Persian poetess Rabi'a Balkhi - including a dramatic monologue and a translation of one of her ghazals. I had done the prepatory research and had had discussions with the incredibly helpful Omid Behbahani and Abolhassan Tahami, who had provided literal translations of some of Rabi'a's work. But I had become daunted by the task of trying to get inside the head of the poet well enough to go further - until Project 366 forced me to go there. The relevant posts are 10 April and 13 April, and the resulting work has also (after much redrafting) made it into the book, in its own small dedicated section.

Probably the most important work Project 366 forced me to confront was the drafting of several poems on the theme of suicide for the central section of the book Goodbye, Cruel. I had already written a few of the 'supporting' type poems for this section but many of the main ones I had hoped to include were still just collections of jumbled notes at the start of April 2016. The daily blog deadline made me start to write them, and helped me firm up the approach and tone. Some of these (such as the 16th April and the 18th April) now occupy positions of importance in the final sequence.

During my month on the blog I also began using old newspaper articles to source specifically Australian suicide narratives and to create some found poems on the theme, several of which appeared as drafts on Project 366 in the latter half of April. All the newspaper articles were found using the National Library of Australia's fantastic free online archive, Trove. While not all of the resulting pieces ended up in Goodbye, Cruel, this was the beginning of an ongoing obsession with making poetry from archives which will probably never go away. (Yes I know Reznikoff and the objectivists got there two generations ago, but the best thing about archives is they are growing and changing all the time - and so is the poetry which can be made from them !)

Finally, towards the end of April I was able to make a start on some found Hansard poems which I needed to create for another project (a collaboration with letterpress printer Caren Florance, inspired by a show we did together at Old Parliament House). The resulting limited edition artist's book will be called 1962: Be Spoken To and the chapbook (of the same poems) will be called Members Only (out early 2017 from Recent Work Press). The last three poems in April are part of this project.

In conclusion I think it is safe to say I owe a great debt to Project 366 and to the comments and reactions of the other poets and artists on the project, not to mention the inspiration offered by their own work. It was a privilege to participate. It is amazing to stand back and look at the scale of what has been produced from this year of steady activity by an enormously diverse range of creative consciousnesses. What a mountain we have made together ! I look forward to hearing of more positive results as we tick over into 2017.

Happy New Year and best wishes -
Melinda Smith


  1. yr very welcome Melinda... yr contributions took the project in v different and inspiring directions

  2. This is fascinating Melinda. Thanks so much for sharing it all and congratulations on your amazing achievements. Looking forward to the new book!