Monday, 5 November 2012

Covered with mould

I wrote a speech for the launch of Magnificent Moon last week. But once in front of a microphone, I choked and read only a few lines from it. As ever, saying something on paper is easier than saying it aloud. So here’s the whole of it.

I wanted to see how long I could go without writing a goddamn book. I wanted to be a floater, a hack, loitering around outside the books, creating a nuisance.

Which doesn’t make sense, because for a long time I wanted to have a book. When I was about six or seven, I established a library in my bedroom in which all of the books were written by me. At one point I began sending these “books” – pages printed off the PFS (Personal Filing System) computer program, stapled together, and often illustrated – to actual publishers. I found their addresses on the insides of library books, or I asked the nice lady at the bookshop to write them down for me, which she did, only a bit hesitantly, and I kept them on file and would besiege publishers with pages of faded-ink Courier font. (Amazingly, the poor publishers would often reply – with bemusement, but they would reply. “Dear Ashleigh, Thank you sending us your story ‘Pete and Roger go to the beach’. Unfortunately it is not what we are looking for at this time.”) 

Maybe I peaked too early with these multitudes of books, because in the last few years, I became reluctant to write a real one. There’s a great feeling of possibility when you haven’t written a book yet. No mistakes have been made, no one has fallen over in public. It’s as if you have a terrible crush on the book you will write and you haven’t had a decent enough conversation with it to find out that it’s not extraordinary. In order to prolong the fantasy, I kept the unwritten book at a distance and, instead, I just wrote things. I liked the seaweed approach to publishing my work – having it straggling about on the tide for people to brush up against then never see again. 

Consequently, many of the poems in Moon were not written with a book in mind at all; they were just written. And in some ways, the book feels very old. There are poems that are about ten years old in there, which is about 120 in poem years. Amazingly, I still quite like them – but I recognise a younger, more timid voice. The more recent poems I like less, perhaps because I see myself start to cloud over in them – I’m not as sure what my voice is. That’s why I started to write more poems in other people’s voices, or telling other people’s stories, or writing “afternoons” with interesting people, people I wanted to know better or even to be. 

I was worried about how my parents would react to the poems that they appear in, but they seem OK so far. And, the other day my dad wrote to me to say that he liked the poem “EBD” – which is the name of a four-seater Cessna he used to fly. “On one occasion I remember we were in terrible turbulence for over an hour and everyone on board was sick,” he wrote. “Weeks later, when the plane was in for maintenance, Roger (who was working at Te Kuiti airport in those days) found that all the vomit had seeped through the floor and was still there, covered with mould.” 

I suddenly realised that I’d made a serious ommision in that poem: the vomit. Ah, the vomit! There is always another layer – of something, maybe not always of vomit – underneath the story, festering away. Which is why I’m now very excited about future projects. My six-year-old self is feeling very gleeful right now as well, because she finally got a book.

Ashleigh Young's debut book of poetry Magnificent Moon was launched last week by Harry Ricketts who had this to say about it >>

© Marta Starosta

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