After Bill Manhire, “From an Imaginary Journal” in Sport 39
♦ An essay about the cultural history of the custard square, titled “Cake of a thousand leaves” (in reference to the its original French name, gâteau de mille-feuilles), beginning with an excerpt from Kerry Hines’s sestina called “Custard Square“:
… Ah to be fully whole
with the past, and not à la recherche—a custard square
could be a simple thing again, something to eat, not talk around.
The piece would also reference the custard squares made by Denheath Desserts in South Canterbury, who claim that their custard squares are “as Kiwi as alpine ranges, glacier-fed lakes and little men with hairy feet.” But I realised that the poem had said everything that needs to be said about custard squares.
♦ A long essay about New Zealand posties. Instead I ended up writing a brief, evasive sort of sketch of Ferdinand Cheval, a postie who lived in southeastern France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is famous for building a hideous castle from the pebbles and stones he picked up along his delivery route. It took him 34 years.
♦ In a notebook from 1992 I came across a list of story ideas. One of them was “a sad sort of story where two people part.” Another was “a very funny story that would be suitable for the Banana Books series.”
♦ An article about those guys in Wellington who put up the street posters. There must be rules. There must be rivalry. How long do you have to wait before you can plaster over someone else’s poster? What happens if you plaster over someone’s poster after they’ve only just put it up?
♦ A poem about a dog and some people who are sitting around awkwardly in a living room, trying to make conversation. I have these lines in my head: “The dog / slips us an invisible lead / so we can hang onto each other.” Then “She’s all grin and bone, / like Fred Astaire.” Nothing could save the poem.
♦ A story about two battery hens. The main character is called Nora. Her cage companion is a “canny” hen named Song, who spends her time composing songs and trying to turn around. A group of animal activists storm the farm one night and open all the cages. Nora tries to flee, but she can’t because her feet are deformed by the wire mesh floor. The story became too upsetting – and in the end, too boring – to write.
♦ An article about Yves Rossy, a Swiss pilot and mechanic, known as the first person to fly like a bird. One evening in June 2004, he strapped himself into a contraption he had made from metal, fibre glass, and carbon fibre. He climbed into a small airplane with another pilot and rattled down the runway. When the airplane was 4,000 metres above Switzerland, Yves leaped out. He freefell towards the mountains. And then, like Buzz Lightyear, he opened a pair of wings and began to swoop and soar. “It was an amazingly good feeling, like in a dream!” Yves has apparently said. “Up there in my invention, I am free as a bird.” Anyway, he sounded like a nice guy and I wanted to get in touch with him.
♦ A re-telling of “The Red Shoes”. The characters would be Frances, her mother, her mother’s parrot, and her brother Dmitri. When the mother becomes ill and dies, Frances and Dmitri and parrot go to live with their grandmother in a city apartment building. Frances gets a pair of red running shoes and becomes dangerously addicted to running. I gave up on this when I couldn’t figure out what any of it meant – the parrot, the running … oh God, it’s just all too heavy.
♦ An exploration of “the family” in contemporary literature – how it both agonises us and cradles us. Could this be a topic for a PhD? But again, it was all too much. It would be like trying to write an analysis of the weather, or cars, or dogs in contemporary literature. And I bet someone’s written about all of those already, probably the same person.
♦ An article about fridge magnet poetry – how it can tell you unsettling things about the people you live with, who you thought you knew. But how could someone have not written about this?
♦ An essay about loneliness in the poems of Frank O’Hara. Again, I gave up when it turned out that there wasn’t enough to say. Loneliness is loneliness, I think.