I met Lindsay in 2009 during our MA year at Victoria University. He is first and foremost a poet. Sometimes when I look at myself first thing in the morning, his line “I look like a cardigan from St. Vincent de Paul’s” pops into my head. His writing is often peopled by sometimes hilarious, but somehow right, metaphors: “the bacon of my loneliness”, “the sty of my headlights”, “life’s blunt edge”. Some of Lindsay’s poems seem to come from a similar place as Geoff Cochrane‘s, with their harsh light, their wryness. But Lindsay’s is a singular voice. It’s hard to find much of his work on the web (and frustratingly the Turbine page with that poem just quoted is broken) but there are a few things floating about: on Blackmail Press, Swamp, Beattie’s Book Blog, and the Red Room.
What are you doing with your days right now?
Most days will I will have a hammer in my hand. Building a shed, erecting a fence or constructing some raised gardens. That sort of sub-artisan work.
You did the MA in Creative Writing at the Modern Letters Institute back in 2009, where we met. How have you found writing post-MA?
I have been fortunate to be a member of a conclave of mainly ex-IIML writers here in Nelson who meet monthly to share recent work, discuss current readings and engage in a dialogue similar to the 2009 experience.
You have been described as “the stray dog of New Zealand literature”. You’ve had poems in the NZ Listener and New Zealand Books and you’ve won a couple of poetry prizes, and the poet Christopher Reid was deeply impressed by your work when he visited. But I’ve always got a sense from you that you prefer to stay “outside” – remaining fiercely independent in your work, never submitting things for publication willy-nilly, always unpindownable in your writing. Why is this? Why don’t you come inside, Lindsay?
I am not aware of the “stray dog” descriptor. For many years I taught mathematics and if one could not arrive at a solution the answers were always neatly detailed at the back of the text. Since writing myself out of the school curriculum I have found answers more elusive. In fact I am not even certain what the questions are. So I live alone and patrol the boundary between doubt and certainty, offering a tentative bark occasionally.
Your work is often surreal and heavily metaphorical, as in your poem “Outpost”: “Stars are stored in a wooden box on my shelf. It is more black than white here. Like algebra but colder.” And within this world is often a totally singular speaker, someone experiencing a necessary isolation: “The short days are long here. Morse code stutters in my aerial.” What is it about the experience of isolation that you keep coming back to in your writing?
I think I self-isolate. My personal history is one of betraying a great love. I find myself unable to trust myself to love fully again. Hence “I am more alone than together”.
Would you ever use social media to help build a following for your work?
My concession to approximating a life in this century is email. Social media does not interest me. Jumping in to that stream seems akin to throwing an anchor into a turbulent sea and forgetting to secure it to your ship.
I think you must be one of New Zealand’s last true senders of birthday cards. Every time it’s your birthday, you send a “birthday card” to some friends – your “hardy annual”, a small collection of poems you have written. It is a charming, precious thing to receive. What is it about a physical piece of mail that speaks to you more than an email or some other electronic message?
This birthday card thing is a bit of indulgence. I think it is important to personally mark the passing of each year. I certainly do not expect others to calibrate the event. So I mark it by celebrating myself in some way by producing a little broadsheet of some recent writing. I also believe that hard copy has something more definite and purposeful than the electronic text a mouse can delete. When I finally get it in the mail I drink some wine and stagger into another year.
Who are you reading at the moment?
Currently I am enjoying reading Jim Harrison’s collection In Search of Small Gods.
How do you feel about living in New Zealand right now? Have you ever felt moved to express your thoughts about New Zealand government or politics in your writing? Or is that world completely separate from who you are as a writer?
Why would I waste my energy on small men like John Key who could not unlock the heart of anyone who wanders from the beaten track. I feel that New Zealand has strayed from its core values. But then so have I.
Can we expect to see a book from you one day? Or will you continue to write around the edges?
This is a difficult question for me. Last month I helped Pat White to put the roof on his hut, a designated writing space. This felt honest and honourable labour. Yesterday I harvested my first potatoes, little white nuggets yielded from a dark secluded place. This felt like the reward of patience. I aspire to have of my writing published but do not believe I have done enough work to offer an authentic new voice to our literature. Perhaps when I am 65.
When are you happiest with your writing?
I have given myself permission in the last few years to be completely idle, sporadically. Days pass. Then the muse visits and I attempt to answer her call. These are good times.
When are you happiest?
Happiness is elusive. But I do lapse into bouts of contentment.
Christianity as a second language
It is Sunday.
The sandwich board outside Vaima’s village
shop says, “God is the reason. We sell pies.”
As a woven hat sings
a whitewashed chorus consumes the day.
The scripture on the tombstone flakes like pastry.