Elizabeth Morton Interview with Jonathan Cardew
Thank you, Elizabeth, for joining us for the July Issue at Connotation Press!
Thank you, Jonathan. Delighted to be here.
“Petting Mogadishu” and “Bubblewrap” are wild and wonderful tales. I love the exploded narrative and almost listing quality in “Bubblewrap”—the way the story or the character portrait unfolds via examples. Talk about form in short fiction—what do you like, what doesn’t work for you, what form of story have you always wanted to write?
I tend to circle, shark-like, around an idea, rather than grab at it, full-frontal. I like the reader to have to write and rewrite a character, vise and revise, and I like to terminate with something solid but, also, questions. I don’t really know how to talk about form. All I know, is that I like some aspect to be open-ended. I love the elliptical, I love repetition, and false-leads. I guess I like writing to be like soft-core pornography. Something given, something withheld. That said, I wish I could write, at least on occasion, a more linear narrative. I struggle to move plot from a point A to B, without saccadic wanderings.
In “Petting Mogadishu”, Miss Griffiths repeats the cliché: “Write from what you know.” In fact, the story itself seems to respond to this saying. What are your thoughts on the whole “write from what you know” principle?
I’m uncertain. I write in the ethical shade, frequently bumping over objects, blind but for intuition. I guess I grew up thinking I could touch anything I like, so long as I did so competently. I used to consider writing as the freedom to do anything, a ticket to a miserly OE where I can be the local and the tourist. Now I feel this is bull-defecation. It’s not my right to shake an Angakkuq rattle, dance like a tetraplegic, sing slave-ships and death-row and queerness. That said, I’m not certain where the cordon tape starts and ends. I don’t know what it means, to ‘write from what you know’. Does this mean the strictly episodic, from the film-reel of life, or is it inclusive of the semantic, and the dreamscape? What can we really know? And what is the utility of promulgating what we (think we) know anyhow? Who might it serve to write about the banalities of white, square, and suburban living? Is it just the reiteration of the experiences of a potent minority, the One Percent hogging all the air-time? And ought we sit on our hands, until experience renders us some sufficient blight? ‘Petting Mogadishu’ is my way of exploring the ‘write from what you know’ concept, and testing its outer limits.
Tell us about your writing routines. Are you a disciplined scribbler with a set schedule, or do you grab the muse when and where you can? Do you draft on paper or computer? Do you listen to smooth jazz or nod your head to metal while you write—or do you prefer no music at all?
I’m a habitually lazy person, but I find that I can cordon off a couple of hours each day to write. The muse is evasive, and usually requires duct tape and chloroform to tether for my purposes. I don’t wait for inspiration. I sit down with a beer and, if need be, force words to manifest. Sometimes they just ooze out. I haven’t yet sussed out why and when. The muse is fickle. She likes Guinness and Microsoft Word. The muse likes Dvorak and Bob Dylan and Jethro Tull, Chinese take-outs and seedy pubs. She can’t handle vacuuming or small talk or long-term relationships. She spends all of my money, and drives me too insomnia. She messes with my Circadian rhythm. Still, I treat her well enough.
Congratulations, Elizabeth, on your recent poetry collection, ‘Wolf’! Tell us a little about this work, and how we can get our grubby mitts on a copy!
‘Wolf’ is a doggy, salty, rusty, hodgepodge of poetry. My hope is it speaks to loneliness, the lone wolf, but also the broken, fragmentary and mal-adaptive, (but frequently innovative and creative) spirit of people that don’t quite fit. It has dogs, wolves, zombies and witches, but is mostly tethered to everyday nostalgia, and to happiness with caveats.
It is a publication by Mākaro Press, as part of their annual HOOPLA series. Other HOOPLA poets this year are Jeffrey Paparoa Holman and Johanna Emeney. I’m the poet with baby-fluff. The others are established voices, and it has been a lovely journey, to be launched in multiple locations at their sides.
If you’re a Kiwi, you can find these books in many local stores. But for those a-far, they may be ordered here.
I love doing this with my kids: You have to get rid of either poetry or fiction from the world; which one will you jettison, and why?
Ouch! This is a tough call. What an appalling hypothetical world! I’d fight, tooth and nail, for the existence and legitimacy of both. But, if under some Guantanamo regime, where bamboo shoots are grown through my fingernails and I’m repeatedly submerged, I’d have to say – Keep poetry. Go on, keep poetry and the prose poem and novels in verse. Keep the Epic and keep the Sonnet and keep the free-wheeling verse. I think poetry is writing’s raw center, the cold hub radiating outwards. Everything else is a poem protracted. Poetry is the narrative, acapella. Poetry is the myelinated, rapid fire, Central Nervous System of the soul. Poetry will get you where you want to go, only quicker. Always quicker. And flash fiction – well, I feel, that is a better bedmate of poetry than it is of prose.
I was once asked by Georgia Bellas at Atticus Review to write a prompt using three of my current preoccupations. I’m going to steal her idea, because I think we need a Morton-tinged writing prompt in our lives right now.
Hah! That’s a grand idea. Current preoccupations include –
1) Lucid dreaming and
2) Tax rebates and
3) Phantom limbs.
Prompt: You are visiting the open-plan offices of the Inland Revenue Department for assistance to claim your tax rebate. You are claiming against your phantom limb. Your pharmaceutical costs are itemized in your Personal Tax Summary. Can you switch off the air-conditioning unit with the wave of your phantom femur? Are you lucid dreaming? If not, why are there no light-switches inset in the plasterboard wall? Include an appendix of phantom limb treatment approaches. Dedicate the story to your favourite dead neurospyschologist.
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.