Cliff Fell (Writing for the Page, 2002)
I came to see how much the reading and writing of the Reading Journal would feed into the poems I wrote...
Cliff writes: 'As to what the IIML gave me, well there are many things, of course, but there is one that was particularly important to me back in those heady days of 2002. To be precise it was really something that Glenn Schaeffer House gave me, as much as the IIML, and it was this: a roof over my head. And with it, a healthy respect for working late.
'Has anyone else noticed how 16 Waiteata Rd feels like a skinny, many-decked ship sailing out across the city? 'Specially at night, when you're the only one on watch and the winds and rain are knocking at the windows, or in the moonlight when from the workshop room it seems that you're floating above the illuminations of a coral sea. Or like a mountain hermitage, perhaps.
'Commuting from the South Island each week meant that I spent almost all my time in Wellington working on my folio and Reading Journal, flitting between the library, the MA Computer lab and Glenn Schaeffer House. I got a lot of reading and writing done there, particularly on my Reading Journal. Among other treasures, the IIML library gave me the chance to read a number of American poets who were new to me, or whom I'd previously neglected, on account of my then Anglo-centric reading tastes: Galway Kinnell, Louis Simpson, Adrienne Rich and John Ashbery, among others, all helped shift my cloistered sense of what poetry could be or do.
'I came to see how much the reading and writing of the Reading Journal would feed into the poems I wrote, the output that became The Adulterer's Bible. Not so much in terms of the concepts or content I was absorbing, but in a more significant way. By the time my journal was due to be handed in, I had come to appreciate something beyond the pleasure of reading - the pleasure of putting down words to formulate my sense of understanding what I was reading, and the pleasure of simply writing for writing's sake.
'And so the journal expanded far beyond a reading log. It grew into a document of more than 30,000 words that recorded my travels to and from Wellington: ferry trips, characters I met on the ferry - most bizarrely of all, a troupe of ballerinas, dressed and made up for a production of Swan Lake - winter nights hitch-hiking through the top of the south and various other encounters on the way.
'But the real thing I learnt on those long nights working on my journal, transcribing it to disc with my inadequate typing skills, was a deeper lesson about the act of writing. That writing isn't writing until it takes shape on the page. And I remembered how Ted Hughes would encourage Sylvia Plath (back in the heady days of their marriage) to write anything, no matter what, just to write herself into the space where poems would happen. And this is what I began to find out for myself - and still do. I came to recognise the wisdom of Ted Hughes's words, that it doesn't really matter what you're writing - letters, emails, school reports, reviews, even a little memoir like this - whatever it may be, the simple, repetitive, insistent act of blackening the page, or sending a line on its journey across the screen, can take the mind into a place where the real thing, the real writing can occasionally be glimpsed, like the mythical white hart bounding through the trees, from where the poet will drop all else and set off in pursuit.
'So the IIML and 16 Waiteata Rd offered me more than just somewhere to work late into the night - it became the quiet, reflective space perched above the city from which I could sail into those long writing nights, in the hope that a line or two might arrive like a ripple on the waters, a wind-shift that would set me on course for a poem.'
Bio: Cliff Fell was born in London to an English mother and New Zealand father. After some years of travelling, working and living in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, he settled in New Zealand in 1997. He now lives with his family on a small farm in the Moutere Valley.
Cliff's MA manuscript The Adulterer's Bible was awarded the Adam Prize in 2002. Published by Victoria University Press, it was shortlisted for the 2004 Montana Poetry Prize and also awarded the Jessie Mackay Prize for Best First Book of Poetry. The judges described it as an 'outstanding first book.' Writing in the Listener, Peter Bland described The Adulterer's Bible as a book that 'signals both an interest in the accidental mysteries of language and a taste for the erotic.'
In 2008, his second book Beauty of the Badlands was published, also by Victoria University Press. In 2014 an illustrated poem, The Good Husbandwoman's Alphabet - a work that he commenced in his last two days as an MA student at the IIML - was published by Last Leaf Press.
He has published a number of reviews and essays and is a 'cultural ambassador' on Radio New Zealand National's 'Nights' programme, on which he talks about poetry. He teaches at NMIT in Nelson, but in 2015 took leave to convene the Poetry and Nonfiction stream of the MA in Creative Writing at the IIML.