The Poet's Work

Roach, Gillian
Johnson, Michael
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Master of Creative Writing
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Auckland University of Technology

The thesis Bread Winner is a collection of 50 poems that explores the question What do you do? Often the starting point in conversation when two people meet, this tricky question reflects the widely-held view that what we do defines us and indicates our value. The question comes pre-loaded with assumptions about the nature and definition of work as well as hierarchy, gender and status. Bread Winner explores the concept and language of work in New Zealand society, from a personal vantage point, unpicking definitions and what is valued. A major theme of the collection is the relationship between work and identity. Bread Winner has three sections: Black Ice, Napier – Taupo Rd; Breadwinners and Flax Way. The structure of the collection follows a movement from personal experience, through reflection on gender roles and societal norms, to more overtly political work. This movement reflects, and in some cases maps, both my personal journey and the development of my writing. The collection includes traditional lyric poems, alongside more open, mechanistic techniques, in a sense ‘showing its working’ as older poems rub up against more experimental forms. In the exegesis, The poet’s work, I look at how my personal journey relates to the subject matter of Bread Winner. I describe my desire to assert the value and contribution of my unpaid ‘work’ and how this contributed to my growing political awareness. I document how I experimented with the lyric form to open up my poetic practise and explore more democratic and inclusive forms. Several poems in the collection work with found texts, using deconstruction techniques that foreground the process of writing poetry and show the working. This reflects the subject matter; digging into and deconstructing the language of work, as used in the media and by bureaucracy, to look at its underpinnings. (The sources of found material for individual poems are referenced in the notes on p.70) In this context, the exegesis looks at the work of a poet and how it relates to the wider work environment. My creative work has played an important part in my personal development, helping me forge a sense of myself as an individual. However, writers and other creative workers face a precarious and changing work environment. As with my experience in traditional caring roles, the ongoing work of writers (and other creative workers) is largely invisible unless it attracts an income or other external measures of success. Artists must adapt to the demands of the market to earn an income, limiting their ability to challenge the status quo, innovate or experiment with new forms, and advantaging those with independent financial support/privilege. The collection Bread Winner explores the precarity and instability of the modern work environment; the tidal shifts between tradition and new ways of doing things, threats and opportunities, and the tension between the need to present a public, commodified self and the depth and darkness required for creative work. It aims to expand and open out the idea of work — leaving space for the reader to “come towards” meaning, bringing their own understanding of the question ‘what do you do?’

Poetry , Work , Value , Lyric/anti-lyric , Deconstruction
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