Jenny: The practice of making

Photograph of Jenny PollakJenny Pollak is a full-time practising artist and poet, and is the 2016 winner of USQ's Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize. For a period of ten years she also performed around Australia and Latin America as a percussionist, flautist and backing vocalist with various Latin American bands, her musical career culminating in a gig at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Paralympic Games. Her current focus is poetry as well as video installation which incorporates both sculpture and poetry.

'The will must not usurp the work of the imagination' - Y B Yeats.

Sculptural pieces often arrive in my head as fully formed images, as surprising to me as if they had just been pulled out of a magician’s hat. This makes completing a work of art something like an act of faith. Ideas are gentle creatures and do not respond well to being brought to a concrete form. Sometimes they are so changed by the journey they are no longer recognisable and it is the strength and potency of these images that will (or will not) support me through what can often be the arduous delivery of the work.

The imaginary castle of the wine merchant's second youngest granddaughter
Manning Regional Gallery 2005 (sculptural installation in glass, timber, projected image)

The installation above is an example of a work that began its life as a fully formed image, my job then being to bring it to life as successfully as I could without losing the magic of the vision.

Although my poetry, unlike my arts practice, never begins with a vision of the completed form, it frequently begins with a line that will not let me alone. It begins with sound. I find that each line goes on to inform the next, almost like a piece of jazz improvisation, until slowly what the poem is about emerges from the void. It seems to me that it is language, and the sound that language makes – how those sounds reverberate inside my experience of them – that drives me towards the heart of the poem almost as if the words were showing me what it was the poem wanted to say. The poem 497 small disappointments, which won last year's Bruce Dawe Poetry prize, is an exception to my usual writing practice.

In some ways it resembles the process of sculpting in clay, in which the first gesture of the hand influences all the gestures that follow. For this reason I find the persuasiveness of that first line and the energy it generates vital to the well being of the poem.

Just as artworks can arrive as I pursue an image along a playful series of visual or intellectual associations towards an entirely new imaginative landscape, so it is that the choices I make with language invite me to go to places in poetry that I might not otherwise have imagined. I regard the place from which a poem is propelled or generated to be something like a diving board, the trajectory of the dive shaped and informed by word selections (conscious and unconscious), as well as the choices I make with rhythm and form.

As a writer, the ability to save drafts grants me the freedom to take greater risks as I follow this path. There have been many occasions in making a sculpture when it has taken me considerable courage to implement change, knowing that once the chisel has done its work or the clay has been remodelled there is no going back, and even if I rarely go back to the early drafts of my poems the knowledge that they are there allows me to be more adventurous with my edits.

Making an artwork can often be tedious, frequently requiring me to solve technical problems before anything else, and with the creative reward more often tied to the success of the outcome than the actual making. The physical ease with which a poem can travel from the head to the page, and if necessary to the bin makes writing a process that I find immensely freeing as an art form, and I am very happy to have established a poetry practice which inspires in me the same passion and need to create as my arts practice has.

As an Australian poet, your work shapes our Australian culture. The $2500 Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize has been generously endowed by Emeritus Professor Dawe to celebrate Australian poetry, and entries are now being accepted for the 2017 Prize, so get writing!

For more creative writing inspiration, learn about the art of losing to win from Steve Armstrong, the 2015 Prize winner, or discover Emma Mactaggart's 5 easy tips for creative writing success.


Steve: The art of losing to win

Susan Prior: How to proofread like a pro

Emma: 5 easy tips for creative writing success