Jessica L Wilkinson has published three poetic biographies, Marionette: A Biography of Miss Marion Davies (Vagabond 2012), shortlisted for the 2014 Kenneth Slessor Award, Suite for Percy Grainger (Vagabond 2014), a poem from which won the 2014 Peter Porter Poetry Prize, and Music Made Visible: A Biography of George Balanchine (Vagabond 2019). In collaboration with composer Simon Charles, Marionette was developed into a performance work of voice, music and sound; they released an album in 2018. Jessica is the founding editor of Rabbit: a journal for nonfiction poetry—which will release its 30th issue in May — and the offshoot Rabbit Poets Series of single-author collections. She co-edited the anthology Contemporary Australian Feminist Poetry (Hunter Publishers, 2016), and is an Associate Professor in Creative Writing at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Life Cycles of Biographical Poetry

This essay begins with an ethical quandary: the author’s academic institution had purchased some very expensive resources for her so that she could complete her research for a book-length verse-biography project on choreographer George Balanchine. The problem is, the resources arrived after she considered that project ‘complete’ (the book was in press). How might a creative practice researcher quash her guilt in this regard?

The essay follows her process of reopening the project — as a more traditional biographer might do in order to produce a ‘revised’ edition — not only to integrate information from those new resources, but to revisit discarded research notes (the ‘refuse’) that did not yield poems within the initial publication. In assembling new versions of poems from the published book, the author reconsiders the biographical project as an ongoing, ever-evolving and ephemeral process, akin to the revision of ballet repertoire.

Keywords: creative-practice research, poetic/verse biography, George Balanchine, poetry, biography and revision, Lyn Hejinian, Dennis Cooley