I finished revising my debut novel and graduated from an MFA program in the same month. I am tired. I don’t want to read. I don’t want to write. Of course, one of the first apocryphal rules you learn when you start writing is do it every day. Put that butt in the chair and fashion yourself after the Postal Service. Snow? Sleet? Debilitating fatigue? Doesn’t matter. Put those words down, son.
In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us…
It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.
- From “Ars Poetica?” by Czeslaw Milosz
“Have you been writing lately?” I cringe a little every time I’m asked that question. There is no good answer:
Yes, I’ve been writing and no, you can’t see it; or
Yes, I have been writing but it’s all terrible; or
No, I haven’t been writing, and please please please don’t ask me why.
Writing poetry is not a pleasant process. Any writing is uncomfortable, I suppose, but there’s something uniquely dreadful about poetry. Czeslaw Milosz says a poet is a demoniac city; poems rise up like devils, unannounced, before they are exorcised by page and pen. A poet’s demons are caught, subdued, and arranged in neat stanzas for other’s perusal.
Pinning down your demons to be scrutinized like bugs under glass is a profoundly uncomfortable experience. No human is comfortable being openly frail and vulnerable in front of other people. When a poet writes, they struggle to capture the total essence of their humanity; their fear, rage, ecstasy, sadness, and joy. It is not easy to display yourself at your most human and your most vulnerable.
Yes, I have been writing lately. It is not a comforting process. No poet’s process is. Poetry is wrestling with your demons like Jacob wrestled with the angel; it’s private, it’s desperate, and, hopefully, there’s redemption at the end.
I collect books about hunting and fishing from the 50s, 60s and early 70s. In them I see the images and hear the voices that taught my father to hunt and fish, to be outside in pursuit of something, and I hear strains of how he taught me: this is a personal obsession much more than an academic one. Still, I love titles like Why Fish Bite and Why They Don’t (1961), and Game Cookery (1967). I love the examples of some of the first mass printing of color photography, and captions that read “A quiet afternoon on the lake is the best way to enjoy the Great Outdoors.” I love the authoritative voices of the authors detailing the best way to build a duck blind, or how to tie an Improved Clinch Knot.
When the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in 1964 singing “Twist and Shout,” the veins in John Lennon’s neck bulged as he screamed the lyrics above the noise of the crowd. There were 700 in attendance that night, but 50,000 people had requested tickets to see the Beatles perform and 73 million people watched from home. What did the Beatles tap into that wrung screams and tears from their audience? It was something a little unexpected: metaphor. Metaphor has two parts: tenor, which is the subject of the metaphor, and vehicle, the way that subject is delivered. While teens around the country were over the moon with the Beatles’ sexy looks and lyrics – the vehicle of their art – what hit a nerve and gave them lasting celebrity was their tenor of longing. Sex is reflected everywhere in our culture; music, films, TV shows, books, and a lot of times, there is no metaphor, just sex. But many artists know that sex is an apt vehicle for longing.
Should we care that Darren Aronofsky depended on gnostic texts for much of his story?
I loved Noah the first time I saw it. I still love Noah, even after reading, and agreeing with, the in-depth analysis by several writers, showing that much of the detail of the film comes from the Kabbalah and other ancient gnostic and pre-gnostic sources.