writing in the bath

21 June, 2010

First of all, you have to read this brilliant piece by one of my tutors, which is his answer to the question ‘what is poetry for?’, something he was asked for an article in the Guardian (also well worth reading). At the heart of his answer is the formulation that I’ve heard him use before: fiction (and other things) asks the question what next? while poetry asks the question what is this? – and so poetry is concerned with what he calls encounter. ‘Poetry seeks a few simple movements to understand whatever is at the heart of the phenomenon encountered.’ I love that; it sums it up so perfectly for me.

On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been thinking recently about how I can be a bit more friendly towards writing; or perhaps, how I can learn to think of my writing as being friendly towards me. Too often I approach it as a chore, as something dreadful and difficult and demanding; I’ve spent enough time moaning about it on this blog, using all sorts of metaphors (digging ditches, being sick) to describe how hard I find it at times.

And yes, it is hard, we’ve established that. But I wonder if I make it too hard sometimes, overcomplicate it; I can often feel like the circumstances have to be just right before I can actually sit down to write (ie starting early enough in the day; not too excited; nothing hanging over me, etc etc). I’m sure that’s common for lots of people doing any sort of creative endeavour. But is there a way I can approach it as more of a game or a puzzle, something that I have lying around so that I pick it up and simply play with it for a while? Yes, there need to be intense periods of focus and sweat, but I’m thinking that they’ll perhaps be easier to sit down to if there’s been a more playful turning things over going on in the background more of the time. I’m thinking in particular of an inspiring friend (whose advice on procrastination and creativity I’ve mentioned before) who delighted me with the statement last week that his office is his head, and that he does a lot of physics in the bath. I think that’s brilliant, and it’s the kind of attitude I’d like to develop towards my writing, rather than always seeing it as this desperately hard work that’s confined to strict hours at my desk. (Although it does slightly worry me that perhaps the fact that I don’t already feel that way about writing means I’ll never be much good at it.)

To return to poets talking about their writing: I’ve just started reading an anthology called Don’t Ask Me What I Mean, which is a collection of poets’ pieces for the Poetry Book Society over the years. They’re all short and entertaining, giving a fascinating insight into how some favourite poets view their own work. Recommended. As a counterweight to the rest of this post, here’s some typical stubbornness from Kingsley Amis:

A poet ought to feel complimented when somebody invites him to talk about his poetry, but he is more likely to behave as if he had suddenly been hauled to his feet to reply to a toast. […] What he would probably like to say, if he is honest, is that he will see his readers or anyone else damned before he will reveal his almost total ignorance of what on earth he is up to as a poet. If he did try to formulate his ideas on the question, he knows how trite and/or pretentious they will sound. He is uneasily aware – and often actually announces – that many of poems are not as good as he would like them to be, and that, since being a poet means he is almost certain to suffer from pathological laziness, some of them are not even as good as he could make them – this he announces less often.

This post brought to you by pathological laziness, cake-baking and a new obsession with the works of Philip Glass

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One Response to “writing in the bath”

  1. Marion said

    “pathological laziness” – love it, glad it’s not just me then!

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