Friday, October 19, 2007

The Sensation of Writing

George Szirtes has some interesting thoughts on the "sensation of writing" (partly in response to Don Paterson's essay on "the lyric principle" in the latest Poetry Review). At the end of his post, GS writes:

"I would like to open this line of thought to others and invite any poets reading this to send me their account of the sensation of writing. Keep it honest, keep it simple. As simple as it will go, at any rate."

So I thought I'd spread the word on GS's interesting call for ideas.

Here's my take on it, at least today's. It involves three quotations:

1. In a profile in the New Yorker back in the 1990s, David Mamet said something like this: "Writing is the only thing that stops the thinking, you know. It's the only way to turn off all that dreadful noise in there." I've always loved that line, as it perfectly captures one sensation I have when writing: that it fully occupies my otherwise utterly restless mind, turning off even the almost endless musical soundtrack that plays in the back of my head (picking up on whatever I happen to have heard most recently, whether it be the music of a commercial, the theme song to a children's program I watched with my kids, or Thelonious Monk). [If anybody who reads this has the complete New Yorker in electronic form, can you try to find that profile of Mamet for me and check his precise words?)

2. One of my touchstones for a long time has been Jorge Luis Borges's "Borges and I": "
I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar." I recognize myself less in my own writing than in the writing of others (as all these quotations suggest), but in the act of writing, there is even a third person present: not the one who will later have written, and not the name that attaches itself to what that one will later have written, but the one who is writing. The one whose mind is quiet?

3. In Anna Karenina, Levin mows: "The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when it was not his arms which swung the scythe but the scythe which seemed to mow of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, as though by magic, without a thought being given to it, the work did itself regularly and carefully. Those were the most blessed moments." The "most blessed moments" in creative work are those moments when the mind is quiet, the self disappears, and the work does itself, "regularly and carefully."

Okay, I did not "keep it simple," George, but it is honest! :-)


And then there is the sensation of not-writing, or between-writing:


Another journey underway,
the painter on the foredeck of
the overloaded ferryboat
sees, past the sea wall and out
over the straits, the aftermath
of sunlight from behind the clouds,
a brighter form of rain. The harbor
opposite moves from blur into focus
as the ferry moves, its wake
first spray in the painter's face.
Light and cloud and mist: what is
to be captured on canvas. He'll hold
the brush in the air the way the ship,
sailing without a sail, hangs
before it falls again down on
the waves. Behind him, every stroke
he's ever painted; the unpainted
before him, this passage from one harbor
to another, the ferry rolling,
with every breaker, deeper down
in what is, what will have been.

(The Reader 16; Cabinet d'Amateur)

1 comment:

Writearound said...

I find this a very interesting discussion. I have replied to it as best I can on my blog, sorry this is not an attempt to get people to read my blog but is the only way to throw in my thoughts fully enough. Yes, I know I'm a poet and should be able to pare things down to the size of a small text box!