I am at a thing. It is not my thing, it is someone else’s thing.
Poets are there. People I love, people I trust. It is a good evening.
There is small talk (not our strong suit), then one asks me ‘Are you writing?’ I demur. I know this has been coming, yet I am floundering. I make a joke about the wine. Then I say what I always say (and immediately wish I hadn’t): ‘I think so, yes.’
I go into a riff about ‘finding’ my folder of poems and ‘discovering’ that poems have ‘appeared there’. ‘So it seems I have been,’ I say. I smile, weakly.
A few days later, I am at another thing. There are people there who I love and trust. Normal people.
Someone I have not seen in a long time comes up to me. ‘Are you still writing?’ she says. I demur. I know this has been coming, yet I flounder. I make a joke about the weather. ‘Yes I am,’ I say.
Later I meditate on the warmth of my friends’ questioning, their genuine care and concern. I think about the assumptions underpinning their queries. The poet’s assumes that I am in a state of wanting to be writing, that is matters to me, that it is the main thing. The friend’s question assumes that other factors may have come into the picture. They like that I write (they may even want me to write), but they also know that people sometimes stop doing what they love, or give up. For this reason I say to them ‘I will write until I die.’ Then we talk about something else.
The truth is, there is no honest answer to either of my friend’s questions. There is no ‘I am writing’. There is only ‘I want to be writing’ or ‘I have written’. The writing is so private, so unspeakable, it is like a dream. I have no memory of doing it, ever. Perhaps the place I was in, or the time of year, but never the actual thing, the act of it. This is why I tell the story of ‘discovering’ some poems: the evidence backs me up. They are a surprise (why else do them?) when they come and they are a surprise months later when I decide to kill them or do something with them.
In between I have no idea what happens. The process. We call it writing. I am not doing any. If I were I wouldn’t tell you.
How very interesting! People ask me this too and I always go completely blank, and underneath the blank I find I’m fearful and slightly embarrassed. At the same time I can’t REMEMBER when I last wrote a poem and what it was, which is weird. But I tend to think all forms of writing connect with each other and this blog is part of whatever your writing is. I can’t totally divide poems from other forms of writing. On another tack, I like the answer to the question ‘How are you doing?’. People often reply ‘I’m getting there’, and I always wonder where ‘there’ is but it would be rude of me to ask.
Lovely to hear from you Nell.
I always go blank too.
The other question that does this is what music do you like, what are your poems about (24 lines I always say) and what poets do you like?
I am never sure if I am getting there so don’t say that any more.
I say Fine. And Fine thanks, and if I am feeling witty ‘As well as can be expected under a Conservative government’ (Copyright Steve Fairnie, 1992).
1. I caught you writing.
2. Two very different takes on this: George Starbuck, who founded the writing program at Boston University, used to say (and write): you’re only a poet when you’re writing poetry. And: when I was studying under A.R. Ammons at Cornell, I got the distinct impression from both Archie and his writing that writing really wasn’t the thing about it; maybe it was his whole “a poem is a walk” thing, but if the process of writing a poem wasn’t one of discovery and as much a living thing as taking a walk, then it didn’t make any difference if you were writing or not. I got the impression that if Archie could have found something better to do with his time, that was a more finely tuned process to being alive in this world than poetry, than he would have done that instead.
3. What Archie used to ask me every time I met him outside of class, and in the years after, was not “Are you writing?” It was always, “Are you in love?” Tougher question to ask in a social gathering, but maybe more to the point, after all.
I’m beginning to look forward to your insights on my posts more than actually writing them.
I love the Are you in love? question. I am going to use it.
Next time you see me writing, don’t tell anyone.
As ever with deep thanks
Yes Jeff, that is a great way of thinking about the act of writing. I’ve just begun to follow this blog, Anthony, so I look forward to your and Jeff’s and everyone else’s insights.
I suppose the correct, if facetious, answer is ‘not at the moment, I’m talking to you’ … You are right, writing (gerund) is private, writing (noun) may or may not become public
I’m always tempted to get facetious in these situations.
I’m glad you saw this.
Wow, so well put.
Wow, thank you! A