I always think of myself as working at a rock face. Ninety days out of ninety five, it’s just a rock face. The other five days, there’s a bit of silver, a bit of base metal in it. I’m reasonably consistent, and the consistency is a help to me. It helps me stay in contact with my failure rate, and unless you have a failure rate that vastly exceeds your success rate, you’re not really in touch with what you are doing as a poet. The danger of inspiration is that it is a theory that redirects itself towards the idea of success rather than the idea of consistent failure. And all poets need to have a sane and normalized relationship with their failure rate.
Eavan Boland, Sleeping with Monsters: Conversations with Scottish and Irish Women Poets, p.80
One of my all-time favourite utterances about writing poetry, by anyone, is the one you see above, by the Irish poet Eavan Boland from the wonderful collection of interviews, Sleeping with Monsters.
Time and again it has rescued and reminded me of the core truth about writing poems: that it does not come easily, and is never really perfected, let alone mastered. If I do finish anything it is only after long periods of sitting, fiddling and moaning, taking a word out here, putting the same word back in again, removing it, then ditching the poem altogether a day or a week or a year later. And then maybe salvaging a line, or half of one, and beginning to build from there. It isn’t pretty.
Another reason I love the Boland quote: it is loads better and connects much more with the reality of the grind of it than the now famous line of her compatriot Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’
Most of all, I love that it warns about inspiration (Picasso said ‘[It] exists, but it has to find you at work’). I think waiting for it to strike is my single biggest failing as a poet, second only to working when there is clearly no chance of any arriving.