Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Go forth and consume

In the first session of a poetry writing class in college, Jerry Barrax asked us, "What are you reading? Who are your favorite poets?" A few students ventured to say that they didn't read much poetry, although they liked to write it. "I'm really not much interested in what you're writing," Jerry said, some edge in his voice. "I'm much more interested in what you're reading. Because if you want to write poetry, you need to read poetry. A lot of poetry. And not just the classics from half a century ago . . . you need to read contemporary poetry. You need to know what your peers are doing."

That stuck with me. Jerry is a poet who believes in craft -- that good writing is much more a matter of skill and experience than inspiration. Nor was Jerry alone in the advice he offered. In a possibly apocrophal story, when J.D. Salinger was last sighted (a truly rare occurrance) by an aspiring writer who asked him for advice, he simply said, "Read." The Pultizer-winning playwright Marsha Norman advised writers to keep their current work relatively private ("Don't talk the play away") but otherwise to read voraciously. "Read at least four hours a day, and don't let anyone ask you why you're doing that instead of writing."

I think the advice could be generalized: if we want to create, we need to consume. If you're writing a blog, you'd better be reading other bloggers . . . and looking for new blogs all the time. If you want to get an online community going, you'd best participate in a bunch of other online communities to see what works and what doesn't. And if you want to create a spiritual community, you'd better see what other spiritual communities are doing. I see (in myself, anyway) the same sort of egotistical parochialism among spiritual seekers that dogs would-be writers. Sometimes we are so sure of our own wisdom that we don't allow ourselves to be educated by a wider world.


Blogger mueja said...


12:02 PM  

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