Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Ted Kooser and a few friends talk about writing
I asked for your response to the question Ted Kooser answered in Columbus, Ohio several years ago. "Why SHOULD we write when it has all been said so much better before?" Here are a few responses, although for the sake of transparency I’ll note that Stephen Crane has been dead for a while.
"Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become." -C.S. Lewis (contributed by Jeanette Livesay of Norway)
“Why I write - I write because it makes me a better person in the world. I love words. I love writing. I love reading. I love how it feels when I read others' words that touch me deeply - I feel connected not only to that person but to the many others who are also touched. I love writing. Writing makes me whole; somehow through writing I become myself. Words - reading them, writing them makes me me. My daydream self has arms trying to hold as many words as possible, stuffing them into pockets, filling up odd containers, burying them in the garden. Words, words, wonderful words. Words in my voice, in your voice, in the voices of the ages may overlap but each voice is still unique.
"Why should we write?" I don't think it's a matter of 'should'. Some people certainly feel an overwhelming need to express their inner thoughts/feelings in lines they may either keep to themselves or decide to send out into the world. Most of us write (I imagine) because we long to find a way to connect to the world, and to other people, and because we need to discover what it is that keeps rising within us, simmering below the surface...the yearning that finds us standing at windows staring out at the world and wondering how to find our way into it, feeling intensely alone yet not necessarily lonely, and longing to somehow capture this odd mix of stillness and agitation that can be completely immobilising . I think most of us write to find ourselves. This sounds overly self-regarding but I don't mean it that way: I simply mean that some of us can't find ourselves 'out there', we are terrified of 'out there' (at least, I am) and we long to connect to something that feels like home. Good poetry feels like home to me in a way that is impossible to express. Good poets and novelists feel like my true friends in that they seem to understand both me and the world we all inhabit, and they give me joy. I guess I also write to feel joy. And when others tell me that my poems express something they also feel, that's when I feel I've done my little bit and made the world of sorrows a little bit better. Not less sorrowful, but less cold.” (contributed by Linda Connell of New Zealand) (You’ll be seeing an interview with Linda in a few days.)
Why I write - I write because it makes me a better person in the world. I love words. I love writing. I love reading.
I love how it feels when I read others' words that touch me deeply - I feel connected not only to that person but to the many others who are also touched. I love writing. Writing makes me whole; somehow through writing I become myself.
Words - reading them, writing them makes me me. My daydream self has arms trying to hold as many words as possible, stuffing them into pockets, filling up odd containers, burying them in the garden. Words, words, wonderful words. Words in my voice, in your voice, in the voices of the ages may overlap but each voice is still unique. (from poet Ginger Swope of Ohio)
There was a man with tongue of wood
Who essayed to sing,
And in truth it was lamentable.
But there was one who heard
The clip-clapper of this tongue of wood
And knew what the man
Wished to sing,
And with that the singer was content.
“If I praise the ambition that drove Keats, I do not mean to suggest that it will ever be rewarded. We never know the value of our own work, and everything reasonable leads us to doubt it: for we can be certain that few contemporaries will be read in a hundred years. To desire to write poems that endure—we undertake such a goal certain of two things: that in all likelihood we will fail, and that if we succeed we will never know it.” Donald Hall
I’d seen this quote a long time ago. It’s funny at first, then sort of sad, and then just true. But still we write, eh? We’ve been telling stories about ourselves and the world since sitting around those campfires, munching on crispy bits of flame-broiled mastodon and watching the stars. We still do it in everyday gossip, on facebook, reality shows, movies and late at night behind our eyelids. But the writing of it seems to have become encoded in one or more of our gene sequences and we can’t stop. And why should we? Here, finally, is what Ted Kooser had to say:
"Considering the ways in which so many of us waste our time, what would be wrong with a world in which everybody were writing poems? After all, there’s a significant service to humanity in spending time doing no harm. While you’re writing your poem, there’s one less scoundrel in the world. And I’d like a world, wouldn’t you, in which people actually took time to think about what they were saying? It would be, I’m certain, a more peaceful, more reasonable place. I don’t think there could ever be too many poets. By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay."
— Ted Kooser (The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets) (get the book. It’s short, sweet AND helpful.)