Before by Sean O’Brien*

pansy-flower

Make over the alleys and gardens to birdsong,
The hour of not-for-an-hour. Lie still.
Leave the socks you forgot on the clothesline.
Leave slugs to make free with the pansies.
The jets will give Gatwick a miss
And from here you could feel the springs
Wake by the doorstep and under the precinct
Where now there is nobody frozenly waiting.
This is free time, in the sense that a handbill
Goes cartwheeling over the crossroads
Past stoplights rehearsing in private
And has neither witness nor outcome.
This is before the first bus has been late
Or the knickers sought under the bed
Or the first cigarette undertaken,
Before the first flush and cross word.
Viaducts, tunnels and motorways: still.
The mines and the Japanese sunrise: still.
The high bridges lean out in the wind
On the curve of their pinkening lights,
And the coast is inert as a model.
The wavebands are empty, the mail unimagined
And bacon still wrapped in the freezer
Like evidence aimed to intrigue our successors.
The island is dreamless, its slack-jawed insomniacs
Stunned by the final long shot of the movie,
Its murderers innocent, elsewhere.
The policemen have slipped from their helmets
And money forgets how to count.
In the bowels of Wapping the telephones
Shamelessly rest in their cradles.
The bomb in the conference centre’s
A harmless confection of elements
Strapped to a duct like an art installation.
The Première sleeps in her fashion,
Her majesty, all the princesses, tucked up
With the Bishops, the glueys, the DHSS,
In the people’s Republic of Zeds.
And you sleep at my shoulder, the cat at your feet,
And deserve to be spared the irruption
Of if, but and ought, which is why
I declare this an hour of general safety
When even the personal monster-
Example the Kraken-is dead to the world
Like the deaf submarines with their crewmen
Spark out at their fathomless consoles.
For we do not exist, and I promise
I shall not wake anyone yet.

*Published in Emergency Kit, Edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney, Published in 2004 by Faber and Faber

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On Daydreaming: A Writer’s Perspective

Kobo Writing Life

By Shayna Krishnasamy

Remember when you used to be scolded for daydreaming? Dreaming rather than paying attention in class was a real no-no in my elementary school. Daydreaming the afternoon away was also frowned upon when there were chores or homework to be done. To this day, being labelled a “daydreamer” is similar to being called “special”—not exactly a compliment. We’re taught to view this activity as lazy and a waste of time, something with little value. “Stop daydreaming and help me bring in these groceries,” your spouse/roommate/parent might say, and you jump up and comply, duly chastened, fully complicit in this vast conspiracy that daydreaming is of no importance.

Well, I’m here to tell you that everything you’ve ever been told about daydreaming is a total LIE.

DaydreaminDaydreaming_(1)g is essential to being a writer. If there weren’t authors the world over walking around bumping into things because their…

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The Role of an Editor: When to Put Down the Red Pen

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In 1980, the author Raymond Carver famously confronted Gordon Lish, his editor at Alfred A. Knopf, for stepping over the editorial line. Carver in his impassioned letter wrote that his stories no longer felt like his own, particularly objecting to Lish’s “edits” of “A Small Good Thing”. I say “edits” but it would be more accurate refer to Lish’s contributions as a rewrite. Gordon Lish had not only shortened the story by over 20 pages (leaving eight), he had also renamed characters and changed the title of the story to “The Bath”. Carver felt his integrity as a writer had been compromised, writing, “I’ll tell you the truth, my very sanity is on the line here”. Lish felt he was simply doing his job.
This raises the question, what is the role of an editor? Henry James referred to editing as “the butchers’ craft”, and Christopher Hitchens says, “Authors who moan with praise for their editors always seem to reek slightly of the Stockholm syndrome;” however Steven King famously instructed writers to “kill your darlings”, a task easier said than done. Perhaps it is the editor’s job to be the merciful executioner of those darlings. Betsy Lerner, author of The Forest for the Trees, an advice book for writers speaks favorably of the editorial department, asserting, “For the writer who truly loves language, a trip to the copy editor is like a week at a spa. You come out looking younger, trimmer, and standing straighter”.
The role of an editor goes far beyond that of manuscript alterations. An editor is also responsible for acquiring manuscripts, acting as a psychologist for their authors, and pitching their manuscripts to their publishers. While the author-editor relationship can be fraught, it is often a relationship of trust and mutual respect. So where should the line between editor and writer be drawn? Comment below with your thoughts!

Personism: A Manifesto by (my boyfriend) Frank O’Hara (1961)

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Everything is in the poems, but at the risk of sounding like the poor wealthy man’s Allen Ginsberg I will write to you because I just heard that one of my fellow poets thinks that a poem of mine that can’t be got at one reading is because I was confused too. Now, come on. I don’t believe in god, so I don’t have to make an elaborately sounded structures. I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have; I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, “Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.”

That’s for the writing poems part. As for their reception, suppose that you’re in love and someone’s mistreating (mal aimé) you, you don’t say, “Hey, you can’t treat me this way, I care!” you just let all the different bodies fall where they may, and they always do may after a few months. But that’s not why you fell in love in the first place, just to hang on to life, so you have to take your chances and avoid being logical. Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you.

I’m not saying that I don’t have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today, but what difference does that make? They’re just ideas. The only good thing about it is that when I get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives.

But how can you really care if anybody gets it, or gets what it means or it improves them. Improves them for what? For death? Why hurry them along? Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked mean, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don’t give a damn whether they eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete). Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to, if they don’t need poetry bully for them. I like the movies too. And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies. As for measure and other technical apparatus, that’s just common sense: If you’re going to buy a pair of pants you want them be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you. There’s nothing metaphysical about it. Unless, of course, you flatter yourself into thinking that what you’re experiencing is “yearning”.

Abstraction in poetry, which Allen recently commented in in It is, it is intriguing. I think it appears mostly in the minute particulars where decision is necessary. Abstraction (in poetry, not in painting ) involves personal removal by the poet. For instance, the decision involved in the choice between the “nostalgia of the infinite” and the and “the nostalgia for the infinite” defines an attitude towards degree of abstraction. The nostalgia of the infinite representing the greater degree of abstraction, removal, and negative capability (as in Keats and Mallarmé). Personism, a movement which I recently founded and which nobody know about, interests me a great deal, being so totally opposed to this kind of abstract removal that is vermin on a true abstraction for the first time, really, in the history of poetry. Personism is to Wallace Stevens what la poésie pure was to Béranger. Personism has nothing to do with personality or intimacy, far from it! but to give you a vague idea, one of its minimal aspects is to address itself to one person (other than the poet himself), thus evoking overtones of love without destroying love’s life-giving vulgarity, and sustaining the poet’s feelings towards the poem while preventing love from distracting him into feeling about the person.  That’s part of Personism. It was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blonde). I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. It’s a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages. In all modesty, I confess that it may be the death of literature as we know it. While I have certain regrets, I am still glad I got there before Alain Robbe-Grillet did. Poetry being quicker and surer than prose, it is only jus that poetry finish literature off. For a time people thought that Artaud was going to accomplish this, but actually, for all their magnificence, his polemical writings are not more outside literature than Bear Mountain is outside New York State. His relation is no more astounding than Debuffet’s to painting.

What can we expect of personism? (This is getting good isn’t it?) Everything, but we won’t get it. It is too new, too vital a movement to promise anything. But it, like Africa, is on the way. The recent propagandists for technique on the one hand, and for content on the other, had better watch out.

Poetry-Phobia: A Battle Between Narcissism and Insecurity

Most people loathe going to the doctor.  My father intentionally chose an elderly physician so that when he died, he was left doctor-less; no more making up excuses to avoid appointments, no more irritated receptionists leaving messages when he “forgot” his yearly physical.  It’s odd that I, as his first born, the child with whom he shares the most similarities anticipates going to the doctor with as much enthusiasm as I show for kittens and my birthday.

I sit down on the paper covered aqua cushion, bouncing my legs in anticipation as I await the nurse.  She slides back the door and pulls out my chart.  “I’m going to have to ask you a couple of questions.”

I respond cheerfully, even though I’m disappointed that there will only be “a couple” questions. A hundred, a ton, or even several would have been a more satisfactory quantifier for the word questions.  The nurse allows me an opportunity to speak shamelessly and extensively about the only subject I can claim to be on expert, myself.  Regular doctor visits are decent, but specialists are better. (They have to take a whole family history, which generally takes a while).  The dentist is no good because my mouth is housing the fingers of the brutish dental hygienist, and I won’t even get started on the gynecologist.

My enjoyment of discussing myself has unfortunately become a detriment to my writing. I continually find myself inserting myself in places I don’t belong, usually making a grand appearance wearing parentheses and dripping in sarcasm and drama.  Sometimes I find ways to include myself a bit more subtly, thinly veiling myself in a character name, or sneaking into the story as an extra.  But the question is why? I’m certain a psychologist would have a few things to say about it, (another doctor to ask me questions) however because, as I stated as before, I am the authority on—well me, I think I should be able to answer my own question through examination of the very thing that this narcissism most obviously and destructively affects: my writing.

There is a comfort in non-fiction. The responsibility of creating intricate settings and complex characters is alleviated.  The writer’s job is not to create, but to record with his or her own distinctive voice and style.  A bit of the “blank page anxiety” is lessened. Perhaps my love of writing personal stories is a safe choice.  It is in my comfort zone. No one can discredit me because there are no sources to help him or her fact-check my life.  However, I think within that comfort zone, there is a tendency for me to create more easily and more beautifully.  More of my energy can go into making each sentence “sing” than into research and creating.  Within those constraints, my creativity flows freely, unburdened by stress or anxiety. And yet, limiting my focus to one specific genre has stunted my growth as a writer; fear of failure has prevented me from experimenting with other forms.

The form that scares me the most is certainly poetry, that indefinable, mysterious form that twists the mind of prose writers to no end. I had avoided poetry throughout my university creative writing career, taking Prose 1, and Creative Non-Fiction. Do I like reading poetry? Yes. But when it comes to writing it, I am lost. When I saw I had to write not one, but two poems for my second creative writing assignment my stomach dropped in horror. Two poems? To be graded?

My poetry-phobia is a relatively recent development. In fact, the first things I ever wrote voluntarily and seriously were poems. The summer I turned fourteen; read The Bell Jar, and discovered Sylvia Plath, I was inspired to start writing.

I devoured Sylvia Plath. After The Bell Jar I began reading her collections of poetry including The Colossus, Ariel, and The Collected Poems.  The latter especially appealed to me. The handsome brown leather cover with the gold embossed writing on the spine, and the slightly musty smell that lingered on all of the pages made me feel scholarly and important. I read it in an armchair wearing loafers and glasses, drinking a cup of tea without milk or sugar because I thought it was more literary that way. By the end of that summer I had read her complete works.

Sylvia Plath is a dangerous author for a fourteen-year-old girl to read.  Every word she wrote echoed the experiences I had everyday. Sylvia felt alone and so did I. She wasn’t sure of herself and neither was I. She suffered from clinical depression and so did I. The difference was she had written beautiful poems and novels out of her dark feelings, while I just lived in my angsty world, suffering and producing nothing.

It was then that I decided to write my feelings down into a tangible form. That tangible form was bad poetry, usually written in my chemistry notebook during class, but I was writing, and it was easy.

It’s so fascinating to me that I could be so insecure; yet write so freely and without care. Somewhere along the way, I grew up and became more confident, but while I was more assured in myself, I became afraid of my writing. At a reading of Danielle Evans’ work, the author made a very astute observation, one that could explain one facet of my addictive self-insertion and my simultaneous fear of writing.  She said that most writers have a bi-polar personality, switching from thinking they are God’s gift to the written world and thinking that they have written nothing of value. I insert myself, not only to hide my insecurities, but because I have the pure nerve of thinking I know what I’m talking about. I should not need myself on the page as a crutch, weighed down by the weight of my insecurities.  I need to trust that my words hold meaning and truth without putting myself on the page to advocate for them. The bipolar nature of my writer personality does not have to be in opposition.  Danielle Evans stated that there was a state between the manic and depressive ones.  In this state I can make the most progress in both writing and editing. Writing takes both ego and self-consciousness.  By learning to control my emotions surrounding my own work, I could avoid writing solely about myself.  By gaining confidence in my ability to learn and write about other things, perhaps my egotistical writing will subside along with my fear of literary failure.

Poetry is the genre that is the easiest to write absolute crap and have it look inspired by a layman. However, the experts know how to weed out those poems. There is a lot more to poetry than writing down emotional words. You have to worry about syntax, rhythm, syllables, and then there’s the actual words themselves; they still have to mean something. Possibly because I have personally written bad poetry, I am wary of writing more. But this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like anything, writing takes practice. If I always live in fear of setting pen to paper, I will never improve. I will have to churn out several if not hundreds of bad poems to write one good one.

The one good thing about assignments is that you do inevitably have to finish them. Unlike recreational writing, you can’t just shelve them away when the going gets tough and words stop flowing so easily. I had to write two poems, and no amount of fear or reluctance could stop me.

Were these poems the best ones I’ll ever write? No. But I wrote them, I practiced and that is a start.

I plan to force myself into more dangerous terrain experimenting in genres besides memoir, maybe even delving into poetry? Though I adore writing memoir and personal essay, I may be stuck in a rut. My comfort lies in these two genres, keeping me from expanding and refining my writing.  Practicing other forms can only improve my writing.

Babies are self-centered and disregard others and in some ways I am still an infantile writer. Luckily babies mature and grow; this gives me hope for my writing. Without proper nourishment, encouragement, and a certain amount of willpower, babies will not develop properly. Similarly, I must continue nourish myself by reading the writing of others, following the instruction and encouragement of my teachers, and devoting myself to improving and developing my writing.  Simply allowing myself a place to write without my own judgment gives me a safe place to practice and fall without consequences. It is perhaps in my failures that I will learn the most about writing.