Quotes from better writers
Quotes from better writers
by Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967
I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
talking to a spread of white stars:
It was you that slunk laughing
in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run<
away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.
I am well past my 20s,
that golden time
when I only saw a little—and even that
with optimistic eyes.
I’m past the days of cheap
apartments with friends and wine and roaches,
lentils and rice for breakfast,
or leftover cold pizza.
I’m beyond learning of
war and death and pestilence.
The visitations of grief
have marked me, too.
Gone is the luxury of
happy, uninformed innocence,
the blind and smug assurance
that comes with youth.
A little reminiscing. Reposting this just because I love this song. It makes me feel good. Time to head back to NOLA soon. …
“My ex grew up on da Rue Royale, and she had a way of making the word ‘water’ sound SO good. More like ‘Wahrter.’ I love y’all’s town. And the world’s FINEST women come from New Orleans. You may quote me.”
Trying to recapture a feeling…but what do I know? I’m just a white, white boy with too many miles on the transmission who dropped in for a few days of pretend. Nah, I’m just being coo-yon. That place can get under your skin quick. I’ll be going back. Ça c’est bon Continue reading “‘Tu Le Ton Son Ton’ *”
Do you have a favorite to share? (And yes, I’m procrastinating…)
A couple to get you primed:
Sometimes writing is beautiful, like making love. Sometimes it’s painful, like having a tooth pulled. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.
A new (to me) poet:
We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn
A red wing rose in the darkness
And suddenly a hare ran across the road
One of us pointed to it with his hand.
That was long ago
Today neither of them is alive
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.
O my love, where are they, where are they going?
the flash of hand, streak of movement,
rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
A famous writer was in his study. He picked up his pen and started writing :
1. Last year, I had a surgery and my gall bladder was removed. I had to stay stuck to the bed due to this surgery for a long time.
2. The same year I reached the age of 60 years and had to give up my favourite job. I had spent 30 years of my life in this publishing company.
3. The same year I experienced the sorrow of the death of my father.
4. And in the same year my son failed in his medical exam because he had a car accident. He had to stay in bed at hospital with the cast on for several days. The destruction of car was another loss.
At the end he wrote: Alas! It was such a bad year !!
When the writer’s wife entered the room, she found her husband looking sad & lost in his thoughts. From behind his back she read what was written on the paper. She left the room silently and came back with another paper and placed it on side of her husband’s writing.
When the writer saw this paper, he found his name written on it with the following lines :
1. Last year I finally got rid of my gall bladder due to which I had spent years in pain….
2. I turned 60 with sound health and retired from my job. Now I can utilise my time to write something better with more focus and peace…..
3. The same year my father, at the age of 95, without depending on anyone or without any critical condition met his Creator….
4. The same year, God blessed my son with a new life. My car was destroyed but my son stayed alive without getting any disability.
At the end she wrote:
This year was an immense blessing of God and it passed well !!!
The writer was indeed happy and amazed at such beautiful and encouraging interpretation of the happenings in his life in that year !!!
Moral : It’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.
by David Herbert Lawrence
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
And I have something to expiate:
by Keegan Lester
The war ships bobbing off the coast.
The outdated oil drills painted
so to blend into the clouds. The gold thin
stitched to the water’s edge. Errant dolphin.
Balled up piece of trash on PCH with the list: Eggs, whole milk,
You cry like a peacock, she says,
every time you get close to being the thing you want to be.
What if God is the people around us:
watching, listening? What a relief that would be.
But it’s so easy to forget we’re not
only being watched by the people in front of us, but
also by the people in places we cannot see. What is it
to be allowed back again? On the bike path, my father
ahead of me, saying, look at the wind,
meaning: look at the thing doing the moving,
moving orange-coned flags holding on for dear life.
The salt rolling off the ocean rots everything in its jowls
& my skin so close to turning, I can feel
becoming the metal shard you will learn to protect yourself from,
capable of catching the light drawing you in.
Everything rusted is a story beginning
once upon a time, I was young, standing in front of the
beneath the sun without consequence or query
for time, just standing, looking out into the thing
unaware of its indifference. There’s something Greek in that. Did
Odysseus need the monsters more
than they needed him? Does it matter? A kind of
in that line of thinking but also something very American. Akin to
They only dance if you light them & wave. Birds do not
abandon their young merely because of human touch.
This & so many other myths my mother breaks
in her search for palatable colors, for mixing,
for making what was lost whole again.
by Thomas Hardy
Forty years—aye, and several more—ago,
When I paced the headlands loosed from dull employ,
The waves huzza’d like a multitude below,
In the sway of an all-including joy
Blankly I walked there a double decade after,
When thwarts had flung their toils in front of me,
And I heard the waters wagging in a long ironic laughter
At the lot of men, and all the vapoury
Things that be.
Wheeling change has set me again standing where
Once I heard the waves huzza at Lammas-tide;
But they supplicate now—like a congregation there
Who murmur the Confession—I outside,
By Emily Temple
Hey—are you writing right now? If you aren’t, and I know you aren’t, because you’re reading this sentence, it’s okay. It may seem like the phenomenon of writers constantly agonizing over not being able to write is a modern one (one of the great ironies of book Twitter is how the moment you hashbrag #amwriting you necessarily make it a lie—though let’s get real, it had probably been a lie for a while before that), but in fact, it goes back at least a century or two. Many canonical authors, whose work is now beloved by millions of readers, also wrote depressive or hand-wringing journal entries and letters about their failure to get words on the page. Writer’s block, it turns out, can (and does) happen to anyone. To prove it, I’ve pulled out a few selections from the journals and letters of a few great writers, which I hope, if you are procrastinating right now, or just in a dry spell, will make you feel feelings of solidarity and encouragement. After all, Kafka may not have written for days at a stretch—but hey, almost everyone has read at least something by him now.
(from The Diaries of Franz Kafka, 1910-1923, h/t Open Culture)
20 January. The end of writing. When will it catch me up again? In what a bad state I am going to meet F.! The clumsy thinking that immediately appears when I give up my writing, my inability to prepare for the meeting; whereas last week I could hardly shake off all the ideas it aroused in me. May I enjoy the only conceivable profit I can have from it—better sleep.
Black Flags. How badly I even read. And with what malice and weakness I observe myself. Apparently I cannot force my way into the world, but lie quietly, receive, spread out within me what I have received, and then step calmly forth.. . .
29 January. Again tried to write, virtually useless. The past two days went early to bed, about ten o’clock, something I haven’t done for a long time now. Free feeling during the day, partial satisfaction, more useful in the office, possible to speak to people—Severe pain in my knee now.
30 January. The old incapacity. Hardly ten days interrupted in my writing and already cast aside. Once again prodigious efforts stand before me. You have to dive down, as it were, and sink more rapidly than which sinks in advance of you.
7 February. Complete standstill. Unending torments.. . .
11 March. How time flies; another ten days and I have achieved nothing. It doesn’t come off. A page now and then is successful, but I can’t keep it up, the next day I am powerless.. . .
13 March. An evening. At six o’clock lay down on the sofa. Slept until about eight. Couldn’t get up, waited for the clock to strike, and in my sleepiness missed hearing it. Got up at nine o’clock. Didn’t go home for supper, nor to Max’s either, where there was a gathering tonight. Reasons: lack of appetite, fear of getting back late in the evening; but above all the thought that I wrote nothing yesterday, that I keep getting farther and farther from it, and am in danger of losing everything I have laboriously achieved these past six months. Provided proof of this by writing one and a half wretched pages of a new story that I have already decided to discard . . . Occasionally I feel an unhappiness that almost dismembers me, and at the same time am convinced of its necessity and of the existence of a goal to which one makes one’s way by undergoing every kind of unhappiness.. . .
23 March. Incapable of writing a line.
(from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath)
Monday, July 7 (1958): I am evidently going through a stage in beginning writing similar to my two months of hysteria in beginning teaching last fall. A sickness, frenzy of resentment at everything, but myself at the bottom. I lie wakeful at night, wake exhausted with that sense of razor-shaved nerves. I must be my own doctor. I must cure this very destructive paralysis & ruinous brooding & daydreaming. If I want to write, this is hardly the way to behave—in horror of it, frozen by it. The ghost of the unborn novel is a Medusa-head. Witty or simply observant character notes come to me. But I have no idea how to begin. I shall, perhaps, just begin. I am somewhere in me sure I should write a good “book poem” a day—but that is nonsense—I go wild when I spend a day writing a bad twelve lines—as I did yesterday. My danger, partly, I think, is becoming too dependent on Ted . . . I enjoy it when Ted is off for a bit. I can build up my own inner life, my own thoughts, without his continuous “What are you thinking? What are you going to do now?” which makes me promptly & recalcitrantly stop thinking and doing. We are amazingly compatible. But I must be myself—make myself & not let myself be made by him . . . I won’t get my writing schedule from outside—it must come from within. I’ll leave off poems for a bit—finish the books I’m now in the middle of (at least five!) do German (that I can do) & write a kitchen article (for Atlantic’s Accent on Living?) a Harper’s Cambridge Student Life article—a story “The Return” & suddenly attack my novel from the middle. O for a plot.
Wednesday, July 9: Prose writing has become a phobia to me: my mind shuts & I clench. I can’t, or won’t, come clear with a plot. Must put poetry aside & begin a story tomorrow, today was useless, a wash of exhaustion after the bird. Always excuses . . . I must start outlining a story plot: obviously it takes time—I half expect to fly to the typewriter & begin. Central conflict—my life is full of it. Start there. Marriage: Courtship. Jealousy. Settings I know: try Wellesley—suburbia. Cambridge apartment: Lou Healy, Sat Eve Post style. Jealousy: sister of newlywed husband. Poor poet. Couple divided over baby: why fear? Not like other men. Suburban neighborhood. I have fragments. Vignettes. Mrs. Spaulding is a story herself. I must note backgrounds jobs against which my people can move. Plagiarism in college. Young teacher. Decision to make. Start with that: 15 to 20 pages a week. Why not? Ambivalent position. Romance involved. Campus setting. I know this. Make a page of story plots & subjects tomorrow. That’s what—a paragraph on each—style & sort. Also several on “The Return.” Use Baskin. Ho ho. Everyone here. Aaron’s cocktail party. S————, James & Joan triangle. From whose point of view? Think, Think. Study sympathy point of view—emotional center—
(from A Writer’s Diary)
Friday, April 8th. 10 minutes to 11 a.m. (1921)
And I ought to be writing Jacob’s Room; and I can’t, and instead I shall write down the reason why I can’t—this diary being a kindly blankfaced old confidante. Well, you see, I’m a failure as a writer. I’m out of fashion: old: shan’t do any better: have no headpiece: the spring is everywhere: my book out (prematurely) and nipped, a damp firework. Now the solid grain of fact is that Ralph sent my book out to The Times for review without date of publication in it. Thus a short notice is scrambled through to be in “on Monday at latest,” put in an obscure place, rather scrappy, complimentary enough, but quite unintelligent. I mean by that they don’t see that I’m after something interesting. So that makes me suspect that I’m not. And thus I can’t get on with Jacob. Oh and Lytton’s book is out and takes up three columns; praise I suppose. I do not trouble to sketch this in order; or how my temper sank and sank till for half an hour I was as depressed as I ever am. I mean I thought of never writing any more—save reviews . . . What depresses me is the thought that I have ceased to interest people—at the very moment when, by the help of the press, I thought I was becoming more myself. One does not want an established reputation, such as I think I was getting, as one of our leading female novelists. I have still, of course, to gather in all the private criticism, which is the real test. When I have weighed this I shall be able to say whether I am “interesting” or obsolete. Anyhow, I feel quite alert enough to stop, if I’m obsolete. I shan’t become a machine, unless a machine for grinding articles. As I write, there rises somewhere in my head that queer and very pleasant sense of something which I want to write; my own point of view. I wonder, though, whether this feeling that I write for half a dozen instead of 1,500 will pervert this?—make me eccentric—no, I think not. But, as I said, one must face the despicable vanity which is at the root of all this niggling and haggling. I think the only prescription for me is to have a thousand interests—if one is damaged, to be able instantly to let my energy flow into Russian, or Greek, or the press, or the garden, or people, or some activity disconnected with my own writing.
(from a letter to George Sand)
You are alone and sad down there, I am the same here.
Whence come these attacks of melancholy that overwhelm one at times? They rise like a tide, one feels drowned, one has to flee. I lie prostrate. I do nothing and the tide passes.
My novel is going very badly for the moment. That fact added to the deaths of which I have heard; of Cormenin (a friend of twenty-five years’ standing), of Gavarni, and then all the rest, but that will pass. You don’t know what it is to stay a whole day with your head in your hands trying to squeeze your unfortunate brain so as to find a word. Ideas come very easily with you, incessantly, like a stream. With me it is a tiny thread of water. Hard labor at art is necessary for me before obtaining a waterfall. Ah! I certainly know THE AGONIES OF STYLE.
In short I pass my life in wearing away my heart and brain, that is the real TRUTH about your friend.
(from A Prayer Journal)
How can I live—how shall I live. Obviously the only way to live right is to give up everything. But I have no vocation & maybe that is wrong anyway. But how [to] eliminate this picky fish bone kind of way I do things—I want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it—I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head—unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me. Right at present this does not seem to be His policy. I can’t write a thing. But I’ll continue to try—that is the point. And at every dry point, I will be reminded Who is doing the work when it is done & Who is not doing it at that moment. Right now I wonder if God will ever do any more writing for me. He has promised His grace; I am not so sure about the other. Perhaps I have not been thankful enough for what has gone before.
How hard it is to keep any one intention[,] any one attitude toward a piece of work[,] any one tone[,] any one anything. I find a certain peace in my soul these days that is very fine—lead us not into temptation. The story level, bah. Work, work, work. Dead God, let me work, keep me working, I want so to be able to work. If my sin is laziness I want to be able to conquer it.
(from A Self Portrait in Letters)
November 14, 1960
Hello. Are you okay? I’m still here, not doing much—not writing enough, not writing good strong stuff—just coasting along with all my needles threaded, too busy worrying to sew. Worrying? Well, it is a difficult period . . . one book out, most reviews in, and the feeling that I’m a fraud, that I didn’t write the thing but that I stole it somewhere. New poems come slow . . . the fun’s gone. Or maybe it’s just now, maybe soon, maybe sooner I’ll get it back. I have about 25 pages toward a second book but some of it isn’t too good . . . I am allowing myself weaknesses that I wouldn’t have permitted a while ago. Or maybe I’m wrong . . . maybe not weak. Hell-bell! I worry obsessivly (can’t spell that one) and can’t seem to feel that I’m lousy or great . . . but both. Have a feeling that they (magazine editors) take my poems without reading or judging them . . . they were my super ego. I have a large group coming out in the Spring (I think) Hudson (some that you have seen) and they are okay I guess . . . also have a group of 6 coming out sometime soon in Partisan and they are the ones that worry me. Well, just today I made up my mind that to-hell-with-it, and that I’m not going to worry if they stink. They are a bad dream that I’ll put away. Do you think that is okay? Okay, I mean, to put away bad poems like bad dreams even when you have allowed them to be printed, revealed etc. It is all I can do.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(from Volume II of his Notebooks)
Oct 21st, 1804—Monday night—Syracuse.—O my God! or if I dare not continue in that awful feeling! yet oh whatever is good in me, even tho’ not in the Depth, tho’ not in that which is the Universal & Perfect in us, yet oh! by all the ministering Imperfections of my Nature that were capable of subserving the Good—O why have I shunned & fled like a cowed Dog from the Thought that yesterday was my Birth Day, & that I was 32—So help me Heaven! as I looked back, & till I looked back I had imagined I was only 31—so completely has a whole year passed, with scarcely the fruits of a month!—O Sorrow & Shame! I am not worthy to live!—Two & thirty years—& this last year above all others!—I have done nothing! No I have not even layed up any materials, any inward stores, of after action!—O no! still worse! still worse! body & mind, habit of bedrugging the feelings, & bodily movements, & habit of dreaming without distinct of rememberable . . .
(from A Writer at War)
[in a 1943 letter to Frank Thompson]
Do I write? I’ve written only three poems & no prose in the last year. Just before that, I wrote quite a little prose. My father got one short story published for me in the Manchester Guardian and a selection of my letters without warning me in the New Statesman. But at the moment I’m writing nothing nor do I feel the urge to write. I’m suffering stagnation militaris. A change of air & proximity to the Germans will probably wake me up again. But the truth is I haven’t much to write about. I have a conventional mind formed along Wykhamical lines. Also I’m very little of an introvert. Only when writing to you or to my brother do I make an effort at introspection. And unless you are an introvert you do not have the vision to look into other people’s minds. And without that you cannot write as it is the fashion to write today. Mind you I think the psychological novel has had its day. Soviet authors I believe, are searching round for a new line of advance. Ehrenburg, when he tries straight fiction as opposed to satire, has gone back to a style as simple as Defoe’s. Personally, I think Tolstoy & Chekhov went as far into the minds of our fellow men as it is profitable or seemly to go. Gorki is, to me, an ideal novelist in this respect. No, if I had the ability to tell a story, I should not allow you to mar it with psychological interludes. But the truth is, Irushka, I have a very shallow mind & I’ve been skating round these last four years on the crust of it. If/when I return to England I look to you & other comrades to re-educate & rehabilitate me in some measure. What nonsense. This war should be developing my mind. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening to me. If I get through this European war I want to go to China, & then on, wherever the next phase takes place. Because this war, in which we are now engaged, may have its uneasy lulls & armistices, peace we shall NOT know until the United States of the World has been achieved. And if I get time, wandering from here to there, I may write some of the more memorable things I have seen. But about the conflicts in my own mind, not. They had far better end with the unseemly clay that bounds them.
(Hi. I’m still around, just not posting much. My life lately feels like the scene in this poem. I’ve got a manuscript for another book making rounds at publishers, hat in hand. And I’m mulling, reading and writing sketches that could be one of three book ideas. One’s a murder mystery, one’s a time-travel, sci-fi love story, and the third is hard to describe. Maybe it’s a memoir by the alien who makes first contact with humans and barely escapes by nuking the east coast. You know, cheerful stuff.)
by J.T. Knoll
Speed popping, long haul truckers stretch, yak, and
drink coffee with locals searching for pancakes or bacon
and eggs after a night of drinking, dancing, gambling, and
making whoopee at nightspots like the Tower Ballroom,
Saddlehead Sam’s, the 69 Drive-In, Barto’s Idle Hour
and the VFW. The haggard and the high class together.
No place else open. Roy Orbison belts out Candy Man
from the neon and chrome Wurlitzer. Cigarette smoke
curls around the horseshoe bar beneath a large, stuffed
deer head. Three a.m., crowd gone, fry cook leans over a
newspaper. Waitress rolls a nickel from her tip pocket
into the juke, punches in her selection, slides wearily
into a booth, puts her feet up, and lights a Pall Mall. Elvis
begins to sing. She closes her eyes and mouths the words,
Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
“Graveyard Shift At Ace’s Truck Stop” by J.T. Knoll from Others Like Us. © 39 West Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
by Jim Harrison
Oh, to write just one poem
that would last as long as that rose
tattooed on her butt!
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
– Carl Jung
I walked down alone Sunday after church
To the place where John has been cutting trees
To see for myself about the birch
He said I could have to bush my peasThe sun in the new-cut narrow gap
Was hot enough for the first of May,
And stifling hot with the odor of sap
From stumps still bleeding their life away.
The frogs that were peeping a thousand shrill
Wherever the ground was low and wet,
The minute they heard my step went still
To watch me and see what I came to get.
Birch boughs enough piled everywhere!—
All fresh and sound from the recent axe.
Time someone came with cart and pair
And got them off the wild flower’s backs.
They might be good for garden things
To curl a little finger round,
The same as you seize cat’s-cradle strings,
And lift themselves up off the ground.
Small good to anything growing wild,
They were crooking many a trillium
That had budded before the boughs were piled
And since it was coming up had to come.
About This Poem
“Pea Brush” was published in Mountain Interval(Henry Holt and Company, 1916)
I know how to make a bed
While still lying in it, and
Slip out of an imaginary hole
As if I were squeezed out of a tube:
Tug, smooth—the bed is made.
And if resurrections are this easy,
Why then I believe in all of them:
Lazarus rising from his tomb,
Elijah at the vertical—
Though death, I think, has more than clever
Household hints in mind and wants
The bed made, once, and for good.
“Making a Bed” by Howard Moss from New Selected Poems. © Athenaeum, 1985.
More at: http://www.advicetowriters.com
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always
think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught.
Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
You must read everything, and you must let it all the way into your life, all the way into the part of you that makes writing, and you must let every good thing in — none of this reading a few lines of so-and-so with the hope that you might write something that sounds like it.
by Charles Bukowski
That Harbor Freeway south
through the downtown
I mean it can simply become
last Friday evening
I was sitting there motionless
behind a wall of red tail lights
there wasn’t even first gear
as masses of exhaust fumes greyed the
and there was the smell of a clutch
– it seemed to come from ahead of
from that long
slow rise of
where the cars were working
from first gear
again and again
and from neutral back to first
on the radio
I heard the news of that day
at least 6
I was well versed
the remainder of the stations
played a thin sick
the classical stations
refused to come in
and when they did
it was a stale
standard and tiresome
I turned the radio
a strange whirling began in my head
– it circled behind the forehead
went past the ears and around to the
back of the head then back
to the forehead
I began to wonder
is this what happens when one goes
I considered getting out of my car.
I was in the so-called fast lane.
I could see myself out there
out of my car leaning against
the freeway divider
then I would slide down to a sitting
putting my head between my
I stayed in the car
bit my tongue
turned the radio back on
willed the whirling to
as I wondered
if any of the others
had to battle
compulsions as I
then the car ahead of
2 feet 3 feet!
I shifted to first gear . . .
there was MOVEMENT!
then I was back in neutral
we had moved from 7 to ten
hearing the world news
for the 7th time
it was still all bad
but all of us listening
we could handle that too
because we knew
that there was nothing
than looking at
that same license plate
that same dumb head
sticking up from behind
in the car
ahead of you
as time dissolved
as the temperature gauge
leaned more to the right
as the gas gauge
leaned more to the left
as we wondered
was burning out?
we were like some
crawling feebly home
(Posting again. I think this is the third time….)
“Fair goes the dancing when the Sitar is tuned.
Tune us the Sitar neither high nor low,
And we will dance away the hearts of men.
But the string too tight breaks, and the music dies.
The string too slack has no sound, and the music dies.
There is a middle way.
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high.
And we will dance away the hearts of men.”
—Sir Edwin Arnold, “The Light of Asia” (often misattributed to a saying of Buddha)
“Writing is like being in love. You never get better at it or learn more about it. The day you think you do is the day you lose it. Robert Frost called his work a lover’s quarrel with the world. It’s ongoing. It has neither a beginning nor an end. You don’t have to worry about learning things. The fire of one’s art burns all the impurities from the vessel that contains it.”
― James Lee Burke
“For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obseessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it.
Now he would never write the things he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them, either.”
–– Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”
I self-published a book of poetry recently.
(Technically, it’s the second book I have published, but the first was a children’s picture book designed for the iPad. I’m old-fashioned and have this prejudice that it isn’t really a book unless it is printed in ink on a page made of paper.)
Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I published my first book.
It’s not important to anyone else, but it marks a milestone for me. There can never again be a first one, and I’m letting the feeling settle in slowly and warmly. You never forget your first one, they say.
An itch that I haven’t been able to scratch for more than 60 years has to leave me alone, now. I still feel I can get better, and there is still beauty and meaning to be explored. That is what keeps us young, after all. Always feeling there is more to learn, to do, to feel. Truly young, until we die of old age.
It has only been a couple of days, and a few copies have sold. I don’t have any expectations– oh, maybe to break even on the costs of marketing and buying author copies, perhaps. But that’s about it.
Practice. That was one reason. But for what?
Confidence. That was another. I needed to build my confidence. But again: for what?
I saw the Hemingway quote above, and all of a sudden realized what this book, and all the work over the last two and one-half years was about.
I hope I have not left it for too long. I could have another stroke and be unable to move or write, of course. That’s a thought I carry with me each day. It worries me, but I have had to learn how to move on, and into deeper places in me, in spite of that fear. I found out how to use it for motivation.
I don’t want to be caught short like Harry in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” But I also know that anything might happen. And I have to be ready for whatever comes. We all do, whether we like it or not.
(The story: Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.)
So I will press on, take care of myself as best I can. I want to sit under an apple tree in late summer for as many years as I can, and listen to them fall, wasting their sweetness. But I want to make sure I taste as many as I can.
I will keep writing, and write the things I’ve been putting off. “You pays your money and you takes your chances,” as some old friends used to say. There’s no point in waiting any longer. None of it is 2far–until it is.
Besides, I published a book! A little, self-published book of poetry. Just look at me.
Please call if the Pulitzer Committee tries to reach me. 🙂
“Man plans, God laughs.”
“We all play God every day. When a woman buys a new pair of expensive shoes, she could have spent that same money feeding someone who was starving. In a sense, those shoes mean more to her than a life. We all kill to make our lives more comfortable. We don’t put it in those terms. But we do.”
― Harlan Coben, Hold Tight
by Jim Harrison
My spirit is starving.
How can it be fed?
Not by pain in the predictable future
more the pain in the past
but understanding the invisible flower
within the flower that tells it what is,
the soul of the tree that does the same.
I don’t seem to have a true character
to discover, a man slumped on his desk
dozing at midmorning. I’m an old poet.
That’s it. Period. A three-legged goat
in mountain country. It’s easier in the woods
where you have trees to lean on. There at times
I smelled bears right behind the cabin
coming to eat sunflower seeds put out for birds.
This dawn it’s primroses, pension,
the trellis of white roses. On Easter
Jesus is Jesus. When did God enter him or us?
Published in “Dead Man’s Float,” Copper Canyon Press, 2016.
by Jane Kenyon
How long the winter has lasted—like a Mahler
symphony, or an hour in the dentist’s chair.
In the fields the grasses are matted
and gray, making me think of June, when hay
and vetch burgeon in the heat, and warm rain
swells the globed buds of the peony.
Ice on the pond breaks into huge planes. One
sticks like a barge gone awry at the neck
of the bridge….The reeds
Continue reading “Walking Alone in Late Winter”
Stumbling around waiting for the coffee to kick in, I somehow came across the Japanese word “Dokkōdō“. Then… I wondered… If we got the news we had a week to live, what would we do with that? While this isn’t all part of my personal belief system, there are some good ideas here and it’s not too different from several traditions in Western religion.
The “Dokkōdō” (Japanese: 独行道) (“The Path of Aloneness”, “The Way to Go Forth Alone”, or “The Way of Walking Alone”), is a short work written by Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵) a week before he died in 1645. list below Continue reading “Dokkōdō: The Way of Walking Alone”
I may look normal, but I’m not. On the outside, my life looks conventional. But this is the kind of place I live in my head. It’s a constant battle between doing stuff I’m afraid of and running away. Out on the edge….
“You think I’m insane?” said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”
“Barely — barely.”
“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head.
“He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.”
Once upon a time,
When women were birds,
There was the simple understanding
That to sing at dawn
And to sing at dusk
Was to heal the world through joy.
The birds still remember what we have forgotten,
That the world is meant to be celebrated.
– Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds
Just so you know, we men know this deep down, and treasure you for it. Women make things better.
by Jim Harrison
Rumi advised me to keep my spirit
up in the branches of a tree and not peek
out too far, so I keep mine in the very tall
willows along the irrigation ditch out back,
a safe place to remain unspoiled by the filthy
culture of greed and murder of the spirit.
People forget their spirits easily suffocate
so they must keep them far up in tree
branches where they can be summoned any moment.
It’s better if you’re outside as it’s hard for spirits
to get into houses or buildings or airplanes.
In New York City I used to reach my spirit in front
of the gorilla cage in the children’s zoo in Central Park.
It wouldn’t come in the Carlyle Hotel, which
was too expensive for its last. In Chicago
it won’t come in the Drake though I can see it
out the window hovering over the surface
of Lake Michigan. The spirit above anything
else is attracted to humility. If I slept
in the streets it would be under the cardboard with me.
by Jim Harrison
The ambulance driver told me in a bar
about the car accident–Elsa’s head torn off
and her eyes stayed open.
I went to the site with a bouquet of flowers.
The road’s shoulder was short green grass and along
the fence there were primroses and California
poppies. In the field a brown-and-white cow
watched me wander around. I wondered
how long Elsa could see, and what.
I found a patch of blood-crisp grass
where her head must have rested
surrounded by shards of windshield.
She was a fine gardener with a sweet,
Published in “Dead Man’s Float,” Copper Canyon Press, © 2016
Triggered this piece this morning.
From memory triggered back to life by this poem by Jim Harrison.
The newsroom’s police scanner squawked around 3:30 one afternoon and my editor sent me out with camera and notebook.
It was a cloudy day in early Spring, the roadside grass was fresh and green, the
baby wheat plants covered the fields on either side in a fuzzy carpet.
The scene was very ordinary-looking at first, and it confused me. This was my first fatal accident as a reporter and I didn’t know what to expect.
A sheriff’s department cruiser was off the road with lights flashing behind a family wagon, Continue reading “A Small Death in the Afternoon”
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
~ e.e. cummings ~
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond any experience,your eyes have their silence: in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me, or which i cannot touch because they are too near your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose or if your wish be to close me,i and my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly, as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending; nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility:whose texture compels me with the colour of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands Someone said: to get better, read the best
by ee cummings
in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how
in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)
in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes
in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)
and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.
by Jim Harrison
It’s difficult to imagine the conversations
between Jesus and Buddha this very moment
These androgynous blood brothers demand our imagination.
They could ask Shakespeare and Mozart to write words
and music, and perhaps a dozen others, but they’ve done so.
The vast asteroid on its way toward LA goes unmentioned.
in “The Shape of the Journey,” 1998. Copper Canyon Press
”There’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.”
That was the central — and only — “conclusion” of a report submitted Thursday by an investigative committee of the local garden club.
“There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware,” said Jim Holderman, chair of the committee and prize rose grower. The crowd murmured and nodded. He added: “I think it’s time we stop, children — what’s that sound? Everybody look! What’s going down!”
The sub-committee had been empaneled to make recommendations to the group after the results of a contentious and nearly psychedelic board election were eventually certified. Everyone was still confused.
Retired trout whisperer, Courtney Scales, stepped briefly from the shadows at the back of the room into the flickering old-timey moody candlelight and said:
“There’s battle lines being drawn.” Heads nodded in the gloom.
“Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong,” Scales continued, encouraged. “There’s young people speakin’ their minds, but getting so much resistance from behind.”
“It’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?… Holderman said again, then slumped back into his seat. No one took notice, as he did that a lot.
Everyone grew silent as Ruth Broadbottom rose with a great deal of rustling. (It was how she did everything, and gave off the smell of lavender. Always.)
She was the oldest member of the group and had lived through the great Rubber Duck Fiasco of 1962, and the Gingerbread Restoration Wars in town in the early 70s and late 80s. People wanted to hear what she had to say. She waited until the room was absolutely still, cleared her throat delicately and said:
“Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep.” She paused and looked at every face turned toward her.
“It starts when you’re always afraid. Step out of line, the men come and take you away.”
At that, she rustled out the back door, trailing a cloud of lavender, and the meeting broke up. The people left murmuring in small groups as they went out into the night. The comments were all the same….
“We better stop. Hey, what’s that sound? — Everybody look! What’s going down?”
That was a terrible year, all those years ago, and was in a long string of terrible years. I had thought that was the worst, though. By a shrinking margin, it still is. But this year, and probably the next, are closing fast.
In order for us to learn, it has been true that we have to suffer. Maybe it never ends, the learning.
This speech is one of the most remarkable I’ve heard. Imagine if someone running for president could talk like this today, who had the kind of mind and education to be able to quote someone like Aeschylus from memory. Just imagine. I don’t see anyone who fits the job description.
Not this year.
“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
–Aeschylus of Athens
by Jim Harrison
To remember you’re alive
visit the cemetery of your father
at noon after you’ve made love
and are still wrapped in a mammalian
odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable
surprise, the unexpected death
of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.
Now to home without looking back,
enough is enough.
en route buy the best wine
you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture
out the window and begin sweeping.
Sweep until the walls are
bare of paint and at your feet sweep
until the floor disappears. Finish the wine
in this field of air, return to the cemetery
in evening and wind through the stones
a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.
“First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you. Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had. …And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”
— John Steinbeck, in a letter to his son
by Pablo Naruda
I want you to know
You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you. Continue reading “I Want You To Know One Thing”
by Jim Harrison
I’m hoping to be astonished tomorrow
by I don’t know what:
not the usual undiscovered bird in the cold
snowy willows, garishly green and yellow,
and not my usual death, which I’ve done
before with Borodin’s music
used in Kismet, and angels singing
“Stranger in Paradise,” that sort of thing,
and not the thousand naked women
running a marathon in circles around me
while I swivel on a writerly chair
keeping an eye on my favorites.
What could it be, this astonishment,
but falling into a liquid mirror
to finally understand that the purpose
of earth is earth? It’s plain as night.
She’s willing to sleep with us a little while.
[from IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS, Copper Canyon Press, 2010, $16, pb. ]
I SHALL foot it Down the roadway in the dusk, Where shapes of hunger wander And the fugitives of pain go by. I shall foot it In the silence of the morning, See the night slur into dawn, Hear the slow great winds arise Where tall trees flank the way And shoulder toward the sky. The broken boulders by the road Shall not commemorate my ruin. Regret shall be the gravel under foot. I shall watch for Slim birds swift of wing That go where wind and ranks of thunder Drive the wild processionals of rain. The dust of the traveled road Shall touch my hands and face.
*I was reading a lot of Sandburg a year ago and posted this then. I’m looking back over the year on this cloudy Sunday, and thought to share this again, since I’m still trying to “foot it in the silence of the morning…”
by: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
I AM worn out with dreams;
A weather-worn, marble triton
Among the streams;
And all day long I look
Upon this lady’s beauty
As though I had found in a book
A pictured beauty,
Pleased to have filled the eyes
Or the discerning ears,
Delighted to be but wise,
For men improve with the years;
And yet, and yet,
Is this my dream, or the truth?
O would that we had met
When I had my burning youth!
But I grow old among dreams,
A weather-worn, marble triton
Among the streams.
Written by dear acquaintance, Dr. Moeen Masood:
Being a doctor, I see death on a frequent basis. I have been witnessing death since before the clinical rotations of the medical school even started. Often, I would go to the mortuary whenever a dead body was brought in. Death never bothered me. It doesn’t bother me to this day. It is a fact of life. It’s a fact of living.
Not too long ago, a wise grey-haired colleague of mine taught me something new. I came out of a patient’s room and sat down on the chair at the doctor’s station with the computer in front of me. Next to me, on another chair, in front of the computer was sitting Tony, the wise grey haired colleague. I was staring at the computer screen, when he asked me what the matter was. I looked at him and told him the sad story of the Continue reading “Birth is Fatal”
“There is the image of the man who imagines himself to be a prisoner in a cell. He stands at one end of this small, dark, barren room, on his toes, with arms stretched upward, hands grasping for support onto a small, barred window, the room’s only apparent source of light. If he holds on tight, straining toward the window, turning his head just so, he can see a bit of bright sunlight barely visible between the uppermost bars. This light is his only hope. He will not risk losing it. And so he continues to staring toward that bit of light, holding tightly to the bars. So committed is his effort not to lose sight of that glimmer of life-giving light, that it never occurs to him to let go and explore the darkness of the rest of the cell. So it is that he never discovers that the door at the other end of the cell is open, that he is free. He has always been free to walk out into the brightness of the day, if only he would let go. (192)”
― Sheldon B. Kopp,