friday roundup: in the fens, late nights with Arthur Koestler, and “Charlie Howard’s Descent”

in the fens

in the fens

Day 5 of summer writing and here I am at my desk. I have read and studied some poems (right now I’m reading Ninety-five Nights of Listening by the late Malinda Markham); I’ve done my morning writing. But truth be told, Reader, this week I’m…

in the fens

fens n. low land covered wholly or partially by water; boggy land; a marsh

(and, if capitalized, a marshy region in eastern England)

In Beowulf, Grendel and his sea-hag mother live in the fens, “a haunted, dreadful place where no one could ever live, nor would ever wish to live.” Ah, Reader. The creative juices haven’t been flowing for me this week. Writing has been like slogging through a marsh, hip-deep in water and sludge. Even my trusty old neutral practices have been difficult. There are times like these, in writing and in life. They come and go. I know this, and yet I still hate being in the fens. Two things give me hope, despite the slog. One is the knowledge that The Fens in England was, at some point, drained and proved to be a fertile land for farming. The other is my…

late nights with Arthur Koestler  Last week I mentioned that I’m reading The Act of Creation by Arthur Koester, and Reader, it is a fascinating examination of the creative act. Nerd Alert: Koestler even gives diagrams of the creative process, including the one pictured above which depicts what Koestler calls the “blocked situation.” When blocked, the individual “tries this and that; he thinks of everything under the sun.” There are loops and more loops, but they lead back to the starting point, not to anything new.  The target (T in the diagram above; let’s call it the moment of insight) is out of reach — it’s off the plane (or, as Koestler calls it, the matrix) of what’s possible. How depressing.

According to Koestler, the moment of insight becomes possible only when there is a bisociation of two matrices — two areas of thought, skill, or understanding. He gives an example of a chimpanzee who, given a stick and a banana just out of reach, can use the stick as a tool to reach the banana; but who, in a more organic situation where there is still a banana out of reach but, instead of a stick there is only a tree, can’t figure out how to get the banana. This is because the chimpanzee has not yet thought of the tree as a source of sticks. Eventually, the chimpanzee connects the matrix of using a stick as a tool and the matrix of a tree as a source of sticks; he breaks a twig off the tree and uses it to get the banana. Here’s what it looks like visually:

IMG_1337Koestler also says that the blocked situation is part of the process of the creative act. The slog through the fens, the endless looping — it creates a fertile environment from which the moment of insight can emerge when the time is right. Therefore, I live in hope.

“Charlie Howard’s Descent” Meanwhile, here’s an incredible poem by Mark Doty. We discussed it this week at writing group. I love the way Doty portrays the night in this poem, as something that can be sectioned or partitioned. I also love the little moments in the poem where the speaker interjects his/her own consciousness into the narrative: “it is not not as if falling // is something new”; “What could he do, live // with one hand tied / behind his back?”; “Or else he is not afraid… .” In writing group we also talked about how the narrative unfolds — what is told, what is withheld, in what order; another interesting lens through which to read this poem. I hope you enjoy it.

Happy Friday, happy weekend! And may you find yourself on ground that his high and dry and bisected with all kinds of different matrices

(…and she slogs through the marshland into the distance…).

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