Hello, Reader, and happy Friday. I am nearly one week through a two-week period of half-days of school for the children (insert forced smile here). I’d like to say that poems are dying all over the place because of this, but most of what I’ve attempted this week has been stillborn anyway. Sometimes I think writing actually gets harder as one goes along because one knows more. The more one knows, the higher one’s standards for one’s own work, etc.
Well anyway, what choice do we have but to keep at it? I’ve tried abandoning poetry and it refuses to be abandoned. So every morning, it’s back to the drawing board. Even when it’s painful,
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres-
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate – but there is no competition –
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
Please, to repeat: FOR US, THERE IS ONLY THE TRYING. THE REST IS NOT OUR BUSINESS. I suppose if Eliot felt this way, the rest of us are entitled to as well.
reading, that eternal font Sometimes I feel the same about reading: that my efforts at it are stillborn. That although I can see the obvious craft in a text, I can think of nothing insightful to say about it. I can read it over and over again, and still have nothing insightful to say about it. I can even LOVE IT, and have nothing insightful to say about it.
(Real-time digression: I’ve many times had the experience of reading a book of poems, having nothing insightful to say about it, but having it somehow get inside me and push my writing into a new space. Although I don’t understand how this works, I am always grateful for it. Perhaps this dynamic is more valuable than having something insightful to say.).
I was reading Seamus Heaney’s essays again this week, and he writes about learning from Eliot (Coincidence? I think not.). He writes about reading Eliot, but “finding it difficult to retain any impression unified and whole in my mind.” I suppose if Seamus felt this way, the rest of us are entitled to as well.
He writes about different ways of making sense of a text. When we couldn’t make sense of Eliot intellectually, he found a way of making sense of the sound of Eliot’s poems.
And he writes of eventually getting it:
“(F)irst encountered as a strange fact of culture, poetry is internalized over the years until it becomes, as they say, second nature. Poetry that was originally beyond you, generating the need to understand and overcome its strangeness, becomes in the end a familiar path within you, a grain along which your imagination opens pleasurably backwards towards an origin and seclusion.”
He says that reading Eliot taught gave him
“..the confidence to affirm that there is a reality to poetry which is unspeakable, and for that very reason all the more piercing… .”
I don’t know about you, but I am taking notes.
And if a day is left to me… Here is a poem I came across this week that I LOVE, and I could probably even think of something insightful to say about, but won’t, since sometimes I think it’s nice to just let a poem wash over one’s mind and one’s body, and then to sigh pleasurably, and just say, Wow. This is “And If a Day is Left to Me Before I’m Old” as featured at the Missouri Review Poem-of-the-Week.
Happy weekend and thanks for reading.