Wednesday, March 12, 2014

We all write poems; it is simply that poets are the ones who write in words.
    --John Fowles, from The French Lieutenant's Woman


Yesterday, before I began writing my letter to you, I had nothing to say, nothing to tell you. I nearly turned off the light and walked downstairs and forgot you for a day. But I forced myself to begin: I forced myself to choose a word, and then a word, and then a word: to say nothing, something, anything. My hands wrote what they wrote, and only then did I read what I had not known was overflowing wordlessly in my heart.


To my dear friend Haydn,

You answer that my questions
intrigue you, that they have returned you
to certain movements that as you put it
always "sounded with silence."
Yes, exactly, there are passages of yours resolute
with silence, not the obvious
sudden absence of wind through the pines
but silence's active body,
arms, legs, contours of the chest,
the caverns of a singer's body
shaping out her sound.

    --Howard Levy, from "Mozart"


In my poem "Mr. Kowalski" I wrote about the way in which a musician's muscle memory assumes its own expressive, even terrible, life. I refuse to play the Proust card here. But you know what I mean: you, too, have fled, and danced, and eaten, and embraced, and shouted.


I bruised my beloved's heart
by inattention and saw the smolder
in her eyes, too late, of course, for
hadn't I taught myself not to watch
myself not pay attention to her?

    --William Matthews, from "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart"


It's the same old story: Too much is never enough.


I am back in the thick of my novel, and things are crowding into my head: millions of things I might put in--all sorts of incongruities, which I make up walking the streets, gazing into the gas fire. Then I struggle with them from 10 to 1: then lie on the sofa, and watch the sun behind the chimneys: and think of more things: then set up a page of poetry in the basement, and so to tea and Morgan Forster. I've shirked 2 parties, and another Frenchman, and going to tea with Hilda Trevelyan: for I really can't combine all this with keeping my imaginary people going. Not that they are people: what one imagines, in a novel, is a world. Then when one has imagined this world, suddenly people come in--but I don't know why one does it, or why it should alleviate the misery of life, and yet not make one exactly happy; for the strain is too great. Oh, to have done it, and be free.

    --Virginia Woolf, from a letter to Vita Sackville-West, February 3, 1926


In the February 1926 issue of the magazine Adelphi, critic John Middleton Murry, erstwhile lover of Katherine Mansfield (gauche colonial upstart, composer of incandescent stories, arrogant, competitive, anxious, distressed, and since 1923 dead of tuberculosis), declared that Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room and T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land were "failures." He predicted that, by the 1970s, no one would be reading them.


Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you

    --T. S. Eliot, from The Waste Land


Last to go to bed was the grandmother.

"What. Not asleep yet?"

"No, I'm waiting for you," said Kezia. The old woman sighed and lay down beside her. Kezia thrust her head under the grandmother's arm and gave a little squeak. But the old woman only pressed her faintly, and sighed again, took out her teeth, and put them in a glass of water beside her on the floor.

In the garden some tiny owls, perched on the branches of a lacebark tree, called: "More pork; more pork." And far away in the bush there sounded a harsh rapid chatter: "Ha-ha-ha . . . Ha-ha-ha."

    --Katherine Mansfield, from "Prelude"


The owls in Maine cry, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

1 comment:

wfkammann said...

The artistic process and particularly the artistry based on endless repetition to develop the skill necessary to ignore technique and find "your" interpretation.

Burroughs said, "Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”

This is the challenge of every artist to find the muse and then give her fair measure and more.

Who cooks for you? Young bard?