On Not Eating Bon Bons All Day
When I tell a friend that I have finished a story or a poem, unless that friend has been in a writing class or writing group with me, a glazed look appears and then the question, “And what else have you been up to?”
It’s as if writing is as easy as driving a car: you turn the ignition, and off you go. Yes, some days are like that, and on too many others, the balky engine won’t even turn over, and I’m grinding the ignition to a very unhealthy degree.
I have said on my blogs and out loud to my family, I am much relieved not to be teaching anymore. True, quite true . Yet now and then a line of poetry comes to me while I am busy doing something else, and I remember the joy of teaching a particular poem to an unsuspecting class, teens who didn’t expect a poet’s words to transform their worlds.
Here are some of the poems in which the writer talks about craft or inspiration. All of these struck a nerve with one student or another throughout my thirty-two years in the classroom. Dylan Thomas called his writing his “craft or sullen art” and that’s the way writing is often for me. I work at it, hone it, polish it, whittle away (most often the latter as I know my propensity towards overkill in the descriptive department). And in his famous “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” the speaker reminds us that at a particular moment, his words had “forked no lightning.” My reviews on authorsden help me to know when something has ignited a spark in a reader.
R.S. Thomas sets up a dialog between two poets in “Poetry for Supper.” One contends that verse should be “natural /As the small tuber that feeds on muck” while his opponent contends, “Natural, hell!. . .the long toil /. . ./ Leave it to nature and the verse sprawls, / Limp as bindweed,. . .Man you must sweat / And rhyme your guts taut. . . .” I’m with the opponent. It’s hard work to write. How many times do people phone a surgeon in the operating theater? (I think I read this analogy in an essay by Roald Dahl). Yet, my phone rings off the hook when I’m working (writing). As if I’m sitting here tossing the words on paper and bon bons down my throat.
So I think I’ll end with William Butler Yeats and my other favorite, John Keats. Yeats contends in “Adam’s Curse”:
A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement. . .
Certainly, when I think of what a parent might say to a daughter planning to marry a poet, many a parent would say, “Find someone with a real job.”
Still, we write on and on whether our muse is Calliope, Euterpe, or Thalia. John Keats wrote the image that pushes me to continue my work,
“When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teaming brain . . . “
So many things to write, so little time. Write on, my friends, work on. Put your phone on
”silent,” put your work in the forefront, and laugh when people tell you to get to the gym and lay off the bon bons.