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Howe and Grief

In a Huffington Post interview, Marie Howe:

MH: Well, Stanley [Kunitz] was a great friend. We were walking down Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. This was in the fall, my brother had died that summer. Stanley asked me how I was doing, and I said, ‘I feel as if something has me in its mouth and it’s chewing me. ‘ And he said, ‘It is. And you must wait to see who you’ll be when it’s done with you.’ It was the most comforting thing anyone said to me. Because what he was implying was that I was undergoing a critical, essential transformation. Stanley always looked at change as transformation — all his poems have that quality in them. It was a great, great comfort to me when he said that. So many dear friends would say, ‘Oh, I wish I could take it away from you’ or ‘Oh, I wish I could make it better.’ And I didn’t want anything to be made better. You know about this, Mark, you’ve written books about it. One doesn’t want anything to be taken away. But you don’t know how to necessarily negotiate it, either.

While there’s something smarmy and romantic about the notion that an artist is inextricable and better for his or her discomfort, there is something patronizing about wanting to remove someone’s discomfort too.

Pain is just sensation. It’s bodily. It’s mental. It skews things just as everything else affects everything else. Its importance is socially determined not intrinsic.

Writing comes out of grief but also the grief of its own sad (in every sense) self.

James Salter at the Paris Review says

I hate the first inexact, inadequate expression of things. The whole joy of writing comes from the opportunity to go over it and make it good, one way or another.

[…] I find the most difficult part of writing is to get it down initially because what you have written is usually so terrible that it’s disheartening, you don’t want to go on. That’s what I think is hard—the discouragement that comes from seeing what you have done. This is all you could manage?

[…] I need the opportunity to write this sentence again, to say it to myself again, to look at the paragraph once more, and actually to go through the whole text, line by line, very carefully, writing it out. There may be even some kind of mimetic impulse here where I am trying to write like myself, so to speak.

The joy comes in the process of fixing, not the initial making, not the product per se. The aim is self-talk and clarity that comes with aha, perhaps, eventually, mayhaps, in distilling away all the crud.

I was asked, if I hate all I write, is it because of something it is or something it isn’t yet. I think it’s the stage. I haven’t completely rendered anything.

In the NYT The Trouble with Intentions Verlyn Klinkenborg says the trouble with writing is people chasing a sound, a sense, not attending to the meaning and the sentence,

Imagine how it works. A writer speaks the language, knows the vocabulary, and tries to honor the rules of grammar and syntax. Yet he regularly produces sentences of whose literal meaning he’s completely unaware. In its own way, this is fantastic, like setting out to knit a cardigan, producing an armoire, and wondering why it’s so loose in the shoulders.

Sloppy is fine at first, sloshing about, seeing what’s there. If a piece of process, being what is is, so readily open to interpretation, it may as well be a blank page that the reader writes herself, fine. But where is the game. You can have a good game of tennis with the net of rhyme and meter on the ground but even meaning? If you don’t care what comes across, that’s not conversation between reader and writer. It’s two soapboxes side by side overhearing each other.

The grief of writing is the information gap between what can be grabbed from within and without and fused so that a reader and writer can access it without being confused on what might be intended.

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