Writer’s Desk: Don’t Worry About Being Original

All writers want to stand out. How do you make a name otherwise? But it’s also easy to tie yourself up in knots worrying about it.

Poet Derek Walcott, who was never anything but original, dismissed such worries in his essay “The Muse of History“:

We know that the great poets have no wish to be different, no time to be original, that their originality emerges only when they have absorbed all the poetry which they have read, entire, that their first work appears to be the accumulation of other people’s trash, but that they become bonfires, that it is only academics and frightened poets who talk of Beckett’s debt to Joyce… We are all influenced by what we have read…

Own it, but earn it.

Do as Walcott says, and make a bonfire from the trash of the greats.

Writer’s Desk: Something Every Day

The poet William Stafford (1914–1993) had a fairly disciplined four-part approach to his daily writing task.
But the key element to his process is the last, where he advises this:
For this day, again, you give yourself a chance to discover worthy things. Nothing stupendous may occur… but if you do not bring yourself to this point, nothing stupendous will happen for sure… and you will spend the balance of your day in blind reaction to the imperatives of the outer world — worn down, buffeted, diminished, martyred.
Get something down on paper each and every day. Leave yourself open to something wonderful. Or terrible.
You can edit later.

Weekend Reading: January 20, 2016

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Screening Room: ‘Paterson’

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One of the most surprising and rewarding movie treats of 2016 is Jim Jarmusch’s quirky yet heartfelt Paterson, about a poetry-writing bus driver in New Jersey. It reminds you not just how great Jarmusch can be but renews your faith in a particular brand of American independent filmmaking.

Paterson is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Proudly reinforcing the at-times under-siege notion that there is great, grasping life yet in American filmmaking, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is a simple story told with power, complexity and vision. Like many of the Frank O’Hara or William Carlos Williams poems that the film’s namesake protagonist (Adam Driver) reads and re-reads, the film is a poignant portrait of the mundane, a singing symphony of the everyday. It’s also a comedy, a romance, a paean to American post-industrial resilience, and a sublimely enjoyable work of art about a bus driver who writes poems that he doesn’t seem to care if anybody ever reads. There’s a lot here, folded like tightly coiled wires under the seemingly placid surface…

Here’s the trailer.

Writer’s Desk: Dylan Says

bob_dylan_-_the_freewheelin_bob_dylanSince Bob Dylan has been honored with a Nobel Prize for Literature, we may as well welcome the man into the community of those practiced in the art of belles lettres. Good to have you, Bob!

Here’s some advice from Mr. Zimmerman contained in Paul Zollo’s Songwriters on Songwriting, which could apply to most any writers:

It’s nice to be able to put yourself in an environment where you can completely accept all the unconscious stuff that comes to you from your inner workings of your mind. And block yourself off to where you can control it all, take it down…

If you follow his often stream-of-consciousness lyrics, that approach makes sense. It’s harder to do, of course, than it sounds. Be open to the muse, but direct it.

Quote of the Day: The Easter Rising

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On this day in 1916, Irish rebels rose up around the country. The short-lived Easter Rising to establish a free Irish Republic was put down by British forces on April 29.

From W.B. Yeats’s commemorative epic poem, “Easter 1916“:

We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse —
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Quote of the Day: Pope’s Day

Guy Fawkes' Night celebrations at Windsor Castle, 1776
Guy Fawkes Night celebrations at Windsor Castle, 1776

Tonight in England is Guy Fawkes Night. It’s one of the island’s more unusual holidays, in that it commemorates that time in 1605 when a group of Catholic terrorists plotted to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, thus killing King James I and (hopefully) returning the country to Catholic rule. It didn’t work out so well. Fawkes and his other conspirators were discovered, convicted, and drawn and quartered. The king instituted laws restricting Catholics’ rights that wouldn’t be revoked for two centuries.

Ever since then, Fawkes has been burned in effigy on this day in a nighttime celebration that includes fireworks, general Halloween-esque revelry, and readings of this verse:

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November…

In the United States, Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated as Pope’s Day. That is, until George Washington was annoyed enough by the anti-Catholic songs his troops were singing—at a time when he was trying to secure French-Catholic support for an invasion of Quebec—that he banned it in 1775. For some years afterward, the celebrations were switched over to burn another despised traitor in effigy: Benedict Arnold.