Poets and writers; I’ve been thinking about what we do, is it really work?
Sometimes writing doesn’t feel like work. Sometimes getting the words down and shaping them is enjoyable and even relaxing. For many writers poetry is a kind of therapy or catharsis, words flow and at the end the poet feels somehow relieved or better.
But, sometimes the things about which we write can change that relaxing idyllic process. To nick couple of words from W.B. Yeats, the process is “changed utterly”.
Yesterday I started work on a poem, inspired by a single line by E Hemingway, “it was coming down the valley even in the early morning”. My new poem contains a few of those words, but the subject bears no other real relationship to Hemingway’s original writing. Thanks to Eileen Earnshaw for putting those words in front of me.
The subject I started writing about was complex, it was about migration and it was about the two-fold tragedies of a growing cultural attitude and the loss of life as people try to find new homes. The hard part is that the poet actually writes not simple statement of facts but expresses how they feel about them, deep down, inside. The first draft took maybe 20 minutes and a second draft started straight after that. After half an hour I was nowhere near finished but I felt completely “wrung out”.
Over the years I worked in many different jobs and I’ve done a range of sports, but rarely have I felt as tired and drained as after those 30 minutes with my fountain pen and a notebook.
The end of a week labouring on a building site, or teaching young people with behavioural issues, crossing the line of a 10k run or finishing a couple of hours training on the velodrome behind a motorbike; those things all feel near impossible to repeat, yet we go back and do them again when we’ve recovered.
So it is with writing. Today, feeling somewhat recovered, I’ve worked on further drafts and edits and have a version of my newest poem, called “Grains”. Once again I feel empty, hollow, my hands are no longer steady and even re-reading it just now is like being dragged out of sleep when you’ve just managed to drift off. To hear a powerful poem can feel like being punched in the senses, to write that poem the poet must keep on battering those senses until it is ready.
The poem is unlikely to be finished just yet (sometimes I think they never really are) but I might give it an open-mic test run on Sunday evening. It won’t be there to entertain, and I almost feel I should apologise to the audience (only almost though) who will end up feeling a little of what I’ve felt writing it.
So what am I getting at? What’s my point?
It is simply this: writing is indeed work.
If something really matters it may be harder it will be to write about. A poem being hard to write, however difficult it may be, is no excuse for not writing it.
What do you think?
What is the hardest to write?