When I was five or six, my best friend’s mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up; I answered, without thinking, “a writer.” There is some deep compulsion in me to write, some need that exceeds all practical considerations (about money, for instance, or talent). Freud says that every dream has its navel: a point beyond which interpretation simply cannot pass. This compulsion is the navel of my life: something so fundamental that I can’t think through it.
My approach to writing very short prose is varied. Sometimes it’s a matter of distilling a much longer story into one substantially shorter in length than the original, through a process of culling and refinement again and again until I’m satisfied that the story can’t be any further pared away at without consequence. I enjoy that challenge of crystallization, which involves thinking deeply about the reader, imagining what she may fill in with her intelligence, intuition, and empathic imagination and invention.
The way a name lingers in the snow when traced by hand. The way angels are made in snow, all body down, arms moving from side to ear to side to ear— a whisper, a pause; the slight, melting hesitation– The pause in the hand as it moves over a name carved in black granite. The “Chuck, Chuck, Chuck,” of great-tailed grackles at southern coastal marshes, or the way magpies repeat, “Meg, Meg, Meg”–
Poetry filled the pages as if it was my first tongue or a primitive utterance that just came out when my censors were “off.” The early me was quantity over quality and that mountain of poems was angsty and terrible, of course. But you could say the form “grew” up with me, and poetry was ever present. Like a shadow. Training wheels. A body cast. The cocoon from which I would eventually emerge.
I don't have a very orderly life. I do some laundry, I write some poems about the laundry. I go to the movies, maybe I write a draft of a poem about the film. I go to rehearsal - they play a riff - sometimes I write about it.
If Liu Xiaobo, someone who had endured torture, imprisonment and injustice, could cleanse himself of bitterness, surely that can inspire the rest of us to live our lives free of prejudices.
I once counted over three hundred rejection slips and notes in the box where I kept them until I had become reasonably “established” and burned the lot in a fireplace while I sipped a snifter of Cognac. I guess the process was, keep trying. When a poem came back, I’d revise it again and send it somewhere else.
Listen to the voice speaking solely, signaling itself as unique, de-encapsulating itself from the magma of interwoven thoughts. The only difference between the voice and the magma is this peculiar persistency, this wish for continuity. Not yet continuity. Just an inclination, a bias, as for dust tending to become lint—assemblages of matter, inconsistent and tiny, wanting to stick together if precariously. Listen to the voice and its pretense of lead-taking, its thirst for authority. Authorship as a claim to responsibility. Claim to personality. Right to vote, though no right of birth can be proved yet. No citizenship. Listen to the arrogance of the voice in spite of its chronic weakness—it will be erased, dissipated, if I simply turn the other way. Listen well because the voice is thin, because lint is volatile.
Poetry came in my late teens-first, as a requirement for an amateur writing workshop I was selected to attend at age 15 then a few years later when a friend asked me to edit a poem he wrote for a girl. I became jealous of this use of a powerful but shorter art form and decide to try it.
I might not have ever managed to get even a mention in the NY Times but I’ve got something over some of their writers...