“Of course that is not the whole story, but that is the way with stories; we make them what we will. It’s a way of explaining the universe while leaving the universe unexplained, it’s a way of keeping it all alive, not boxing it into time. Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently. Some people say there are true things to be found, some people say all kinds of things can be proved. I don’t believe them. The only thing for certain is how complicated it all is, like string full of knots. It’s all there but hard to find the beginning and impossible to fathom the end. The best you can do is admire the cat’s cradle, and maybe knot it up a bit more. History should be a hammock for swinging and a game for playing, the way cats play. Claw it, chew it, rearrange it and at bedtime it’s still a ball of string full of knots. Nobody should mind. Some people make a lot of money out of it. Publishers do well, children, when bright, can come top. It’s an all-purpose rainy day pursuit, this reducing of stories called history.”
Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, p 91
The dialogue a writer establishes with the reader is one of artifice and deceit. To tell the truth, the writer must lie in a number of clever and convincing ways; the instrument for doing this is language — the unreliable, manipulated and manipulative, officially sacrosanct in that it purports to say what the dictionary says it says, but in practice subjective and circumstantial. The narrative voice is always a fiction behind which the reader assumes (or is asked to assume) a truth. The author, the leading character, appears to the reader out of nowhere, almost but not quite a creature of flesh and blood, made present by his own words, like the Beckettian voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush, saying, “I am what I am.” This is the absolute, godlike, self-defining, circular identity that every writer grants himself in the first person singular. An identity to which the readers are asked to respond: “ If we, often across miles and centuries, can hear the voice saying ‘I’ on the page, then ‘I” must exist and ‘We’ must be forced to believe in it.”
To say “I” is to place before the reader seemingly irrefutable proof of a speaker whose words can tell the truth or lie, but whose presence vouched for by his voice, must not be doubted. To say “I” is to draw a circle in which writer and reader share a common existence within the margins of the page, where reality and unreality rub off each other, where words and what the words name contaminate each other . . .
Alberto Manguel: A Reader on Reading, p132
When I was outside prison I knew that the sky was beautiful, nature was beautiful. But I found nature power and beauty in Manus. The sky is like a friend for a prisoner, because around you everything is metal fences, but the sky, they cannot take the sky.
I think the Manus moon is too special. Sometimes the moon is crazy because the clouds are moving, and sometimes it’s calm, quiet. Once I described the moon as a pregnant woman because on that night the moon was so quiet and, like, heavy. I always find the moon to be a woman. I wrote another poem that described the moon and Manus Island as two sisters, in the sky and the blue ocean.
Sometimes, it’s too hard to have a relationship with people, because you always see them. During the day you see people — ‘Hi, hello, hello, hello’— and the space is too small and you cannot say hello to people each time and the best way to escape is that you make direct contact with nature
Behrouz Boochani’s story in They Cannot Take the Sky: Stories from Detention ed Michael Green Andre Dao. The stories in the book were told in a series of interviews and then transcribed.
[When you’re writing] . .. You’re meditating on your own text that you wrote on Wednesday. You look at it on Thursday and the trick is to get free of whatever you used to think about it and see what it actually is. So in some small secular way, I think that’s a form of meditation — to be open to whatever energy your text is actually presenting as opposed to what you think it’s presenting. It’s a way of being more awake to things.
Getting Out of Our Normal Crap: George Saunders on Writing and Transcendence (from here)
Steve Paulson interviews George Saunders
But nature poetry . . . is usually about culture: what it represses, or ignores, or imperils
Dan Chiasson, Night Thoughts: The poetry of Tomas Tranströmer.The New Yorker oct 231 2011
Nightsun: How often in writing a poem do you know when it’s going to work, that you’re going to be able to take the poem to some satisfying conclusion?
[Stephen] Dunn: My barometer for myself is that I’m not even in my poem until the first moment I’ve startled myself. Usually if I’m wise that day I throw away everything that precedes that moment. I’m interested in my life, of course, but when I write poetry I’m not interested in my life, per se. I’m interested in using it to talk about concerns of mine, perhaps ones I didn’t even know I had. I usually trust that I might be able to bring the poem to some fruition when I’ve written myself into some locus of concern. I’m certainly always ready to fictionalize what appears to be my life for the sake of exploring my subject matter. And I’m not aversed to creating some obstacles for myself, creating things that the imagination must reach toward in order to accommodate. That’s the illusion of good writing, I think, that something might finally seem effortless, seamless, which may have once had many disparate parts. Essentially I’m talking about how a poem finds its structure and shape. Often a poem is a problem solved. (from here)
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s assertion (Critic’s Take, April 30) that a writing workshop “can be a hostile place for women and people of color” no doubt has its degree of truth, but I want to say it can also be a place where the ideas of the very same people are treated with careful attention and respect.. . . women and minority writers, even in hostile cultures, have burdens similar to those the rest of us have: to discover what they didn’t know they knew, and to make something memorable out of whatever it is that’s important to them, whether it’s an act of revenge or a walk in the woods.
Stephen Dunn, May 12 2017 Letter to the Editor The New York Times from here
Interviewer to poet
‘You make work in private, but once it goes public, readers make it their own. They define the work—and, by extension, you—in terms of who they are, what they want or believe. ‘
David L. Ulin, interviewing poet Claudia Rankine, The Paris Review The Art of Poetry No. 102
The new therapist specializes in trauma counselling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.
“At the front door, the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard? … you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.
I am so sorry, so, so sorry.
Claudia Rankine, Citizen
[There is] a truth that sits beneath the surface of the twin, universal facts of our beginnings and endings: the unequivocal triad of mother-father-self. Whether that triad is sturdy or broken, bonded by biology, affection or both, it’s one that most of us must reckon with, in some shifting fashion, all of our lives.
Cheryl Strayed on Richard Ford’s Masterly Memoir of His Parents May 1, 2017 The New York Times (from here)