Monthly Archives: September 2016

Functional Language

There is a kind of language that is clearly unsuitable when one is writing a poem. I call it informational language. It is the language one would use if one were writing a paragraph on how to operate a can opener. It is a language that means to be crisp and accurate. Its words are exact. They do not ever desire to throw two shadows. The language is cold. It does not reach for any territory beyond the functional.

Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry

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The Instruction Manual

            The Instruction Manual  

As I sit looking out of a window of the building

I wish I did not have to write the instruction manual on the uses of a new metal.

I look down into the street and see people, each walking with an inner peace,   

And envy them—they are so far away from me!

Not one of them has to worry about getting out this manual on schedule.   

And, as my way is, I begin to dream, resting my elbows on the desk and leaning out of the window a little,

. . . John Ashbery (from here) 

 . . . .

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‘On a Swiss holiday in 1937, Liz Jenson’s grandmother and nineteen-year-old uncle had a row. He stormed out and vanished. Four days later, she was found dead. Eighty years on, the family is still in the grip of the mystery.’ The Guardian 26 September 2016

‘In his book Into the Silent Land, the neurologist Paul Broks writes: “When we see the brain we realise that we are, on one level, no more than meat; and on the other, no more than fiction.”

More than ever, I feel the truth of that. Death is rarely the end of any story. The dead are silent – yet they speak to us. Stories are born of our attempts to answer the questions they provoke. Where there is a void, our brains rush in to create a truth. As if by doing so we can bring back the missing, resurrect the dead’

Liz Jenson, Death in The Alps: A Double Family Puzzle. (from here)

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The child attacks the bread

As a small child, Louise Bourgeois used to mold white bread into a figure of her father, then slowly and deliberately cut off the arms and legs with a knife. She has called this her “first sculptural solution.”  . . .  “Art is an exorcism,” she says. “a tool for survival.”

 . . . 

Her father Louis Bourgeois did much to provoke his children’s fierce ambivalence. He installed his mistress, Sadie, In the house as little Louise’s English tutor and she lived there for ten years. He also would disappear in the family Chrysler for days or weeks at a time, going as far as Spain, Italy, and Switzerland, without a word to his family or to anyone else as to where he would be or when he would return. “Once, his mother died while he was roaming around Spain,” Bourgeois recollects, “and we had no way of getting in touch with him.”

Louise Bourgeois’s mother, strong and hardworking, was in charge of repairing the antique tapestries her husband bought on his travels and then sold to American tycoons. She bore his absences and infidelities with equanimity. “She did not fear being abandoned at all,” Bourgeois says. “She was not threatened, but it affected me. Ever since, I have been subject to the fear, the trauma of abandonment.”

Yesterday,” she confides . . . Jerry [Gorovoy, her assistant] went away, my son went back to New Mexico, and I felt abandoned-just as I had as a child. It’s a traumatic thing that stays with you your whole life. But when I feel that way I am not objectionable. I do not scream and yell. So how do I defend myself against this horrible emotion? I spent the whole evening representing visually what I was feeling, namely that someone had hit me over the head and left me unconscious. I represented the club that hits you.”

Carol Diehl (from here) 

“Memory and Meaning: Louise Bourgeois Reflects on Yesterday and Today,”

Art & Antiques, February, 1995, p. 39.

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The patient attacks the work she is doing with her psychoanalyst

[ Suddenly V seems to have had it with me.] Dreams! I have tried and tried to show you how this works, how the mind works. But you don’t want to learn anything; you just want to go on hating me, attacking our work here, attacking yourself. I don’t know what to do; I don’t know how to help you.

He draws breath and stops abruptly. I go cold.

I don’t remember the rest of the session. Afterwards I staggered to Pine Street and collapsed on to the old sofa. My heart was beating so fast that I felt dizzy. A fish tank stood on a stand next to the sofa. I lay for a long time watching the little fishes circling near the water surface. Slowly my heart beat steadied and I  felt myself sinking into reverie.

A sudden jolt. I sat up.

A movement, a shift . . .  My heart began to thud.

A Tension, a movement . . .  I felt myself go rigid, I stopped breathing, my heart was thundering.

A movement, a release . . .

My mind opened, and my neglected dream rushed in. A flood of memories, images, sounds: blue dress, sky-blue, the sky  outside V’s window, an open window, shouting below the window, a woman is shouting . . . On and on they came, wave after wave . . .

Excitement cascaded through me. My dream! The dream that I had lugged to V tight-wrapped like a Dead Sea scroll, for him to read the hieroglyphs, as I had brought all my dreams to him over the years . . . It was mine, my living creation! My mind was a flow, a mnemonic tide, awash with vitality. I throbbed all over with the thrill of it.

I jumped up and grabbed a piece of scrap paper from the table and wrote everything down. I was panting with emotion. WhenI finished I collapsed back on the sofa. Sensations were hurtling around inside me; I couldn’t stay still. I got up and moved over to a chair on the other side of the  fish tank. ‘You all right, Barbara?’ a voice said, but I couldn’t reply.

I sat and watched the fish. Slowly my mind quieted. A goldfish peered out at me.

Then an image took shape in front of me, so corny that it made me grin. My face, V’s face, separate but overlapping, floating above the fish tank like a Valentine hologram. There he was, there I was, there  we were – ‘working together’. Look at us!

Joy flooded me. I was so delighted, so happy, I had to share this with someone. I rushed over to Gladys and told her all about it. ‘Sounds nice,’ she said bemusedly.

Barbara Taylor, The Last Asylum : A Memoir of Madness in Our Times, Penguin Books 2014, pp. 218-220

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The writer attacks his manuscript

‘This is curious’, said M’sieur Pierre.’ What are these hopes, and who is this saviour?

‘Imagination,’ replied Cincinnatus

Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading

In an email to a friend last year I wrote: “I’m struggling to move my novel forward. It’s giving me a hard time at the moment. But they always make us pay our dues sooner or later. So this is not really unexpected. After all, I’ve been having a good run with it for quite a while. Now for some deeper probing. The problem with the book is my own doing. I can’t bear to take the material for granted; and having written a draft I have to begin questioning it and erasing it. I don’t seem to be able to do it any other way. I’m not as persistent as Giacometti in erasing my works in progress, but I do understand Giacometti’s visceral reluctance to believe in what he had created until it had begun to shine for him with a kind of light that was not his own. Without this sense of surprise about what we have done there is no mystery in what we do. And I happen to agree with the spirit of Lorca’s “only mystery makes us live.” So here I am again this morning attacking what I’ve done so far with this book as if it were the work of my deadly enemy and I were determined to tear it to pieces.’

. . . .

Inspiration, that igniting of the imagination that enables is to write beyond ourselves, so that our work shines for us with a light that is not our own, is most often an inner response to a stimulus from outside, some trivial event that triggers memory and alters our mood. It is the source of Lorca’s mystery. It is what sustains our interest. But when we consciously go in search of inspiration, it stubbornly eludes us. I’ll let Proust have the final word on this:

. . . one knocks at all the doors which lead nowhere, and then one stumbles without knowing it on the only door through which one can enter— which one might have sought in vain for a hundred years – and it opens of its own accord.

 Alex Miller, John Masefield’s Attic, in The Best Australian Essays 2010, ed. Robert Drew (here) 


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Erasing one’s work

“Here are most of my paintings”, Morandi said to a reporter in the mid ’50s, pointing to a thick dried crust of waste pigment that had accumulated through years of wiping on the crossbar of his easel.

Morandi erased more paintings than he finished; his self-editing was relentless, a fact which should give pause to anyone who supposes there might not have been much difference between one still life and the next.

(from here) 

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Writing advice


‘Sarah Payne [the writing workshop teacher]  said, If there is a weakness in your story, address it head-on, take it in your teeth and address it, before the reader really knows. This is where you will get your authority, she said, during one of those classes when her face was filled with fatigue from teaching. I feel that people may not understand that my mother could never say the words I love you. I feel that people may not understand: It was all right. ‘

Elizabeth Strout, My Name is Lucy Barton,

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Holding together what is torn apart

‘I Have No Choice but to Keep Looking’

Five years after the tsunami that killed tens of thousands in Japan, a husband still searches the sea for his wife . .

“We often think of searching as a kind of movement, a forward motion through time, but maybe it can also be the opposite, a suspension of time and memory. Heidegger wrote of a metaphoric pain, calling it the “joining of the rift.” It’s this rift, he said, that holds together things that have been torn apart, to perhaps create a new space where joy and sadness can find communion. This is the space I believed Takamatsu found beneath the sea, where he could feel close to his to wife, in the rift between “missing” and “deceased.” ‘  (from here) BY JENNIFER PERCY AUG. 2, 2016, New York Times Magazine

 The sea is like memory. However lost or forgotten, everything in it exists forever…

The narrator of J.G. Ballardʼs story “Prisoner of the Coral Deep” (1964) 


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