Friday, July 10, 2009
4 They say unto him, "Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 ...what sayest thou?"
6 This they said, tempting him... But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her..."
The above image is of Dickinson's handwritten draft of her poem, September's Baccalaureate:
September's BaccalaureateIt has been years since I first sparked a discussion about the crucial differences between creating on paper with a pen or pencil, and on a computer screen with a keyboard.
A combination is
Of Crickets--Crows--and Retrospects
And a dissembling Breeze
That hints without assuming--
An Innuendo sear
That makes the Heart put up its Fun
And turn Philosopher.
If you write creatively with pen and paper, as would have been the case for hundreds of recent years, it is probable that the creative process will be recorded in the various drafts and redrafts on many sheets of paper. If the drafts are preserved, future generations may access unique insight into the creative process.
If you compose on a computer, the final draft is probably the only draft that future generations will have to go on, except in the unlikely event that the ancient laptops of a poet or writer end up in an archive of their material, where one day, a new type of researcher, forensic literary computer scientist, will mine the hard drive for whatever is stored there... The distinctly different methods of composition are akin to the difference between brewing (you get to see and experience all that the artist put down on paper with pen or pencil, including the final product), and distilling (only the final Word document copy remains).
Kevin Stein, poet laureate of the state of Illinois, has thought about this far more deeply than me:
The widespread use of computer and digital media is transforming not only how poets compose their work but also how they preserve it, or fail to...More of Stein's essay here.
[The contemporary] decision to forgo the handwritten and typewriter stages sends ripples through the creative process. One result is that the poem coming into being has no actual physical reality. There's nothing penciled on paper, nothing inked blotched and held up to the sun. Nothing to read, write on, curse, crumple, and toss across the room. Now, the poem is merely digital code splayed across a glowing screen, and its reality is perilously momentary. Until the poet clicks "save," the poem does not possess a lasting (if purely digitalized) form.
I suppose the wild card in all of this is whether or not a writer considers his or her stuff worthy of preserving for future generations. Even for writers who experienced critical acclaim and success within their lifetime, it still requires something of an additional flexing of the ego to think to oneself, 'my drafts and redrafts are worth hanging on to, for future scholars as yet unborn.'
One of my favorite poets, Philip Larkin, preserved his drafts from his mid-twenties, perhaps less as an act of faith that one day people would be interested enough to study them, than as a record for his own mind to ponder the creative process; for Larkin, composing poetry was often a slow and labor-intensive process:
From 1944 on, Larkin, setting up shop as a postgraduate writer, preserved and dated his handwritten drafts, as they moved toward typed, corrected, and final versions... the eight-line poem “Take One Home for the Kiddies,” [...] was begun in April of 1954 and completed in August of 1960... “The Whitsun Weddings,” begun in May 1957 with its first stanza complete, was then dropped, resumed in July 1958, reworked for twenty-three pages until 6 September, picked up again on 19 September and completed after eight further pages of drafts on 18 October — New Yorker, July 26, 2004What else is revealed, if pages of drafts and redrafts are preserved? In the case of Larkin, there are scores of unfinished poems which never saw publication, as the poet, in his final decade, found it increasingly difficult and then impossible, to create poetry. Therein, one can perhaps even glimpse whatever it was that worked against the muse, or what stumblingblock in the mind prevented the poetry from flowing and forming as once it did...
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Oh rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
Also, this morning, some of the things I saw in the Bronx, around 6 a.m... I had been sick by then -- but not in the bad sense.