Once upon a time there was a six-foot-tall woman with blue hair and a sense of smallness. In her house was a teacup saying ‘girl, you got this!’ and on her wall was a kitten hanging from a clothesline. The kitten’s word balloon said something like, ‘Hang in there!’ or ‘Don’t let go!’ Always something with an exclamation mark. Isn’t that the moral of the story, always? There is always a small woman, hiding her grandness, trying to fill up on uplifting wordplay. But today, this small woman sits down and writes a poem in which she details her smallness and why she came to be that way. Another small woman reads it, and from the tip of her hair a fire starts, but just as quickly dies. Isn’t that why we are here? To write another poem for a small woman to read, and then another. Until the amount of sparks are too much for the quick extinguishing, and she is a woman on fire, exploding into the world.

Heather Bell
Afterword to: While trying to write a novel

writing

June 26, 2018

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Thomas Mann
Essays of Three Decades

doesn’t do anything

June 16, 2018

Poetry in general doesn’t do anything, there are just individual poems. Some of them I don’t get, some of them seem banal, some of them change my life. So there you go. It’s bound to be a spectrum, it’s the same with bagels.

Anne Carson
CBC interview about Ben Lerner’s book The Hatred of Poetry, 30th October 2016

Fiction, non-fiction

June 14, 2018

smoke

My old reliable Handbook to Literature defines fiction as ”narrative writing drawn from the imagination of the author rather than from history or fact,” though it includes historical fiction, fictional biography, autobiographical history and the roman a clef. There is no entry for nonfiction, but The Random House Dictionary (1987) defines nonfiction as ”narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality.” The term came into general use through the cataloguing of books as recently as 1905.

The first difference I experienced in crossing over from fiction to nonfiction was the publisher’s willingness to draw up a contract on the basis of a scant proposal and tentative outline. As a fiction writer, I had been used to showing anywhere from 50 to 200 polished pages of a novel in progress, though later in the game, when I had five or six novels behind me, I could say, ”My new novel is tentatively titled ——–, and it is going to be about ——–,” and the rider to the ”satisfactory manuscript” clause would then specify only that the finished novel should ”conform to the professional and literary standards” of certain (named) previous novels of mine.

Gail Goodwin
A novelist breaches the border to non-fiction
New York Times 15th January 2001

The Burning Ones

June 7, 2018

If history says anything,
If it says anything at all,
It is this:
All women know how to do is burn.

If her story says anything —
And it says everything —
We girls have been raised to walk through the fire.

Salma Deera

Balance by Sara Conlan

My literature classes didn’t help. My professors stressed the importance of approaching a text with detachment, with a critical gaze rather than an emotional one. There wasn’t a place in academia for gushing or ranting. There wasn’t room to simply say, “I loved this and I don’t know why.” One had to use academic jargon. One had to be methodical and thorough. It was like listening to a song and wanting so badly to get up and dance, but instead of dancing, you have to sit there and think about why those sounds made you want to dance and consider the exact mechanics behind the formula of a danceable song. And I didn’t want to fucking do that. I just wanted to dance. I just wanted to read. I just wanted to write. I didn’t want to deconstruct lines of poetry or do a close reading of Faulkner’s usage of semicolons.

Jenny Zhang
The Quiet Importance of Angst-y Art

Baubo

You’ve got to have something to say, but you don’t always know what it is. It’s often just some words in your head that you think could be a line of a poem, so you write them down and see where it goes. One of the major misconceptions about poetry is that the poet has some kind of agenda and intentions, not just that some words come into their head and then they start playing with them and seeing where they go. Because sometimes I will try to write a poem and it just comes out dead because there isn’t really anything that’s deeply felt or worth saying. One thing that makes poems work is strong emotion, and I remember hearing James Berry, I think it was, saying that one characteristic of a good poet is that they feel things intensely, and he said: “Of course poets are not the only people who feel things intensely, but it is one of the qualities,” and I think that’s true.

Wendy Cope
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011

completely fabricated

May 31, 2018

foam

My mother’s poems cannot be crammed into the mouths of actors in any filmic reinvention of her story in the expectation that they can breathe life into her again, any more than literary fictionalization of my mother’s life — as if writing straight fiction would not get the writer enough notice (or any notice at all) – achieves any purpose other than to parody the life she actually lived. Since she died my mother has been dissected, analyzed, reinterpreted, reinvented, fictionalized, and in some cases completely fabricated. It comes down to this her own words describe her best, her ever-changing moods defining the way she viewed her world and the manner in which she pinned down her subjects with a merciless eye.

Frieda Hughes
From the foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition by Silvia Plath

Ideas for things come into one’s head, or bits of ideas; you feel there’s something – there’s some meat on the bone, there’s something there that lures you on. The more you think about it the more you’re led into this new world and the more of that world you see. And part of having an idea is having some notion of how you would tell the story. It’s not just thinking it would be nice to write something about the Crimean war, it’s having some particular way in mind of writing something about the Crimean war, and the idea for the way to tell the story helps you to see what the story is. The story suggests the means, the means suggests the story; it’s mutually dependent. And you don’t have very much choice in the matter. Ideas come, characters suggest themselves, and the nature of the story and the nature of the characters dictates how it’s going to be done.

I suppose if people are not writers or painters or whatever they see the life of the artist as being one of great freedom, but it’s not really; it’s as constrained as anyone else’s by the material that’s available. The thing seems to have some kind of reality in one’s head; it seems to be something that one is discovering, rather than inventing. I see that as a kind of psychological trick on oneself, because the whole point about fiction is that it’s invention. It doesn’t really seem like it at the time – it seems as if you are slowly discovering something that already exists and seeing how the different parts of it relate to each other.

Michael Frayn
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011

an infernal paradise

May 28, 2018

a city of the future - London

In Lovecraft’s defining stories, meaning such later works as “The Shadow out of Time” and “At the Mountains of Madness,” there is a sense of adventure. In his letters, Lovecraft often wrote of experiencing moments of what he called “adventurous expectancy,” by which he meant feeling oneself on the brink of some weird and hyper-exciting revelation that is always held in suspension and never known in its particulars. This is patently an aesthetic perception of existence. Borges described a similar feeling of the imminence of a revelation that never occurs as the definitive aesthetic experience. In Lovecraft’s work, unlike that of Borges, the origin of his feeling of adventurous expectancy derives from something terrible that is associated with the inconceivable spatial and temporal nature of the physical universe. I think that a great many people experience the same thing in their lives. I have myself. But it never occurred to me to express this feeling as a source of adventure in my stories.

My focus has fairly consistently been on what I have thought of as an “infernal paradise,” a realm where one wallows in something putrid and corrosive that lies beyond exact perception. In his stories, Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy ultimately has its origin in something terrible, and not the child’s picture-book wonderland you find in the work of a lot of writers of fantastic fiction. But it’s still thrilling in its own way. It isn’t purely hellish, as is the case with my stories. Lovecraft was an astronomy buff as a child and so this feeling probably stemmed from that time. I was a pathological Catholic as a child, and one might make a connection between my early life and my later writings on that basis. Ultimately, the difference I’m trying to articulate between Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy and my infernal paradise may seem superficial. I would say as much myself. But it seems to me that what captivates a reader’s interest in one writer’s work as opposed to another’s is quite often based on superficial qualities, even when there are deeper likenesses. Anyone can think of examples among both popular and literary writers. Lovecraft’s defining works portray a variety of monsters. Mine seldom do. What’s the difference? Not much on the deepest level. But monsters are a great literary hook and there is necessarily a surface adventure in dealing with them. If asked to name the definitive image in Lovecraft, one might likely say its tentacles flailing from the body of a monster. For me it would be probably be puppets, manikins, and clown-like things, even though these are more often a matter of metaphor than a literal presence of a monstrous type. Nevertheless, if Lovecraft’s tentacle monsters and my puppets and so on fought each other, I think the monsters would win.

Thomas Ligotti
Interview: Thomas Ligotti and the Realm of Nightmares
Weird Review 15th October 2015