We inhabit a deeply imagined world that exists alongside the real physical world. Even the crudest utterance, or the simplest, contains the fundamental poetry by which we live. This mind fabric, woven of images and illusions, shields us. In a sense, or rather, in all senses, it’s a shock absorber. As harsh as life seems to us now, it would feel even worse — hopelessly, irredeemably harsh — if we didn’t veil it, order it, relate familiar things, create mental cushions. One of the most surprising facts about human beings is that we seem to require a poetic version of life. It’s not just that some of us enjoy reading or writing poetically, or that many people wax poetic in emotional situations, but that all human beings of all ages in all cultures all over the world automatically tell their story in a poetic way, using the elemental poetry concealed in everyday language to solve problems, communicate desires and needs, even talk to themselves. When people invent new words, they do so playfully, metaphorically — computers have viruses, one can surf the internet, a naïve person is clueless. In time, people forget the etymology or choose to disregard it. We dine at chic restaurants from porcelain dinner plates without realizing that when the smooth, glistening porcelain was invented in France a long time ago, someone with a sense of humour thought it looked as smooth as the vulva of a pig, which is indeed what porcelain means. When we stand by our scruples, we don’t think of our feet, but the word comes from the Latin scrupulus, a tiny stone that was the smallest unit of weight. Thus a scrupulous person is so sensitive he’s irritated by the smallest stone in his shoe. For the most part, we are all unwitting poets.

Diane Ackerman
Language at Play

enough white space

February 26, 2019

I know what I want is impossible. If I can make my language flat enough, exact enough, if I can rinse each sentence clean enough, like washing a stone over and over again in river water, if I can find the right perch or crevice from which to record everything, if I can give myself enough white space, maybe I could do it. I could tell you this story while walking out of this story. I could — it all could — just disappear.

Maggie Nelson
The Red Parts

reasons for writing

September 29, 2018

Saul Leiter

I’m often asked when I started writing. But the important question is not when do writers start, but why.

My own reasons for writing, for setting down the story, are to a large extent selfish. With each story – and by story I mean anything I write – I am trying simply to work something out for myself. You, the reader, play no part here: this is a private matter.

Roxana Robinson
If you invent the story, you’re the first to see how it ends

Art frees us

June 3, 2018

in a strange way

May 21, 2018


Usually the idea for a novel comes to me, in a strange way, from reading rather than from living or observation. It’s often what I can only call an intellectual concern – some sort of large issue I’ve got very interested in. The operation of memory is an obvious one because several novels have been prompted by that. Or again the nature of evidence – that’s another important theme to me. Then the problem is to find the vehicle, to find the story and the characters and the backdrop, because they’re going to be the vehicle for this idea. Because then I don’t want the idea to show very much; I want the idea to be a sort of seven-eighths of the iceberg, a kind of ballast, but without which the whole novel would flounder.

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

Led by the Serpent

January 20, 2017


Diary 18th January

What a busy little bee I’ve been. And yet I did manage to go out walking yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful day full of sun, but cold for all that. Views to the coast from the top of the hill. Today, too, the weather is s’posed to be fine. So I’ll get out again later for a tramp across the moor.

Finished my story “A day-return to the Isle of the Dead”. Started a new, untitled story yesterday. Autobiographical in part, which is unusual for me.

The sky at dusk streaked pink.

19th January

Sleepless night and cold morning.

Walked up to the mast with Dee yesterday afternoon. Islands of gorse flowering everywhere. Confused by the mild weather, I s’pose. A cold breeze, however.

No one about on the moor. Dee opened my jeans. ‘Someone might come,’ I protested. ‘That’ll be you in a minute,’ her teasing reply.

Led off the path by my thing. Normally I walk here alone with only my ghosts for company. I hear a rhythmic clip clopping from behind. Glancing back. There is a woman on horseback trotting towards us. She can see quite clearly what Dee is doing. As she passes she calls, ‘Good afternoon,’ to us, a huge grin on her narrow face.

‘Afternoon,’ replies Dee, without slowing the rapid motion of her hand.

This horsey woman keeps looking back over her shoulder. Sees me cumming in Dee’s tight little fist. Waves her crop in the air, a salute to the God of handjobs. Disgusting to spy on us in that way. But Dee couldn’t stop laughing about it…

I feel strangely chained to this landscape. To its wild remoteness.

Went to the pub, drank Merlot in front of the roaring log fire. Cooked a vegetable casserole when we got home. Drank brandy and hot chocolate.