Friday, February 02, 2007

The Writing Life & Journey Writing

dusk, Bozeman, Montana

I continue to delve into writers writing about writing: poets on poetry, on poetry's sources and terrors; writers on the philosophy and spirituality of writing; on the difficulties, joys, and solutions. I find it interesting to hear what poets have to say about their own poetry, and about the poetry of others. Meta-writing, peri-literacy, the theogeny of inspiration; call it what you will.

Here's an interesting quotes about the writing life, gleaned from these various essays, poems, and books, of writers writing about writing:

The writer knows his field—what has been done, what could be done, the limits—the way a tennis player knows the court. And like that expert, he, too, plays the edges. That is where the exhilaration is. He hits up the line. In writing, he can push the edges. Beyond this limit, here, the reader must recoil. Reason balks, poetry snaps; some madness enters, or strain. Now, courageously and carefully, can he enlarge it, can he nudge the bounds? And enclose what wild power? —Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, p. 69

I have also been reading a lot of journey writing. Not "travel writing," which is often more a guide to where to go and what to see than a meditation on where one has been, or on the journey of traveling itself. Travel writing is what you read in the travel magazines, and from essays by great travel writers such as Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer, and others. Some of our great novelists have given us some of our best travel writing: Mark Twain, E.M. Forster, others. Travel writing is often travel memoir: a logbook, a history, a diary.

Journey writing is meditation on the journey itself: on the need to travel, to take pilgrimage, to travel without destination, to just go because of the going. An essential book on the theory of nomadics is Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines, which is both a story of the writer's journey across the Australian Dreaming, in which the songlines are both signpost maps, and stories of how the land was created; and also a collection of quotes and episodes and ideas about nomadics. Robert Pirsig's Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is another essential work, as is Joni Mitchell’s “road album” Hejira. Another is Octavio Paz’ collection of poems about India and Mexico, A Tale of Two Gardens.

Journey writing is a genre I am strongly attracted to. I practice it myself, in my limited way, with road haibun and prose-poems about my travels across the USA, such as in the Basin & Range. Journey writing is what I aspire to. Matsuo Basho's great journey haibun, Oku no hosomichi, the Narrow Road to the Interior, is something I aspire to, and is one of a small set of books I constantly carry with me as I journey.

You are always alone when you ride. Even in a group you are alone. It is perhaps one of the core beauties of riding—the enforced solitude. With the pipes rapping and the wind screaming—the constant hurricane—even with a passenger on the back you are alone. The bike demands it, demands that you keep your attention on it, and the noise of the motor and wind keeps your thoughts internal. The only time I have ever been more alone with my thoughts is sailing alone on the Pacific and in both cases there is an elegance to the solitude, a grace that turns the act of thinking almost into a dance. —Gary Paulsen, Zero to Sixty: The motorcycle journey of a lifetime, pp. 86-87

There’s all sorts of walking—from heading out across the desert in a straight line to a sinuous weaving through undergrowth. Descending rocky ridges and talus slopes is a specialty in itself. It is an irregular dancing—always shifting—step of walk on slabs and scree. The breath and eye are always following this uneven rhythm. It is never paced or clocklike, but flexing—little jumps—sidesteps—going for the well-seen place to put a foot on a rock, hit flat, move on—zigzagging along and all deliberate. The alert eye looking ahead, picking the footholds to come, while never missing the step of the moment. The body-mind is so at one with this rough world that it makes these moves effortlessly once it has had a bit of practice. The mountain keeps up with the mountain. —Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild, p. 113

To be worth making at all a journey has to be made in the mind as much as in the world of objects and dimensions. What value can there be in seeing or experiencing anything for the first time unless it comes as a revelation? And for that to happen, some previously held thought or belief must be confounded, or enhanced, or even transcended. What difference can it make otherwise to see a redwood tree, a tiger, or a hummingbird? —Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

After several days, clouds gathering over the North Road, we left Sakata reluctantly, aching at the thought of a hundred thirty miles to the provincial capital of Kaga. We crossed the Nezu Barrier into Echigo Province, and from there went on to Ichiburi Barrier in Etchu, restating our resolve all along the way. Through nine hellish days of heat and rain, all my old maladies tormenting me again, feverish and weak, I could not write.

Altair meets Vega
already the night is changed

High over wild seas
surrounding Sado Island:
the river of heaven.

—Matsuo Basho, Narrow Road to the Interior, trans. Sam Hamill

The most convincing analysts of restlessness were often men who, for one reason or another, were immobilised: Pascal by stomach ailments and migraines, Baudelaire by drugs, St. John of the Cross by the bars of his cell. There are French critics who would claim that Proust, the hermit of the cork-lined room, was the greatest of literary voyagers.

The founders of monastic rule were forever devising techniques for quelling wanderlust in their novices. “A monk out of his cell,” said St. Anthony, “is like a fish out of water.” Yet Christ and the Apostles walked their journeys through the hills of Palestine.

What is this strange madness, Petrarch asked of his young secretary, this mania for sleeping each night in a different bed?

What am I doing here? —Rimbaud writing home from Ethiopia

—Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, p. 163 (“From the Notebooks”)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This seems to be an interesting journey into writers' writing about writing itself. Fabulous, often nice to hear about what creators feel about their own creations
haiku essays

9:17 AM  

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