January 5, 2012 § 4 Comments
Here’s a sobering admission. When my computer bombed on Christmas Eve, any thoughts about the ensuing calm (after all, too much of my working life is spent shackled to the machine) were drowned out by the insistent feeling that what I’d hoped would be a spell of creativity depended on access to a keyboard.
Well, it wasn’t that bad. I read a bit more: Mahon, Lorca, George Mackay Brown; The North; even got through a couple of things in the LRB…
But as to the job of writing poetry, it simply confirmed my suspicions: having written (and developed my writing) for several years on screen, I lack the ability to produce anything much at all on paper.
This seems at odds with the idea of the poet as maker – the notion that the physical production of language ‘drawn’ by hand onto a resistant surface is an integral part of the process. Certainly, the mechanics of this has been for many an important element in creating poetry – the rhythm of the hand, and the limitations on production, supporting the cadences of uttered language and encouraging an emphasis on process and deliberation.
Mechanics, however, is partly where I come unstuck. Handwriting over the years, I have developed repetitive stress to the extent that, when writing, my forefinger forces itself up and away from my pen, leaving a barely legible clump of words and a pain in my elbow which keeps me awake at night.
This affects all aspects of the process: in inhibiting the physical action of writing (indeed, in making it painful), it also undermines the associated benefits of eliciting rhythm; and while it certainly allows for deliberation, it leads too often to frustration. Revision and editing requires not only care and attention; it also depends on access to a ready way of replacing old marks with new ones.
For me, this is where the keyboard comes in. There are inherent dangers. The ability (improving every year) to produce clear, elegant script in Helvetica or Calibri is seductive; and simply organising words into lines of a certain length can produce something that looks like poetry.
This is when the importance of reading out loud – always key to creating poetry – becomes crucial. Making poetry starts with sound, not on page or screen. Whichever way we choose to write, we have to create first with the voice and the ear.