Approaching the page… "Hello, Page."

I was out for dinner with a writer I admire last week, she asked me if I actually read poetry.  I noted the word “actually” as a hint she didn’t.  I said I did.

“Huh,” she said.  “I could never quite get into it.”

Now, this writer is a non-fiction writer, and a humorist, and no doubt her approach to writing and to words is different than mine.  After all, we all come to the page in our own way, and for our own reasons.

Some people write to be rich and famous (poor deluded darlings), some write to get a message out on one subject or another, some write as a form of therapy — more for themselves than for any external reader, some people write for spiritual practice, which is certainly a large part of why I write, but I also write because it’s simply what I do, who I am, as much a part of living as breathing or eating.  Take writing away from folks like me and we are inclined to be even crazier than usual.

Regardless of your reasons for writing, although it may be a deep and abiding pleasure, writing is rarely easy.  And so each of us develops tricks for getting to the page, and getting into the psychological/spiritual state necessary for writing.

I don’t know if anyone out there is a fan of the old Jackie Gleason television show called, “The Honeymooners.”  There’s a great bit it in wherein Gleason’s character, Ralph enlists his neighbor, Ed to learn golf.  He goes through a number of dubious preparations, but the best has to be Ed’s instructions on how to “address the ball”… watch for it at about 2:50 minutes into the video below. Priceless.

There’s a little of Ed and Ralph in all of us, I think.

Perhaps more than a little in me.  But as well as my sometimes dubious preparations —  like cups of tea and window-gazing and web-surfing and email-answering — always, I listen to music.  And I have different playlists depending on what I’m working on.  While I’ve been working on this book set in 7th century Anglo-Saxon England I’ve been listening to a lot of Scandinavian and Celtic traditional music.  Now that I’ve begun thinking about a new book, a modern myth of the underworld, and I find myself compiling new music — Natalie Merchant’s new album Leave Your Sleep has caught my attention, for example.   She uses 19th c poetry, largely written for children, in innovative new ways.  I’m open for any suggestions… hint, hint (and please, no more Loreena McKinnett — I love her, but I’ve got all I need).

Poetry is another way into my writing state.  I find a few minutes spent reading poets like Mary Oliver works well.  Consider this excerpt from her poem, Messenger:

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird–
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
I am no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly sanding still and learning to be

“My work is loving the world…standing still and learning to be astonished.”  Surely that sums up the writers life as well as anything I can imagine.

Just reading those words, letting them settle into my gut, leaves me yearning to write, to pay witness, to follow the path into the woods, one word after the other.  And so, off I go…

Photo by Ron Davis

Photo by Ron Davis

And you?  Any poetry that gets the creative juices flowing?


  1. Dawn on April 15, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Well…I’m afraid I am in the I’m-hopeless-reading-poetry camp…
    there’s some I like very much, but for the most part it eludes me.
    I am rather literal…metaphors whiz right on by me.
    I’m working on it.

    However, when assisted by music, I find poetry rather soothing and
    anxiety reducing…not so much for fiction writing (where I find it
    distracting), but for my technical writing. Go figure.

    I particularly enjoy working to
    – Randy Newman
    – Gilbert and Sullivan
    – Simon and Garfunkel
    – Kingston Trio
    All of which I am looking at piled on my desk, as I type.

    I also have a couple of CDs at home that I sometimes like working to:
    One by Paris Combo, and one called French Cafe (which is where I
    discovered Paris Combo). Also Queen.

  2. jenne andrews on April 18, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Beautifully said and such a stunning quote from Mary Oliver. You might enjoy the poetry I post on my blog and essays on the community blog on She Writes. all best to you.

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