On My Recent Silence

by Matthew Koslowski on June 17, 2010
in Announcements

Dear readers and friends,

June has provided a number of surprises for me. Please bear with me a little bit longer while I navigate some of these changes.

I have been having some excellent conversations about poetry and art — only in the real world, not online. I have been working on my own writing — just not my blog — and nothing that I am quite ready to share. I have begun to swing dance, in addition to the other dancing I already do, so I have even less time than I did before.

So, while I adjust to the new schedule, please be patient with me. I will have some good posts in the next week and I will try to make it up to you for the two Wednesdays I have missed.

Sincerely,

 

Matthew Koslowski

Pen to Paper

by Matthew Koslowski on April 14, 2010
in Essays

In This Essay

The Mystery of the Messy Notebooks: Why Agatha Christie’s method was utterly deranged by Christine Kenneally, Slate, April 12, 2010.
Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Letters on Life: New Prose Translations by Rainer Maria Rilke (Ulrich Baer, ed. and trans.)
 

On Monday, I was reading Slate. What inspired me to read it that day, I am not sure: it has not been one of the sources that I regularly turn to for my news.

Perhaps because I want to be a writer myself, I have always found it fascinating to listen to stories about how artists, musicians, and authors create their work. Without any real study, the descriptions of the creative process stick with me.

For example, years ago I listened to part of an interview with Michael Stipe of R.E.M. (Perhaps the entire band was being interviewed, my memory is vague.) I remember nothing about that interview, save this one thing: R.E.M. records the music without Michael Stipe present and then they give him the rough cut on a tape. He walks around listening to the tape again and again until he is able to put words to the music.

But I am glad that I decided to read Slate this week. Otherwise I would have missed a great article about the writing process that Agatha Christie employed. If you can call how Agatha Christie wrote a “process.”

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How the Writing is Smarter than the Writer

Last night at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, I saw a joint reading of Andre Dubus III and one of his mentors, Thomas E. Kennedy. During the question and answer session following the reading, Andre answered questions about his forthcoming memoir.

One thing that he said really caught my attention and I have been thinking about it since he said it.

That’s the wonderful thing about writing. The writing is smarter than the writer. I set out to write an essay and then realized this would take a book to tackle. I learned more about myself and the history of my life. My only hope is that I write something useful that people can relate to. Besides my wife.
– Andre Dubus III, with the poetic license that is memory.

Not too long ago I stumbled across Everett Bogue’s blog Far Beyond the Stars and Colin Wright’s blog Exile Lifestyle. Both blogs are very, very good. Even before reading these two advocates of minimalism, I had thought that I would like to reduce my belongings to a trunk worth of clothes and a trunk worth of books. They make the goal seem even more worth pursuing.

Today, while the idea that the writing is smarter than the writer was rolling around in my head, I was reading Everett Bogue’s free ebook How to Create a Movement and Colin Wright’s free ebook How to be Remarkable.

Both ebooks talked about the importance of having passion.

So, I stopped to ask myself, “What is my writing telling me? Where is my passion?” I thought about Literature&Literacy, about the post that generated the most interesting discussion. What did I come back to again and again?

Poetry.

My real passion has always been poetry. I love to read novels and probably have read more novels than poems in my life time. But there is something in the poetry that strikes me, something I retain from poetry that I don’t as much with a novel.

Perhaps that’s not entirely fair. I remember my Senior Directed Readings in the Humanities at Ohio Wesleyan University. I studied the development of the sonnet from Petrarch to John Donne. One of the first things I read was Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poetry along side his sonnet cycle Astrophel and Stella. When Sidney defends “poetry” he’s defending what we would now call literature, novels as well as poems.

I have read novels like Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novels The Sand Child and The Sacred Night which were poems. And I have read and heard recited “poems” which were not even prose.

So, I am going to start following my bliss. I don’t know how that may change my writing. But Sir Philip Sidney might have an idea.

I.

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she (dear she) might take some pleasure of my pain:
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain:
Oft turning others’ leaves to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burned brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay,
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows,
And others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”
–Sir Philip Sidney from Astrophel and Stella

Are Stars Fixed?

He grimaced after he realized what I had asked. He thought of how to phrase what he had to say. He was not happy that I had asked the question. He took sip of his drink. While he was fidgeting, I figured out what he was thinking. He tossed around for what else he could do to avoid answering the question.

“You don’t think my writing has much potential,” I answered for him. I had heard it before, though before it had been about my poetry and not about my fiction.

“Well, here’s the thing, Matthew, you’re a friend and I like you.”

“That is true, but that doesn’t change the quality of my writing.”

I thought about what he had said about the piece I shared with him. At first he had thought it was a thinly veiled diary entry. When I told him I’d never experienced anything as painful as my character had, he complimented my imagination.

“I think you may well be published and you will well get some good reviews. But is it enduring? When I think of a novel, I think of a piece that is art for art’s sake. I don’t see the art there.”

I thought about Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft which I’ve been reading. He writes that he think it is possible for a competent writer to become a good writer, but it’s never possible for a good writer to leap the chasm, becoming a great writer. Since reading that I have been wrestling with the idea.

If, for example, there is a limit to how quickly an individual can run — only a limited number of people can run at Olympic speeds — does it follow that there is a limit to how well one can write? Perhaps writing talent is like singing talent: everyone is born able to sing in a specific range, with some training someone can reach some notes higher or lower, but a bass will never be a tenor.

As I sipped my own drink, I thought about how just the other night after reading a friend’s work, I told her that I wasn’t sure if there was any there there. And now I was hearing the same thing. I thought about what he said.

What I had shared were five and a half double-spaced pages of my first foray into writing after a long absence. Could Faulkner’s friends see the art in his first attempts? Didn’t Shakespeare’s genius develop through his first plays before he had fully mastered his craft? Some critics say that Shakespeare’s first plays show strong attempts to emulate the more established playwrights of his day.

My friend smiled. “What the hell do I know? Every genius was underestimated in his day. Here’s to your writing!”

An Artist + A Poet: A Review

About the Exhibition

The exhibition An Artist + A Poet runs in the Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery of the Boston Athenaeum from February 10, 2010 through April 10, 2010. This exhibition is open to the public.

The Boston Athenaeum, 10½ Beacon St., Boston, Massachusetts 02108.

 

I had never heard of George Nama nor Charles Simic before seeing an announcement for a joint exhibition of their works at the Boston Athenaeum. But after spending time in the exhibition, I am glad that I know them now. I wish that I had known about them sooner.

The opening reception was last night, one of the Boston Athenaeum’s event open to the public. I was not quite sure what to expect.

The Athenaeum puts on a lovely reception. The reception was an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with these two artists. A nice selection of cheeses; two nice wines — Trapiche Malbec and Ca Donini Pinot Grigio; and orange punch. A jazz trio played throughout the evening.

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