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!”

Letter from Birmingham City Jail

by Matthew Koslowski on January 20, 2010
in Essays

In honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

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Finding the Ferry-way

by Matthew Koslowski on January 13, 2010
in Anecdotes

In This Essay

The Art of Sinking in Poetry by Alexander Pope
The Epistles of Horace: Bilingual Edition (David Ferry, trans.)
The Odes of Horace: Bilingual Edition (David Ferry, trans.)
“For poet, classics translate into success” by David Mehegan, The Boston Globe, July 7, 2005
 

The other day I found a copy of Alexander Pope’s The Art of Sinking in Poetry in Barnes&Noble. As I began to read it, I began to think of Horace’s “Ars Poetica”, how long it had been since I had read it, and thought about when it began to take on a special meaning for me.

I felt myself floating after finishing my undergraduate degree.

I found myself fighting against ideas that I did not want to accept. But I did not then have the strength to put them down.

I still don’t.

Then one day I was reading The Boston Globe — only good things come from reading The Boston Globe — when I came across a story about a translator trying to revive the classics of ancient Roman poet Horace.

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Pablo Neruda, a Few Sad Lines, and a Fight

by Matthew Koslowski on January 6, 2010
in Anecdotes

In This Essay

Love: Ten Poems by Pablo Neruda (various trans.)
100 Love Sonnets: Cien sonetos de amor (Bilingual Edition) by Pablo Neruda (Stephen Tapscott, trans.)
 

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry by Pablo Neruda in translation. And whenever I read Pablo Neruda, I wish that I were fluent in Spanish so that I could understand what he wrote.

I rediscovered, “Tonight I Can Write…”, a poem I have struggled with since college. My first reading of this poem lead to a fight with one of my favorite professors, Dr. K–.

And I learned a lot from the experience.

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Patrons & Saints

by Matthew Koslowski on December 24, 2009
in Essays

To one of my saints, my dear friend, Emily Baum, with the deepest appreciation.

In This Essay

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca (C.D.N. Costa, trans.)
Late Bloomers by Malcolm Gladwell, The Annals of Culture, The New Yorker
On Dying Young by Matthew Koslowski, Literature&Literacy
William Stafford, Poet, Wikipedia
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (Stephen Mitchell, trans.)
Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose by Rainer Maria Rilke (Stephen Mitchell, ed. and trans.)
The Second Four Books of Poems by W.S. Merwin
 

“Is there anything I can do to cheer you up?” she asks.

“Sure,” I say. “Just show me a writer — a poet, preferably — who did not a pickup a pen before he was 27 or 30, who amounted to anything, who history remembers.”

These conversations are common.

I expect the normal, well-intentioned platitudes. Often I begin to despair because I have not dedicated myself to my writing. I begin to think that my time is up. “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it,” Seneca whispers. “Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.” And I begin to think about how I have not invested my time well.

Rilke writes, “…if, as I have said, one feels one could live without writing, then one shouldn’t write at all.” Haven’t I been living without writing? I have not worked on my novel in weeks. Or have I been existing and drifting? Do I really feel that I could live without writing?

“William Stafford,” she says.

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