Thoughts About Being a Writer

Posted on:January 19, 2019

Hello. This is my first blog of the year, on my new website. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me in the appropriate windows of the blog.

I was reviewing some Greek mythology and got caught up off guard by the Orpheus story (I was really looking for some stuff about Sisyphus, which I did find, and have drafted a poem about. Eventually you’ll see it [I hope] if someone publishes it.)

Anyway, Orpheus the poet, and poets in general.

Orpheus, torn apart by the Maenads, who were worshippers of Dionysus, has his head thrown in the river Hebrus, still singing all the way to the sea. (You’ll recall the story of Orpheus, his love Euryidice, and breaking his promise to Hades by looking back at Eurydice as she heads for the Underworld, hence losing her forever, and suffering the Maenads’ bloodthirsty response. Some versions say that he was torn apart by dogs. Your call.)

Anyway, it got me thinking about the writer and his/her work. In writing—no matter how lovely or cheerful the poem turns out to be; it doesn’t have to be dark—the poet dismembers himself . . . the violence of writing, the words torn from your center, the sounds and meanings and point of the song staunching the blood until the writer reaches the moment of recognition, or transformation: we find ourselves baptized by the sacred sea . . . whole again, but different, new, open to singing a new song echoing in the chambers of the heart we hold in our hands. The old saying is that “you can’t step in the same river twice,” and it’s true, I think. We’re one person before the new poem; we step willingly, whirling in the river down to a sea, and like a memory, become a different person. Every memory, every poem—maybe even every blog; we’ll have to see—we become a new person. The bones are the same, but as a writing, living being we are constantly changing. I think that’s why every poem we start to write challenges us: we may or may not know where we’re going or what we want to write about, but our heart, our blood feels something, something without which we’ll die. And that is why we must take such care, from note to draft to revision, because we are making ourselves and those who read the poem a different person. Alive, even in a dark or death poem, in a fundamentally new way.

And thus, the act of writing a poem requires the greatest of care, whether dark or sunny, because of its power. I think it was somewhere in the Hebrew scriptures of Proverbs: “A soft tongue can break bones.” No matter how soft the singer’s tongue, we hold tremendous power, and responsibility. And even if we’re curmudgeons, quirky, mad—whatever—we bring something to love.

I would like to dedicate this launch of what I hope is a fruitful year of blogs to the memory of the late writer, who passed away unexpectedly at the beginning of the new year from natural causes, Frank Rutledge. He was my best friend; we worked together, studied together; we were brothers in arms. I, and many others, will miss him. Godspeed, Frank. Shalom.

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