There is often a fixation on word count, craft and the mechanics of writing for those attempting the longer forms of fiction. I can get completely wrapped up in these aspects, and they’re very important. But the real motivation to write comes from our creative natures, our desire to tell a story in a way that only we can and by the liberating joy that we find during those times when we are writing almost automatically and letting the words flow from a place we can’t access when we think too hard about it.
There were two sessions at the recent retreat I attended that were led by
Stanley Kunitz received the 1995 National Book Award in Poetry for Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected. Five years later, The Collected Poems, combining both early and later work, was published. Kunitz received nearly every honor bestowed upon a poet in this country, including the Pulitzer and Bollingen Prizes, a National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton in 1993, and the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 1998. He served as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress (and again when the post was called US Poet Laureate). He was State Poet of New York and a chancellor of the
Throughout his life Stanley Kunitz created poetry and tended gardens. The Wild Braid is the distillation of conversations that took place between 2002 and 2004. His essays and poems explore personal recollections, the creative process, and the harmony of the life cycle.
Anyone with a deep connection with nature, with gardening and with the written word cannot help but be deeply touched by this book. Chris Ransick is such a person. He has been gardening all of his life and opened our discussion with a short essay on his experiences with the organic vegetable garden he has lovingly nurtured at his
Much of what we discussed about The Wild Braid and about writing in general was the connection we have between nature, the subconscious and the creative process of writing. Chris finds a deep connection between working his hands in the soil, nurturing the plants, weeding, feeding and harvesting the bounty of his garden and the creative process. I thought about how many of my writing friends have mentioned gardening. Most of the writers I know tend gardens. I in my own humble way, have limited experience with the modest perennial garden planted in front of my house that I was delighted to see really did come back this spring and with the brilliant annuals I planted this summer that I tend to closely, deadheading them, examining them for signs of insect infestation, monitoring them for signs of over or under watering. There is a distinct connection between working in a garden and freeing the unconscious to access thoughts and ideas that don’t occur to us when we’re focused and concentrating.
Chris asked us about physical activities that stimulate the creative process for all of us. Walking alone is certainly a common way to unleash the unconscious and it works for me and certainly I’ve read about other writers who walk regularly as part of a writing routine. I mentioned painting – not paintings, but interior walls – I’ve done a lot of it over the course of many moves and find that I enjoy the quiet and the repetitive motion. Physical activity provides more oxygen to the brain and this stimulates our thought process. Those physical activities that have us moving, but require little direct focus stimulate all kinds of ideas, especially when we’re out in nature. Henry David Thoreau wrote an entire fifty page essay called Walking.
Poetry scares me, although it intrigues me at the same time. I’ve never studied it and have read some, always feeling as though I’m not seeing it all, but there is a very direct correlation between a poem and the poet’s unconscious creative energy. As I read more if it, I can feel that primal, creative element at work. In working on, studying and discussing writing as it relates to the novel, we’re often pulled quite a distance from that unconscious, creative energy; that process that surely was the reason all of us who are driven to put pen to paper began to do so in the first place. We’re often so practical about the construction that I wonder if we aren’t revising out some of the original, unconscious creative work that drove us to write in the first place.
I’ve been reading Lost Songs & Last Chances and the poems draw me in and show me the elements left of a story, when every piece not needed is stripped out and what’s left is the pearl that evokes the visceral, “I get it” response. I don’t know if that’s what poetry is supposed to do, but that’s what it does for me.
Reading poetry makes me think that maybe each novel has a poem hidden inside it; that there is a dense reduction each story simmers down to that leaves the reader with the rush of images and sensations that came from within the writer and that was the fertilization and conception of our story.
Do you consciously place yourself in surroundings that open you up to ideas, creativity and inspiration? Where do you find it? How do you summon it? Does poetry inform your fiction writing?