Writing and Defamiliarization with Lyn Hejinian

In recent poetry meanderings, I came across a poem by Lyn Hejinian in a Poetry Foundation podcast (called PoemTalk) that I find enormous enjoyment from and don’t talk about at social events.

Lyn Hejinian, 'constant change figures'

Lyn Hejinian, ‘constant change figures’

The poem itself – imaged here and linked appropriately – takes the reader on a circuitous rout of reflection and memory that the poem’s form reflects. It’s brilliant. You’ll have to read it a few times before it leaves more than an evaporating mnemonic impression. This is my attempt at working out some of its ideas and the further ideas it produces in me as a writer.

I spent some time with the piece. What I found interesting enough to chase after when I set the poem aside was Hejinian’s curiosity in everyday life and how we talk about it. She defends these things as important settings or subjects for avant-garde literature. Or any literature and art, for that matter. Continue reading

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Revisiting Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a good philosophy Uncertainty is a virtue in creative writing. If you’re a writer, you’ve likely heard or read countless interviews of famous authors saying that the outline is a great way to kill the spark. That’s not to say that outlining doesn’t work for anyone. I’ve outlined some stories that I needed to wrap my head around before I got too far in to redirect, and they turned out fine. But it doesn’t work often.

‘Write to discover’ is the long standing motto for many authors, and I’ve adopted it for myself. For a person who usually avoids spontaneity, this seems a little out of character, but then again I’m not writing about myself. I have to figure out who these characters are. To do that, it seems easiest to place them in a setting and a situation, and then I have ten pages from which a plot is quickly being born without my knowledge. Continue reading

The Poetics Of Uncertainty

ffw-logo-shadowAttending the Festival of Faith and Writing has given me more thoughts than I can possibly handle in a lifetime. This may seem like hyperbole, but as poet Geoffrey Nutter, one of the Festival speakers, pointed out using the words of T. S. Eliot: “Human beings can not bare that much reality.”

And that’s what I got today. A lot of reality.

But I think more than that too, because it wasn’t so obvious or so conclusive. As Nutter talked about the “radical uncertainty” of his poetry, I began to get glimpses of images that will probably tumble around in my head for a very long time. The reader (and writer for that matter) are meant to grapple with the words. Most of us know this. It’s an old idea.

But spawning from this wrestling springs a “joyful spontaneity” for those involved. This is another term for faith, I’d argue. “It takes faith to suspend our need for resolution,” says Nutter. Just as it takes strength to suspend our desire to wrestle the text into submission, which, if comprised of true images rather than mere deductions, shouldn’t be possible at the point of the final period. Continue reading

World Building: Art

Classical Art The Oath of the HoratiiI have a tendency to get stuck in my characters’ thoughts and actions so often that I forget to see through their eyes. The world in which a character lives – whether fictional or historical – has a broadening or shrinking effect on the way readers see that world. The author can use both to his or her advantage. As narrator, we decide where we want our readers looking, but we also want to give them a sense of the background – a fuller picture of what world they’ve arrived at for the duration of the story.

I’ve said this in so many words before, but in similar posts I’ve stopped at trying to capture the broader importance of world building for fantasy. That only goes so far, and it would be a tad ironic to ask you to think only about world building through the lens of one of my wide gestures.

So let’s talk specifics. Continue reading