and with these dead disciples I will grapple.
(Anne Sexton, "Mother and Jack and the Rain", Collected Poems, p. 109)
Deciding on a suitable topic to write about is hard. But once you have found it, the job is almost half done.
I didn't have time to read the whole interview and so I was happy to think that this was just the way he liked to start sentences, like some people who say "Uh, well" or "Hmmm." Borges was blind, I mean, I am not telling you anything you don't already know here, but still, I had another idea, that people who are blind just have to occasionally make a big statement, like AH MIDDLEMARCH!, so they can sort of claim the territory of the conversation and people will stop and listen. It is really a bold move when you think about it, because people who have read Middlemarch realise what an extraordinary universe it is, and how George Eliot has produced a world in which the whole universe is one living thing, and how there is a kinship between things that seem far off and by the end are all interwoven, and so, once you have startled people by saying AH MIDDLEMARCH! you have really raised the stakes on the tenor of the conversation, because people automatically are thinking about a world in which there is a kinship between things that seem far off and by the end are all interwoven, which was Borges' point, really, anyway because I read the rest of the article interview later that day and this is exactly what he said:INTERVIEWER: What do you think there is?BORGES: AH MIDDLEMARCH!INTERVIEWER: Pardon?BORGES: (annoyed) I think there is a kinship between things.(Ricky Garni, "Borges Says: AH MIDDLEMARCH!," 2% Butterscotch, pp. 182-183)
HOLLANDER: I always write in longhand, and I revise when I type. Then, when a poem is to be published in bookform, I may redo something in its magazine version, something that doesn't seem right to me. Berryman: I got one of those things that have a piece of glassine over a piece of paper, and you can put something in between and see it but not touch it. I would draft my stanza and put it in there.
CLAMPITT: Oh, the thought of it! I don't understand how, but a lot of poets do relish computers. My own original handwritten drafts are usually on the backs of those silly announcements law firms send out[.]
TATE: I was just sitting on my bed in a dormitory room and I started writing. The thing that was magic about it was that once you put down one word, you could cross it out. I figured that out right away. I put down mountain, and then I'd go, no—valley. That's better.
SNODGRASS: Often I print them [the poems] off and make pencil or pen corrections on that. Or sometimes I just do it directly on the machine.
Etcetera. Etcetera.SEIDEL: I use what's at hand to use. Literally. Sometimes, not often, it's a pen and a small spiral notebook that I'm carrying around. Much more often, I start a poem on the computer. I sit down at the computer every morning. It's my feeling that working on the computer puts less between me and the poem I'm writing than my own handwriting does. The computer is nearly transparent to me. As a quite separate thing, I take real pleasure in the device itself, typical sleek Apple elegance—the physical thing gives me pleasure. I travel a certain amount and the computer goes where I go.
I am sitting in a hair salon in a Link shopping centre in my home district of Tin Shui Wai. My hair is covered with white cream and being steamed. In Hong Kong, "negative air ionisation therapy" (負離子) is a household name, although just ten years ago it was not so readily available. I remember when the treatment was first introduced, one needed to set aside six hours in a salon (at least those of us with really thick hair), and having your hair straightened was a half-a-day affair. Now it's down to three or four hours.
Computer vs. Longhand
"Do you write poems? If so, do you use a computer, or do you write in longhand?" Answers:
Dear Tammy Ho, In view of the fact that most of your respondents have not taken your question seriously and have chosen to be witty and cute, I will risk taking it seriously and answer that I do, even at my advanced age, use the computer with its ability to correct my work with the flick of a finger. I can't imagine how the great writers of the past managed with nothing but longhand. (Hal O' Leary)Actually several of your answers speak to me. I carry a notebook with me most of the time, but mostly it's for recording birds i see or making notes from events I'm reviewing. Some poetry does get in though, specially haiku. I also keep poetry in my head, folded up in fact, like your answer suggests. When it comes to writing poems out, i write them in pen on paper and it's usually not until I feel a poem is almost complete that I transfer it to the computer. (Juliet Wilson)Almost always the first draft is in longhand on a yellow legal pad. Sometimes several drafts. When it begins to feel poemly, I put it on the computer so I can see what shape it's taking. I print out and save all copies. Newest goes on top. I work on the poem in my head, eyes and ears open for the right image or word, the one I've been searching for. I often freewrite in the margins of the latest draft. Sometimes that's where the real poem is. (Diane Lockward)
W.F. Lantry shared his process thus: "I write in a strange, highly focused trance, and it only lasts so long." I suppose this experience is echoed in many writers' lives. For me, this "trance" can occur when I am in a stable moving vehicle, at a seminar, reading Butler's Notebooks in the library, watching TV or slurping Japanese udon noodle soup on a stainless steel table (it can also be Sichuan beef noodle soup). So long as I can write on paper, I can slip into this "trance," although before this state kicks in some lines might already have been forming, usually in reaction to some external stimuli. The "trance" can be incredibly short—several minutes from start to finish. Or it can be long—hours of abandonment. In order to be able to write in a variety of settings, I carry several pens (light blue, black, dark blue) and a notebook with me most of the time, sometimes several; as Reid Mitchell wrote, "Does it matter that my notebook is not spiral? And that I usually carry two?"
However, after showing a professor of mine a first draft of "An Anatomy of Memory" (Fig. 1) on Facebook, he suggested that I start keeping my working papers.
I am back in Hong Kong, my hair is straight and I have just finished typing out scribblings done while my head was inside a glass bubble. For a moment, I consider crumpling up my notes, their purpose now served. But I decide not to—better to have a direct link to that housing estate hair salon, halfway around the world from where I was only a few days ago. It's funny, I think, my own survey did not even include an option for my own writing process, but this process did allow me to find time to write this editorial after all.