Category: why we write

Joan Didion said, ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.’ The idea of beginning in not knowing is a comfort to me—there’s so much I don’t understand about the world and our human hearts.

“Poetry is a space where we have the responsibility to acknowledge the power of language—all the violence it is capable of, all the tenderness it is holding, and our need to reach forward toward new language at the same time we are returning to older language, so we can carry one another best.”

Natalie Diaz, in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2020)

Almost all of our lives and thinking exist in spaces of ambiguity, uncertainty and doubt. And yet in much of our public speech and all of our political discourse we use language in a way that wants to deny all of those things. Art seems to me precisely the tool we have for allowing ourselves the fullness of human thinking.

The poem is really asking, over and over, Should this poem exist? Should this poem exist? It depends. But this is, for all of us, an important question to ask of our work before we put it into the world.

One time the bff Lauren Wilkinson…told me when writing, in so many words, to pursue the path of most conflict. It’s not always been so good on my body, but it has been great for my writing.

It’s no surprise that poetry can be a place to work out our felt relations to traces of the past; the poem has always been where I go to develop a private language, to extend intimately beyond myself, and to stage an impossible, interior conversation. But I was surprised to find that poetry also allowed me to work through some ethical questions that had stalled my academic writing, questions like: What do I do with an archival record that exists only because a violence has occurred?

“Poetry should be in the middle of the civic discussion of what’s going on in this country.”

Reginald Dwayne Betts, in “Name a Song,” a conversation with Mahogany L. Browne in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)

“As I accumulated more experience of the world, I sometimes found I had to explain myself and my home to others, putting a complicated place onto maps where previously there’d been almost nothing at all. I became interested in the role of telling about a place, in talking back from the periphery to a more central cultural power, and in questions about who gets to make art and from what. The book sprang in part from a desire to sustain and express fascination for overlooked spaces and in part from an obsession with the complicated way we wed the power of storytelling to ourselves, our identities, and our communities.”

Krista Eastman, in “The New Nonfiction 2019″ in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine

For me, language is everything. I am not all that interested in the story or the characters if the language is floppy. Language is much more than a carrier of information. Language gives the reader the words she or he needs to manage their internal situation. This matters.

The late Dasa Drndic…said to me: ‘Fuck story.’ She meant, forget what you think you want to say. Forget what you know. Look at form, find the voice, let it roam freely and follow it. It will tell you the narrative.