Cautious gropings

I liked this short description of the hard work of writing poetry:

From such records of the workings of the poetic imagination as we possess we have learned that poems do not, as a rule, arrive in a flash of inspiration but derive from much hard, stubborn, even somewhat prosaic work; drafts of poems are full of false starts, wrong turns, and dead ends as well as of cautious gropings, humble glimmerings, and dawning realizations.

– Janet Malcolm, In The Freud Archives

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7 Responses to Cautious gropings

  1. Quite true. In that respect, making a poem is no different from making anything else. W B Yeats knew this:

    ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
    Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
    Our stitching and unstitching has been naught’

    and so did T S Eliot:

    Trying to use words, and every attempt
    Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
    Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
    For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
    One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
    Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
    With shabby equipment always deteriorating
    In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
    Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
    By strength and submission, has already been discovered
    Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
    To emulate’

  2. Claude says:

    If you allow me to quote myself:

    What a struggle!
    Oh! What a struggle…
    To extract from mediocrity and banality
    A shiny thought to be born.


  3. Nicely put but the post title reminds me of my early love life!

  4. Stan says:

    Barrie: They had it right, and they put it so well. Joyce apparently spent 14 years revising one sentence in Finnegans Wake.

    Claude: Always a treat and a pleasure. Thank you. These shiny thoughts are reborn anew in the retelling.

    Jams: Ha! Maybe we could persuade Ms Malcolm to write In The Jams Archives.

  5. Claude says:

    Ha! guys (Jams, Stan)…Hilarious! Can’t stop laughing…

  6. wisewebwoman says:

    I revisit old poems and revise and revise and revise. They are never finished.
    The story of the universe, right there.


  7. Stan says:

    WWW: I imagine they become a little more finished each time, though. Which is just as well.

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