Saturday, May 24, 2008


Rollow May, in The Courage to Create, writes about the guilt that artists (including writers) feel about their creativity. We rebel, he says, against the gods, and he cites Genesis and Greek myth to illustrate this idea. Yahweh banished Adam and Eve once they tasted the tree of knowledge, Zeus punished Prometheus for bring fire (and light) to humankind. So when we dare to dip our toes into the great pond of creativity, it scares us. That fright leads to courage, which is not, says May, the same as brashness. Courage, as Frost said, is grace under pressure, whether the pressure of a clear and present physical threat or pressure from the gods to keep to our little place and not change how we or others see the world, which is the deeper purpose of writing. And how about the double message in which Old Testament God first invited Adam to name the animals, then kicked him out when he tasted knowledge, when he saw that he was naked. Sort of the Emperor's New Clothes in reverse, eh?

Whatever the cause of this feeling, this need for courage, writing is a big deal. Editing and revising poems from my notebook, I am more honest about the work as I go along, more willing to put aside the trivial, the merely clever, and go for the gut. If it's not good--by which I've come to mean deep and fresh--then why would anyone want to read it? True, there are still favorite poems which I avoid, afraid I'll see excess and frivolity, but I'll always fight those creeping demons. I'll never get there. As G. Stein said, "There is no there there." No final exam to pass, no tape at the end of the marathon. Unless I sink into pure egoism and become a dilettante, resting on past accomplishments and hollow praise. No thanks, this work is hard and I don't mean to throw it into the sink. Later--write well, love long, live honestly.

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