If you're frustrated with your productivity, I hope the reflections below help.
“Poetry eludes me.”
Poems about poems possess a strange universality. Initially, they look like they cater to a specialized audience, one which writes only poetry.
But I’m thinking about my writing process the last few days. That process could be charitably called chaos.
Read a poem, make a note, hope for inspiration.
Check Twitter, find 3 or 4 poems, see if anything moves me.
Start reading a paper. Take notes.
Take a phone call. Maybe talking helps?
Back to my laptop screen. Type random words.
Okay, now I’m getting somewhere.
Not only poetry eludes me. Or writing. It’s any kind of well-considered, well-communicated self-expression. As Houbolt documents: “that thing I meant to say / slips out of my grasp again / I say something anyway.”
Slippery (h/t Pax Morrigan) Kyla Houbolt poetry eludes me it’s like reaching to catch a fish with bare hands in freezing water that thing I meant to say slips out of my grasp again I say something anyway what have I caught here? not that fish but somehow a whole piece of water coming with me onto dry land
Until I spent time absorbing this poem line-by-line, I didn’t realize how much stress writing has been. I personally wouldn’t say it was “like reaching to catch a fish / with bare hands / in freezing water,” but that’s because of the specific difficulty of my personality. For Houbolt, there’s pain, frustration, and a potentially awesome result. If you do catch the fish with bare hands in freezing water, it’s incredible.
For me, the primary feeling is inadequacy. Like going to the grocery store, buying what I need, forgetting where my car is, and losing my groceries in the parking lot while searching for the car.
I should have something to say. I’ve lived long enough, I’ve learned plenty. If I can’t comment, why can’t I ask a good question?
For example: where’s my car?
Fishing is an apt simile for this problem. “that thing I meant to say / slips out of my grasp again / I say something anyway / what have I caught here?”
One way it proves itself apt is in the amount that could go wrong. The weather may be terrible; the bait may be useless; nothing might bite; the lines might break; the fish could get away after being caught; the fish could be terrible.
I understand why people need 30 packs of beer when fishing.
How is it possible we even express ourselves? We have a thought. How come it doesn’t get lost with other thoughts? Or just seize up in the throat and come out stumbling? Or, when said, is said, but doesn’t sound exactly the way one imagined it would sound?
It’s a small miracle anything is articulated, anything approximating the thoughts we have.
Houbolt addresses that approximation. She claims to have caught, “somehow [,] / a whole piece of water / coming with me / onto dry land.”
Not the fish, but everything that could be around the fish. It’s what isn’t a thought that allows for thought.
A similar idea rests in Dickinson’s “Your thoughts don’t have words every day:”
Your thoughts don't have words every day (1452) Emily Dickinson Your thoughts don’t have words every day They come a single time Like signal esoteric sips Of the communion Wine Which while you taste so native seems So easy so to be You cannot comprehend its price Nor its infrequency
I understand a miracle to be at stake here. If thoughts have their exact words—if you weren’t your own obstacle—it would happen once, “a single time / Like signal esoteric sips / Of the communion Wine.”
Dickinson tempts us. She makes it sound like thoughts do have words, and this is an infrequent but possible occurrence. But that’s just the temptation, why we’re trying to express ourselves in the first place.
What’s really happening is that if thoughts met the words they need, we would not be able to “comprehend its price / Nor its infrequency.” What “taste[s] so native” allows us “[s]o easy so to be.” We would be able to express ourselves perfectly. We would be no less than a god who is his word. It wouldn’t be clear why we speak, as our nature reaches its telos and speaks itself.
Thoughts do not have words. The ideal, where thoughts meet their precise words, is a supernatural ideal. We pursue it, but what results for us is very different. We play with words and get thoughts. Once in a while, we feel the associated words and thoughts work well enough, that we’ve drunk of the communion wine, the Word Himself. But that’s our feeling.
For now, I’m back to poetry eluding me too. The puzzle of self-expression being confused—but perhaps calmer—scribbling.