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As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words

30 December 2017

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does that sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

e.e. cummings


8 Comments to “As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words”

  1. As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine.

    Writing is hard work? Really?

    When I was a kid, I worked for my father with his homebuilding company. I clearly recall when I decided to go to college. It was an August afternoon in Texas with an air temperature of a hundred and seventeen Fahrenheit. Our crew had just finished nailing down the last sheet of plywood on the roofline. Thunderbumpers were springing up all around, and we were debating whether to start papering. Back then we tacked black tar paper over the plywood for a water seal. My father drove up, slipped his hammer into the loop on his overalls, and climbed the ladder to the roof. The debate was over. We put that house ‘in the dry’ — that is, we papered the roof — before we left that day, alternately hammering down squareheads and hauling fifty pound rolls of tar paper up a ladder to a four-twelve pitched roof. The temperature on that roof went north of a hundred and forty.

    Yeah, tell me again how writing is hard work. I’m all ears.

    • Felix, I’ve done the same kind of work– I was a carpenter for a decade and a dairy farmer before that. Never worked in heat above the nineties, but I’ve set forms and decked roofs in driving snow and sleet and chopped corn silage when the silage was frozen before it hit the wagon. Worked outside all day in heavy rain for days straight.

      For me, everything has its good and bad. It’s fat-headed to extol the difficulty of writing over any other physical or mental labor. I sense that you take pride in working that roof, and if you don’t, you deserve to.

      But I give writers, and poets, some credit for hard work too. I’ve spent some deadly hours struggling to make clear how asymmetric encryption is even possible, and I am still not sure I won that battle. Sorting out a mystery plot with realistic dialog and no smoke and mirrors is a cut-throat struggle for me. I am in awe of those who conquer those challenges and then start the next one.

      In other words, I revere everyone who sheds bodily tissue and fluid to keep going when it gets tough. It’s not the same tissue and fluid that we sacrifice for every job, but, by God, we do it. And deserve every bit of credit we get.

      • I agree. I’m so tired of people comparing physical labor work to writing. It’s not the blue v’s white showdown.

        I did roofing as my summer job from age 13-18, it is indeed hard work, but it’s also mindless. You put in screws, or welds, or nails, depending. I enjoyed it because the repetition let my mind ramble.

        Writing is intellectual labor. It’s a different sort of hard. Shut up and and stop equating them. It sounds fake

  2. I really don’t get people who make writing such hard work for themselves. If it’s so hard to do, why keep doing it? If writing isn’t fun, why bother doing it? I mean, we humans do enough stuff that isn’t fun to earn money as it is. Why make writing so hard?

    I just don’t get it.

    • I can’t honestly say why I keep doing it, but I do find it hard. I built two houses and afterward had trouble for more than six months raising my arms above shoulder height, and I still say writing is harder for me than that was.

      What’s hard for me isn’t the same as what’s hard for someone else, that’s a given. I find it much harder to sit down and concentrate and come up with the words than some people I know.

      And yet I still do it. I like doing it. Sometimes, hard is part of the appeal.

      • What I think I’m really complaining about is people who make it hard for no reason besides some hangup in their psyche which believes the myth that writing must always be oh-so-difficult and a cause of some sort of misery in order to be considered “good.”

        In my experience, it didn’t matter whether I felt good or was miserable about my writing. The quality didn’t change. Same with whether or not it was difficult when I wrote that scene or section. It’s the same for a lot of writers I know. Quality doesn’t change for them, no matter how happy or miserable they are with their writing, or how difficult it is to write.

        Here I’ll admit I originally just skimmed over the remainder of the quote above after the first line of it. On a second, more attentive read of it, it seems clear to me that, despite its difficulty for him, e.e. cummings enjoyed writing his poetry. And that I can appreciate.

        And it sounds as if you enjoy it on some level too–you say you like doing it, and that it being hard is sometimes part of the appeal. I can appreciate those points of view too. People write for different reasons.

        I just don’t get people who make it difficult and unfun and something they don’t enjoy doing for themselves. Writing is no more virtuous or righteous than any other job or hobby. There’s no need to try to martyr oneself over it. If it isn’t fun, or one doesn’t like doing it, and if there’s no appeal in the writing itself for some reason, go do something that is fun.

  3. I’m not a poet. I have trouble understanding most poetry, so I’ll stick with something easy, like blowing up the world.

    BTW, I have a character who is a bookstore owner, Abigail Adams Cummings, owner of “a.a. cummings, books”. She’s known as “double a” to her friends, because she hates all versions of her name.

    What can I say, it’s another world.

  4. My understanding (correct me if I’m wrong, but I prefer this understanding) is that Cummings actually didn’t like his name to be spelled without capitals. Using that orthography was his publisher’s doing, to give him cachet, to set him apart. It was a marketing ploy.

    I really hope this is true because I don’t like it when people get cutesy with orthography, thinking it demonstrates something, because it never really does.

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