torsdag, juni 29, 2006


Years ago, a poet named Stefan Forrester told me of a reading he'd attended. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the poet who held the reading. She's quite good, and if I recall correctly she'd sort of vanished unexpectedly from the poetry scene for a few years. Referring to this absence, she said something about compulsion.

I thought that was quite good. I said something about not forcing the work too much. Then Steve corrected me. He said I hadn't heard correctly. She'd told them compulsion wasn't a good enough reason to be away from writing, or a good enough reason to return. Blood might be extreme, but sweat and tears can be of real value.

Sigh. I have to agree with this. I do agree with this. I don't want to, but I do.

Compulsion is still the driver of my literary bus. I spend a mad number of hours writing each week. Most days I put in one hour, sometimes three (though I'm really trying to learn how to sleep, something I've never been much good at). But I never finish anything. I do not finish poems, short stories, certainly not novels. I just keep writing. I keep barfing up new islands from the sea floor.

Andre Dubus, a very dead but very good writer, wrote an essay about writing vertically or horizontally, by which he did not mean the position of his body during the act of writing. To write horizontally was to seize upon every idea that strikes. You're writing outward. You're writing more in a fury. To write vertically is to stay with a single story and burrow at it, however long it takes, until you find the center of it. When Dubus wrote as he called it horizontally, he started 12 to 15 stories per year and finished 3. When he wrote vertically, he started and finished 3 per yer. He was much happier.

(If you saw the film In the Bedroom, you probably know that was based on a Dubus story. His collected stories are really good.)

I think this stuff is always in the back of my head, whipping me, trying to compel me to put some work in the stretch drive. Much of it is there, waiting for me to return to it.

But it's very high in mind today after watching a peculiar documentary about Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal. Darger was a janitor in Chicago who, over the course of decades, wrote a 15,000-page novel full of collage images, paintings, sketches, and hundreds of thousands of words, most of which are about a child-slave rebellion led by the seven Vivian Sisters.

(Some Darger images can be seen at the Web site of Chicago's Carl Hammer Gallery. More info, including a little Darger bio, can be found here.)

Darger knew few people. Ever. He spent nearly all his free time alone in his apartment working on this bottomless tome. He spoke to himself in numerous voices. He called the place he went to when he wrote The Realms of the Unreal.

I think we all have that in us, but when it becomes one's only world ...

Must finish a thing or two soon. Must not become Darger.
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