Saturday, March 26, 2011

Literary Dedication

Writing is both a privilege and a pressure. Yet any genuine writer will tell you how hard it is to stop, to give up. Writers block is much misunderstood - its more often writing too much, rather than not enough; watch or read Michaeal Chabon's "Wonder Boys" for a glorious example. Poets dry up, but they still write. I remember Larkin summing up his own writing career, and including, alongside his poems, the many reams of library minutes he'd overseen.

But as Cyril Connolly noted all those years ago, there are many "enemies of promise." Success can be one of these, oddly enough. I've known a couple of published novelists who've withdrawn from the fray after their next novel has been questioned by their agent or publisher. There are also plenty of published writers who carry on regardless, sustained by an audience, a publisher, or even just the compulsion.

In the music business, which is in many ways more brutal than the books business, we've seen classic artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young coming out of a decade of poor work to produce great albums again. Whether a writer could publish, say, half a dozen clunkers, before returning to form, is doubtful. Readers aren't that loyal, and, after all, a novel is rarely like an album, able to be filleted later for its rare highlights.

I've been off all week, and its taken that long to get my perspective back after a busy three months, including quite a lot of displacement. Fun as the trips have been, I always need some time for reflection, but also time for some of the things that hang around the edges of creativity. A scribbled book full of half-written poems is no different than a multitracker full of unmixed songs. Work has to be done to finish them off.

All my life I've been keen on finishing things off, or at least parcelling things up, providing some curatorial design to my own music and writings - and this week has been partly about that. A new CD has just gone off to the duplicators, and it will be finished next week, (more of that then). The first track recorded for this new release was recorded in January 2010, so its 15 months in the making, which is about my average these days.

Funnily enough, the latest poems in "Playing Solitaire for Money" were written in January 2010 as well, so whatever I've written since then - perhaps thirty or forty poems, of which maybe a third or a quarter are worth persevering with - is beginning to find its own shape. If I was off for another week, then that would be the next project, as it is, I'll print them off, and carry them with me as I go here and there again.

I've no pram in the hallway, but Connolly's enemies of promise were many. And, as you get older, its less about promise, than purpose. Twenty five years of writing seriously may not have taken me to Gladwell's "10000 hours" but I'd like to think I've learnt something over the years. Much of that is about not writing; I'm just working on a story that I had the idea for at least five years ago, perhaps longer, but only started a couple of weeks ago. The actual writing (of a story that will end up less than 2000 words) could probably be fit into a single working day; it was the not writing it that took the time.

When I do manage to find a week to be creative, like this one, my frustration is how little I actually do. In the past I've been known to spend half of it writing or making music, but these days, the more critical issue is about "head space." So I've finished reading two novels that I began months ago, visited the fascinating Anish Kapoor exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, heard Paul Farley and Micheal Symmons Roberts read from their new book "Edgelands", and a few other things. It's the main reason I didn't arrange to join the march in London today against the cuts. For once, its a march that I think can have some impact, if only as a mobilisation of a large number of ordinary people; which no government can be entirely happy at being on the wrong side of. But joining them would have probably took a big chunk out of my week (I'd probably have gone down yesterday, come back tomorrow)and I'm trying to eke out this space for creative work.

I watched the first part of the new BBC adaption of "Women in Love" and it reminded me that its been a while since I read Lawrence, but also, that he seems to have fallen off the literary radar a little over the last decade or so. If ever there was a writer who had literary dedication, it's Lawrence. From the wrong side of the tracks, he arrived both fully formed and formless; a new voice in a time of new voices, a powerful figure, an immense talent. Who else was such an influential critic, iconic novelist, brilliant short story writer and highly original poet? There sometimes seems an abundance of Lawrence, but his world view crossed genres and forms in a way that we now know to be incredibly rare. Like Hemingway and Joyce its hard to separate out the life in exile from the writer; but whereas Hemingway's late work was a shadow of his early writing, and Joyce got lost in his blindness (actual, and the creative blindness of "Finnegan's Wake")Lawrence last two longer works were "The Virgn and the Gipsy" and "The Escaped Cock" (aka "The Man Who Died"), both amongst his best.

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