Tag Archives: poet

Affliction and The Writing Life

28 Mar

“Being a writer is an affliction” a friend of mine recently posted to his blog.  I couldn’t agree more.  I write because I must.  It’s a necessity.  This is who I am.  It is a state of being, as my friend suggested.  Ultimately, I did not choose to be a writer.  Rather, the work and wonder of being a writer was placed on me by forces outside myself.  Sometimes I try to ignore it or go so far as to deny my calling.  As well, I take legitimate rest from it.  But always it is calling me back with stubborn persistence.  It is a weight or pressure as formative as glaciers. 

I commented to my friend’s blog that his post reminded me of the 1997 movie Affliction.  Nick Nolte played generational alcoholic Wade Whitehouse in this painfully riveting depiction of addiction.  The film (in which James Coburn won best supporting actor for his role as Wade’s whiskey guzzling father) causes the viewer to feel like an alcoholic, always off balance, never quite able to establish the foundational, the real, the essential way to proceed.  Sometimes when I write I feel like Wade Whitehouse.

Affliction is an apt term for the writing process.  The stumbles, the falters and false starts, the painful humbling that must occur for writing to be anything close to good, are discomfiting.  A friend once called a poem I wrote “dismissive”.  And yet I was compelled to continue with revisions. 

The addict who has come to the end of all hope knows she cannot save herself.  She will either despair unto death or be resurrected to new life.  If she is raised, it will come from outside herself and that too will be an affliction with all its attendant sufferings and humblings. 

Affliction is the way of the writer.  But it is not an empty or self-destructive affliction.  If I merely look within for hope and inspiration I am defeated before I begin.  But if I look beyond myself, listening, investigating, quietly considering the friction caused by outside forces on my person, I become more of who I am.  If my work fails, who am I to demand its success?  If it succeeds, who am I to demand its precedence. 

If I think I know my craft, I do not yet know as I ought.  And thus I am tempted to despair.  I suffer “corrosive self-doubt” (James Lee Burke), but I write because I must, this is who I am.  If you wish for your writing to give you substance, it is no better than addiction.  But if at the center of your substance is a writer, you do well to embrace your affliction.

Sleep and Dreams

26 Oct

man napping sculpture

No crime, keeping watch for couplets or half-lines
to cut through the alley or gather at the street sign.
They arrive as I usher my daughter to bed,
as I doze by her side.      And no surprise

to see them when I stay up after midnight…
but to find them at the trigger of a drive-by
is a hard rhyme.  I have no wish to testify

when the shooter is close—when he is the son
of a neighbor; when I pass him on the sidewalk
on his way back from the Short Stop—then I think,

No!  I didn’t hear a gunshot; I had a dream
that ended with a pop.  I tell myself
      I never had the gift; I need more sleep.
      No living poet would choose this street.