WRITER AS ESCAPE ARTIST
John changes the sign on the easel (to WRITER AS ESCAPE ARTIST) and over his shoulder asks the audience a question which he then goes ahead and answers.
QUESTION: Do writers (who are known to stay up all night and sleep all day) burst into flames in sunlight?
Sunlight renders writers with their hyper-dilated irises, blind. It also causes neural pathways to fire randomly in the writer’s brain, creating an extreme epileptic reaction. As dramatic as this reaction may appear, it will not be enough to start a fire, though some writers do sunburn easily.
Back to his own saga.
So I decide to dump the title “Unearthing the Writer as Vampire.” No big deal. But what should I change it to? I don’t know.
Six months after the Centennial I’m able to get a national distributor for the Niedecker book. But the book doesn’t prove particularly successful. Her work isn’t uplifting in the same way that a popular song or a decorative painting might be. These are not poems to be recited at graduations or anniversaries. That’s because there are troublesome things deeply ingrained in them; though even here she’s selective.
She writes about her working-class husband, but very little about her philandering father who “kept” another family (a mistress and her daughter). He bought silence from his mistress’s husband with gifts of land. Can you imagine? Their land. Lorine’s land.
She criticizes her deaf long-suffering mother, but not Louis Zukofsky or Cid Corman whose friendships she courts over her lifetime.
They both eventually dump her.
She writes about Paul—Zukofsky’s young son—not about her aborted twins.
Looking directly at the audience.
Or is this true? That she did not write about them?
Someone who lives a life of metaphors can easily substitute one person for another when, for her own mental health, she needs the kind of distancing art provides. Her father and her husband do meld together, as do her mother and her, and the live child and her dead twins.
It’s complicated. But her writing is full of clues.
You are the man
You are my other country
and I find it hard going
You are the prickly pear
You are the sudden violent storm
the torrent to raise the river
to float the wounded doe
What is clear is that she not only chose subjects that are difficult, but ones that have multiple layers of meaning offering some kind of personal resolution.
I think there are different, identifiable stages to the creative process—from the first in which we absorb the world and its experiences through our senses and intuition, to a second in which our unconscious dreams and fantasies put these in a form we can handle,… through to an audience-testing phase and eventual publication or performance.
And what is the purpose of the journey?
To dig deeper and deeper? To write poems no one reads?
No, you are infatuated by Louis Zukofsky for some reason and fantasize about a life with him. You make that dream a reality or try to. But he doesn’t want the pregnancy…
… so through poetryyou create an alternative—projecting your feelings onto Paul.
But that is not acceptable so you eventually turn to another subject—the man who becomes your husband late in life who is less able to object to your treatment of him in your work.
Albert O. Millen was a hard drinker, 60, divorced. He’d lost his right hand in a printing press accident in Oshkosh in his 20s, and when I met him he was a maintenance painter nearing retirement.
Millen bought a grey cottage a few lots east of your cabin as a place to live and fish.
Lorine’s father was a hard drinker and he had been a carp seiner.
Lorine, were you trying to regain Zukofsky through his son, Paul, or get back your father through a poem about Al?
Or were you, yourself, the child you wanted to save?
Something in the water
like a flower
Undercurrent of the foreboding as John explains.
It may be dangerous to do this with someone else’s work, but as writers it is key to our uncovering greater depths in our own. In time, anyone can become a good writer; but to become a great writer, you must learn to become a great reader of your own work.
My making Orson Welles central to a poem about my marriage shows me that I want to “direct” my relationship with women. Not that this is a conscious process. As one writer says: “I try never to think about where a story will go. This is as hard as writing, maybe harder because I want to know what the story will do and how it will end and whether or not I can write it. But I must not know or I will kill the story by controlling it. I work to surrender”
Something in the water
like a flower
The stage goes dark.