As I was saying in my last post, times are hard here on the farm for writers, even though when I look over how my time is spent I do see plenty of time for writing. There it is in the morning before the dogs get up and need to go out or be fed. There it is at 4 am and I’m awake while Leigh is sleeping. Here is time in the afternoon while we are awaiting word from the now notorious Big Bank (in the post boom days) to see what kind of irrelevant piece of paper they need next in order to get our house loan. Leigh jokes that the only thing they have not requested from us yet is a DNA sample. We are ready, though, with tongue depressors and coffee stirrers from Starbucks.
Then there’s the time waiting at the VA as I reestablish myself in a new town. There’s no need to go into the horrors of that particular story. However, there is a lot of waiting around that could be put to use writing. I tried this however, and what came out was so terrifying that I was afraid I would scare off patients who were awaiting scheduled procedures. But I did write. It just didn’t seem like publishable material, although most veterans could certainly identify.
So, what may sound like plenty of downtime for writing, is actually spent waiting. Unfortunately, waiting is difficult to translate into writing. It’s the wrong kind of tension, at least for me. However, the time can be used wisely for reading, and even penning out an exercise or two that may come in handy later. There’s really only one thing to do: find or buy a book that will entice me into reading and writing when I can. And THIS means I get to go to a BOOKSTORE!!! An independent one is best, of course. With coffee. My Fayetteville readers will know I’m talking about Nightbird Books on Dickson St. Here in Asheville, although there are actually several independents, Malaprop’s is an experience unparalleled in both book-buying and coffee. Despite my persona non grata status due to a poetic dispute with the owner, I cannot tell a lie. It is simply a delightful place to hang out and experience the rich texture of being surrounded by some of the best books ever written, sip delicious hot brew, and leave with the unusual sensation of money well spent.
I know I need a book that will inspire and direct. I drag my good friend, the former manager of Malaprop’s, with me. She is like Super Bookseller. (This would make a great comic, don’t you think?) If anyone can help me find the book I need, simply by a vague description of what I’m looking for since I’m not sure myself, it’s Jane Voorhees. She’s so fast, we miss some of the fun of perusing. Within ten minutes I am holding the book I need in my hot little hand. All I feel I have time for is poetry– and because poetry is good practice for any other writing I may want to do later–I choose a book on both reading and writing poems. The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun, appears to be exactly the book I need. As I do when book-shopping, I thumb through it, read a few pages, and carry it around with me while continuing to look at other books. The heft and weight of it, the paper and print, as well as the poems, are all important in deciding whether or not to purchase. If I never set it down in pursuit of something else, it’s the one I need.
In this very fine book on poetry, Mayes offers access to a variety of poems she has chosen to illustrate the art of poetic device. The exercises are brief and leave the bulk of the work to the readers’ imagination. I find both of these things refreshing. It’s a grown up poet’s book. She expects you to know how to read and appreciate poetry. She uses examples from both past and present day, English-speaking and translated poets. She asks you to do the work yourself. I give full credit to the fact that I am, at this stressful time in life, able to string a line of words together to Frances Mayes and her The Discovery of Poetry. In my case, perhaps, the re-discovery of poetry. For poetry is a form I must discover and uncover and recover time and time again. And each time I am astounded at “what is found there.”
This is what writers do when they are stuck. They look for and buy a book that will, by its flow and fire, move them forward in their work and allow them the room they need to write. The book allows us to roll words around in our mouths and taste them– salty and fiery as cayenne, bitter as a fine home brew and sweet as Leigh’s honey. Good books like Mayes’ can rekindle the tiniest glowing ember and put ink back on the page where it belongs. I recognized the right book for me and here it lies, already bent and creased in all the write places.
Sometimes even the great beauty of wherever you may live is not enough to make the writer write. Sometimes it takes the hand of an experienced author to help us find our way to the page; to inspire us to look beyond the limitations of our own day-to-day and realize there is an entire world out there waiting for us to discover it. In this case, Frances Mayes leads us into that world, past and present, by her own Discovery of Poetry.
—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010).