8. Take “the hunger to write another day without fearing the gods are laughing” (Rosellen Brown’s ‘You Are Not Here Long’)
W.S. Merwin died today. He was one of my favorite poets. Beyond that, I respected a man who dedicated his life not just to his craft of words but to his belief in the environment—in trees, fauna, restoration, conservation, and more. He turned poetry prize money over to anti-war causes, or sometimes refused the prize altogether. That’s a man of courage.
And his poetry shows that he was also a man of compassion. His poem ‘Place’ shows that—with his mark of words almost whispered:
On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree
not the fruit
the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted
I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time
with the sun already
and the water
touching its roots
in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing
one by one
over its leaves
I think about Merwin as I’ve been writing. He lived a long time (dying at 91) and wrote many books (dozens), many while he lived on a remote-ish island in Hawaii. He had been there since the 70s. He had courage to keep writing even as he found poetry to not say what he was hoping it would. It’s there in his poems. He found courage in saying ‘Thanks’—in another of my favorite poems of his:
“….with the animals dying around us our lost feelings we are saying thank you with the forests falling faster than the minutes of our lives we are saying thank you with the words going out like cells of a brain with the cities growing over us we are saying thank you faster and faster with nobody listening we are saying thank you we are saying thank you and waving dark though it is”
I think about Rosellen Brown’s advice—to keep writing even when you feel the gods are laughing at you. Even when you (I) feel that the writing process is punching you (I) in the gut. To go on without fear and do what you set out to do. I think of poets like Merwin toiling with words for their lifetimes to continue their gift and offering. Merwin, who in later eyes lost his eyesight and verbalized poems out to his wife. That kind of courage amongst the laughing gods of fate—the muses that come for bargains.
I am nearly finished editing my novel. I still have more work to do beyond that (finishing scenes, tightening up the first 50 pages)—but it will be a a grateful checkpoint to get through the draft of 383 pages and know that I combed through it line by line and thought through the choices I made in draft one. To know that despite the slog and grind of it, the gods dancing around me with temptation of other things—other stories, moves, books, people, etc…—that i took the hunger to not just write another day (that ravenous hunger is pleased more easily) but also to edit.
And I’ll know that in some small way I put myself, the discipline of going through it all, on some minor level with the great writers like Merwin who sat through hours and years of their own writing to find what words needed to come out.