Hello poets and readers,
When I come across a great poem that shows originality of form or content, I often wonder how it was made. The process of making a poem is often not fully articulated and in my interviews with poets I will aim to be as specific as possible about the writing process to elucidate how they work. I’m also on the lookout for existing interviews or essays which may tell us something about the writing process. I want to create a resource that other poets may use to invigorate and stimulate their writing and that readers will find illuminating.
In his Inaugural Lecture at the University of Glamorgan in 2006 (subsequently published in NAWE), Philip Gross talks about the role of research in creative writing and outlines a method that may be useful for generating original content. Gross coins the delicious term ‘free-search’ for exploring potential material through serendipity. He recommends reading “way beyond your field” with no method or purpose, and doing so avidly, in “the discipline of deliberate indiscipline.” That writing a poem is suited to a random reading or research process which might constitute “the worst kind of academic practice” may seem radical, yet he recalls the fact that not so long ago we were hunter-gatherers and that we can hunt and gather anew for our writing.
Research is a wonderful stimulus, but, at the same time, he says: “it is in the gaps between the facts that fiction happens. Find out everything, and what’s left to do?” His own poem ‘Archaeology’ (a piece I’ve long admired, and which is included in the essay), speaks of how the narrator appreciated the word ‘archaeology’ from an early age, and goes on to talk about the way teeth are used to identify people.
Alongside the need to explore, Gross places stress on not being fixed or sure. He narrates how, soon after trying to get students to be more “conscious and articulate about their writing process,” he asks them to be neither of these things, but instead to be quite vague. This is not about being vague in one’s wording but in one’s position as a writer. What makes Creative Writing a discipline is that we learn to consciously use not-knowing and these ‘vague’, or less systematic, methods. To this end, he offers various strategies: “the choice to use practised states of indirection, methods akin to meditation, guided fantasy, free association, automatic writing, games designed to derail goal-oriented convergent thought.” To embrace not-knowing invites serendipity in the same way that free-search does.