When love is (sometimes) enough: the writer’s relationship with the word

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Author Bianca Spriggs

Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Last year around this time if you had asked me about the elusive definition of that word Parker used, ‘love,’ I might have said something to the effect of, “Whatever it is, love don’t keep the lights on.” Lately, however, I’ve been revisiting the idea of love. Lost love. New love. And this month in particular, because April is National Poetry Month, I find myself reflecting often about the love I have for my vocation. But even loving what I have written is often not enough.

No one told me when I signed up to be a writer about how hard it was going to be, how lonely, not only to wrestle content to the ground but to learn how to balance process with product, to answer a lot of awkward questions about what it is exactly that I do anyway. Then there’s the commitment to being consistent with my practice despite periods where I’m not inspired or super productive, or even if I am, no one’s necessarily falling all over themselves to pick up what I’ve thrown down.

In my workshops with novice writers, I often begin with an introductory exercise I borrowed from Frank X Walker. I ask students to introduce themselves and their relationship to writing, as though writing were a lover or someone they’d been involved with romantically. I give them an example: “Writing and I fell for one another pretty hard in college. We got married soon after we graduated. We had a couple of kids a few later and this year, I’ve got twins on the way!” When the giggles die down, we go around the room, and investigate each student’s relationship to writing using this metaphor. And if we have time, we might even craft an ars poetica out of the exercise.

I love hearing new writers’ relationships to their writing. Newly minted appreciation for narrative and language is so exciting! Listening to them reminds me why I got started and why I’m still all in. To be a veteran writer is still about finding the right word, the thrill in the right arrangement of multiple words, yes, but it changes. For me, now, it’s more about how pure the message is that I am trying to convey. Am I getting as close as possible to what I originally set out to say? Inspiration doesn’t come saddled to lightning so much anymore. I’ve learned, over the years, to create the conditions for lightning. I’ve learned that I am the lightning and the lightning rod and the bottle to carry it home in. I’ve learned that true inspiration is as necessary to find as it is rare, but it is in the editing process, the sifting through these flashes for intention and the subsequent arrangement of that intent is where the real work happens.

Like any relationship, a writer’s bond with her craft is going to evolve the longer they’re together. Gwendolyn Brooks once said, “Art is that which endures.” In order for me to continue to hone, experiment, and enjoy generating new material, I have to basically fall in love with writing again and again at every juncture of our mutual growth through revolving interests, life and content changes, aesthetic, stylistic, and voice changes. I have to remind myself to forget the gigs, the books, any accolades. At the end of the day, writers write. Writers endure.

For the past several years, I have used the cruelest month to court my muse and remind her I still care the way I did in the beginning, going on 16 years ago. And I’m not alone. In April, poets all over the world go overboard sharing prompts and poems from their own cache or favorite works by other poets. Me? I’m writing all month. Some years I get to 30 poems in 30 days; other years, I am just glad I have 14 more poems that I didn’t see coming than I did at the beginning of the month. Or six. Or just one.

I try to write closest to my core in April. I work through problems. I try to understand concepts. I process everything and everyone I encounter through the lens of a poem. No filters. No holds barred. All I see and witness and experience is fair game. This month, I am not obliged to put my pen to use for any performances or public projects or collaborations or even with the intent to publish. I’m basically just doing a lot of porchin’ (Kentucky writers know that “to porch” is a verb) because for me, poems have always lived on porches. I don’t even have to wait long, sometimes less than even a few minutes, before one comes sidling up to investigate my ankles with its antennae. I learn something more about the earliest stages of the writing process this month than the rest of the year combined, with every poem I write, whether I’m stumbling or sailing through it.

Sure, love may not keep the lights on, but there’s still a lot I can do with it. I can measure things with it: time, for instance. Distance. Maturation. I can keep some things alive and for others, to love them the most is to let them find their natural end. For me, one way or another, love in general has become about surrender. If applied to writing, to love writing is to surrender to it. Word by word, letter by letter, to love writing is not so much about keeping the lights on but letting love, in all of its incarnations, lead the way.

Affrilachian poet, Bianca Spriggs, is the recipient of a 2013 Al Smith Fellowship in Poetry from the Kentucky Arts Council and grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. She is the managing editor for pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, poetry editor for Apex Magazine, and the literary arts liaison for the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. You can find more about her work, including her latest collection of poems from Northwestern University Press, Call Her by Her Name, at www.biancaspriggs.com.

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