Friday, September 20, 2013

The Source? The Muse?

My reading for grad school has me immersed in poetry -- not just the end product, but the process as well.  (I will pause here to say what a true delight it is to be a student again and have the luxury of exploration and patient study.)  This week brought not only a visit from Mark Doty and a simply exquisite reading of his new work, but also reading and discussion of Marina Tsvetaeva's poetry (and some of her prose as well).

In all the wonderful lines that I read, what struck me most was Tsvetaeva's wrestling with the question of what a poet is (and, relatedly, where poetry/poems come from).  The formulation that seemed most fitting:  "A poet is answer."  In explaining what this answer is -- where the response comes from, she elaborates: "it always existed, only hadn't yet reached time; thus the opposite shore has not yet reached the ferry."

That final image struck me as wonderful metaphor for the writing process.  Are we reaching towards a fixed goal (the far shore)?  Does our writing, like the steady oar or paddle or motor, gain us, inch-by-inch, progress towards a destination?  Tsvetaeva's formulation both suggests that and resists it: there is a fixed goal (the shore) but then she gives it motion.  Is the motion an illusion?

I think this is where the idea of inspiration or the muse comes in.  Even if the shore's motion is an illusion, it is one that prompts creativity, that suggests possibility.  We write towards the poem, and the poem seems to be written towards us; that perception leads to new synergy.  I like this.  We are our own muses.  The process of writing begets inspiration.

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