Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Richard Hugo On Writing

It can be argued that all writing is creative writing, since if one is writing the way one should, one does not know what will be on the page until it is there. Discovery remains the ideal.

A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or “causes” the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is generated or discovered in the poem during the writing. That’s not quite right because it suggests that the poet recognizes the real subject. The poet may not be aware of what the real subject is but only [has] some instinctive feeling that the poem is done.

When you start to write, you carry to the page one of two attitudes, though you may not be aware of it. One is that all music must conform to truth. The other, that all truth must conform to music.

One mark of the beginner is his impulse to push language around to make it accommodate what he has already conceived to be the truth....

It is impossible to write meaningless sequences. In a sense, the next thing always belongs. In the world of imagination, all things belong. If you take that on faith, you may be foolish, but foolish like a trout.

Never worry about the reader, what the reader can understand. When you are writing, glance over your shoulder, and you’ll find there is no reader. Just you and the page. Feel lonely? Good. Assuming you can write clear English sentences, give up all worry about communication. If you want to communicate, use the telephone

Once you have the information, the words seem unimportant.

The poet’s relation to the triggering subject should never be as strong as (must be weaker than) his relation to his words. The words should not serve the subject. The subject should serve the words.

You are trying to find and develop a way of writing that will be yours and will, as Stafford puts it, generate things to say. Your triggering subjects are those that ignite your need for words.

When I read some academic writing I marvel that as common and everyday as language is, it would have the effrontery to get in the way of all that thinking. I’ve seen sentences that defy comprehension written by people with doctorates in English from our best universities. So have you. And I doubt that academic writing will improve until academics believe ValĂ©ry, who said he couldn’t think of anything worse than being right. In much academic writing, clarity runs a poor second to invulnerability.

We creative writers are privileged because we can write declarative sentences, and we can write declarative sentences because we are less interested in being irrefutably right than we are in the dignity of language itself.

Scholars seem to assume that if you can read you can write. It’s sad to see someone with a fresh PhD coast for a few years, understandably after such a grueling period of work, then embark on a book. It is a struggle because the scholar doesn’t realize one simple thing about writing: it is like shooting a basketball. You’ve got to stay in shape and practice to do it well. It is not a natural reward of study, and having an education does not mean you can write well whenever you want.

Once a spectator said, after Jack Nicklaus had chipped a shot in from the sand trap, “That’s pretty lucky.” Nicklaus is [supposed] to have replied, “Right. But I notice the more I practice, the luckier I get.” If you write often, perhaps every day, you will stay in shape and will be better able to receive those good poems, which are finally a matter of luck, and get them down. Lucky accidents seldom happen to writers who don’t work. You will find that you may rewrite and rewrite a poem and it never seems quite right, Then a much better poem may come rather fast and you wonder why you bothered with all that work in the earlier poem. Actually, the hard work you do on one poem is put in on all poems. The hard work on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second. If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will come. Get to work.

From “The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing”