12 September 2011

What I found while being writerly today

Excerpts from an Interview with N. Scott Momaday.*

1. When asked, "Why poetry?"...
"Poetry is the crown of literature. I think it's the highest of the literary arts. To write a great poem is to do as much as you can do in literature. Everything has to be very precise. The poem has to be informed with motive and emotion. You're bringing to bear everything that literature is based upon when you write a poem. A poem, if it succeeds, brings together the best of your intelligence, the best of your articulation, the best of your emotion. And that is the highest goal of literature, I suppose. I think of myself as a poet, I'd rather be a poet than a novelist, or some other sort of writer. I think I'm more recognized as a novelist, simply because I won a prize. But I write poetry consistently, though slowly. And it seems to be the thing that I want to do best. I would rather be a poet than a novelist, because I think it's on a slightly higher plane. You know, poets are the people who really are the most insightful among us. They stand in the best position to enlighten us, and encourage, and inspire us. What better thing could you be than a poet? That's how I think of it."
2. On the work of writing... 
"I wanted to succeed. I wanted to write well, and I tried to. I applied myself. I think that writers haven't much choice. You know, if someone really has the impulse to write, then that's what he must do. I don't think there's much of a choice. After the impulse is realized, he writes. And that's how I feel about my development. I think that I was compelled to write, and so I never had the choice of doing anything else, really. I was talking to some kids today and they were talking about happiness. One of them said "I'm going to Harvard and I'm going into science, I'm not sure that's really what I want to do. I want to be happy., and I might be happy doing any number of other things." I thought, that's true in a way. But if you are really compelled to write, that's where happiness is. It's in doing what you can do, and being the best you can be at it. That's what really makes for --.I don't know if I'd use the word happiness, but contentment. There's a lot of frustration in writing. I heard an interview with a writer not long ago in which the interviewer said, tell me, is writing difficult? And the writer said, oh, no...no, of course not. He said, "All you do is sit down at a typewriter, you put a page into it, and then you look at it until beads of blood appear on your forehead. That's all there is to it." There are days like that. But when you come away after two or three hours with a sentence, or two, or three and you understand in your heart that those are the best sentences you could have written in that time, there is a satisfaction to that that is like nothing else. That justifies everything. I think that there are people who have a kind of intrinsic love of language. They're born with it. It's a gift of God, if you want. For those people, nothing is as gratifying as writing. In my experience, most people who have had that gift know it, and they celebrate it. I think Emily Dickinson knew absolutely that she had a great, great endowment, and that was her life. It is incidental that she only published five or seven poems in her lifetime." 

 3. On what other people think...
"When I first started publishing, I was deeply concerned with what other people thought of my writing, but then came to realize, just as you've said, that a lot of people are not going to like what you do, no matter what it is. If some do, you're all right. I was extremely lucky, because early in my career I was given a lot of recognition. ... [Asked if criticism affects his work, his ideas:] No longer. At one time it made a difference, I paid close attention to it. Now I don't so much.... it's dangerous to go around reading opinions of your work, of your worth. You can get in trouble doing that. It's best to shut that off and get on with your work."

 *Don't know who that is? I didn't either. Google is your friend.

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