The Shape of Settled Words

Words can settle. They’re sand and silt and then the hardened sedimentary layerings of the person, once, who wrote them.

Words often should be left to settle: all the immediacy of somesuch lack of grace leaves them, written into them as it can be. Here, the layerings are of tea strainings sitting out the winter, drying in the warmth and depths of the compostings. In the spring, or the spring after, when they’re good and forgotten, we may come across them. What’s left is the brittle crumblings that can be reassembled because there’s no immediacy of flavour to them.

I mix all my metaphors to find the shape of settled words.

Some words, of course, need no such settling: quite the opposite manner of formation takes place. Kerouac wrote never to drink outside your own home, or words quite like these; though out there in the world words of the very now can have the weight and ‘correctness’ of slight light alcoholic colouring. Some words feel immediately fine. These are rare but they happen.

On the whole though, I believe in the settling process. I sometimes come upon a piece lost in some depths and I don’t remember the me who wrote these fragile things. This is good. This takes me out of them and leaves them to their own breaths: I can crack the hardened silt and sedimentary layers of the person formed around them and I can find the truth or core of the piece within. Then I can reassemble them, if the will takes me.

The trick to it all though is knowing when to crack open forgotten pieces, when to know they’ve settled long enough: perhaps we know it’s time when chance takes us to their sand- and silt-filled rooms again.

I mix my metaphors to find the shape of settled words.


The Writer and the Peer Review

The reader often has clearer eyes. It is these words (written as the final line of my previous post) that I come back to again. It’s quite by co-incidence that this line tallies with another writing experience of the week. I’ve been sitting on a bunch of short stories, which I’m gathering for my next collection, and I don’t usually sit on them in this way. I usually send them out for peer review. For some reason I’m not entirely certain of, I’ve been sitting on this batch. I’ve been brooding. The brooding has resulted in the stories pushing their backs more and more into the coop I keep them in.

The reader often has clearer eyes; though some writers and commentators more or less dismiss talking about- or letting others see- their writing before they consider it ready for public consumption:

Never talk about what you are going to do until after you have written it.

— Mario Puzo

I just think it’s bad to talk about one’s present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension.

— Norman Mailer

Don’t tell anybody what your book is about and don’t show it until it’s finished. It’s not that anybody will steal your idea but that all that energy that goes into the writing of your story will be dissipated.

— David Wallechinsky

I don’t care to talk about a novel I’m doing because if I communicate the magic spell, even in an abbreviated form, it loses its force for me. Once you have talked, the act of communication has been made.

— Angus Wilson

The thinking on the loss of the magic or the energy, the detrimental effect on the creative act, is appreciated. However, for this writer, something has been learned over the years by way of interaction with trusted others. My brooding storage of stories has no real root (perhaps there’s a little laziness in not sending them out to those trusted others, but perhaps there’s also a gathering lack of faith in what the words are). There’s always a point when situations change. So I sent forth one tester start of a story, which may become a piece in its own right.

What transpired was that it was read in an entirely different way to the intention in the writing. That a sinister interpretation was made of what was intended as something quite the opposite took me by surprise. The result is that the changing of just one word might well alleviate that issue. This is a small epiphany in a long week, yet one that’s worth writing about.

If we don’t trust others with our words whilst they’re in their green form, we won’t see their misinterpretations and so forth. Of course, there is an argument to suggest that misinterpretations aren’t amiss at all: that is, that all interpretations are valid, that beauty — or banality — is in the eye of the beholder, that interpretations make the work all the richer.

Whichever way the writer falls on this latter argument, peer reviews can be valuable stepping stones along the way. In choosing to ignore alternate interpretations in the editing, at least we’re aware of them beneath it all (something we wouldn’t have had the chance to see if we held our work to our chests until the moment of editor approval and final publishing).

You do have an editorial input other than yourself, don’t you? If not, then you should have this. Even if you’re self-publishing (especially if you’re self-publishing), editorial input at the latter stages of the work will complement the peer reviewing process. It helps if that editorial input is also a writer (though many aren’t). I’m fortunate to say that I have the editorial eye of an accomplished writer and poet in her own right.

Perhaps there is argument to say that the loss of magic or energy is possible in seeking peer review support — I’d prefer to look on it all in the positive though: it’s all a matter of timing. Keep that magic close and don’t let it go in the initial writing process; brood if need be; know when other readers’ eyes need to see the green formations; amend your work if you see fit. You’ll be a stronger writer for it all.

Philosophical Asides on Themes

In laying down the bare molecules of a book that’s forming, I found myself immersed in the idea of ‘theme’. That is to say, in the first instance this ‘laying down’ isn’t a physical act of writing at all (rather, it’s a coercion of various strands of thoughts into something that might later become more coherent); in the latter instance, the theme is the continuing saga of what runs through this writer (rather than, necessarily, the development of the theme of the book).

The more we write the more we can come to be aware of that which pulls at us (by way of what others write about what they’ve read in our work). It’s a sort of ‘making visible’ process of what once was completely invisible, or at least translucent to us. It’s a ‘presence-at-hand’, of which I find myself reminded of a paper I wrote a few years back on philosophical matters of being (here).

By way of a quick preamble, regarding the word ‘stage’ from two angles ‘[i] as in movement, as in a step, progression of sorts; [ii] stage as in a platform, dais, where we present’, I added the following:

In this discerning of the stage we inhabit, I reflect on Barton’s (2011) review of Heidegger’s (1927, 1962) tool analysis. To paraphrase, when an object/tool is operating normally (readiness-to-hand) it essentially recedes into the background, is taken for granted; when in disrepair (presence-at-hand) we notice it, and it becomes present to us.

It is towards this idea of presence-at-hand that I now gravitate with regards to the developing theme that is any given writer, i.e. all that coalesces into who that writer is. In being made aware of the things I write about, having those things made more visible, are they — in effect — in disrepair? That is, recurrences and recurrences are wooden wheels on a bumpy track, and the more they go round the more the sound suggests that all is not well.

Some writers take years to develop their themes and thus the theme of themselves. The question asked is ‘at which point should we jump tracks in order for that overall ‘theme’ to be all the richer?’

Perhaps I’m confusing matters with my two uses of the word ‘theme’. Just as the word ‘stage’ can be seen in different lights, and to clarify, ‘theme’ here is in terms of ‘individual strand’ and ‘overall rope’ of that which is written and of he or she who writes it. If what we write continues to follow the same idea explorations, are we broken, in disrepair as writers?

There may be some relief in the following (ibid):

Barton presents that objects oscillate between these two modes [operating normally, readiness-at-hand; disrepair, presence-at-hand] and further refers to Latour’s notions of space as a network of objects in relation. Space is something experienced and lived, rather than something we merely move through.

That is, in the analogy, this space of the writer’s inner realm is a network of objects (themes) in relation. Our visible themes and those that vibrate invisibly in the background have sinewed connection with one another. That others may discern the repetitions of our current themes doesn’t therefore suggest that other themes aren’t possible. At which point should we jump tracks? Perhaps we have less choice in the matter than we think. Perhaps our invisible themes, vibrating gently in the background, manifest in us when they need to. They are written, and it sometimes takes readers’ perspectives to make us more aware of them.

Of course, as writers, we know what we write and why we do this, but we’re immersed in that writer’s realm, experiencing the space which has its own internal logic. The reader often has clearer eyes.

Barton, F. (2011), A twist on Heidegger: the ambiguous ontology of playspace. Cheltenham: Philosophy at Play Conference.

Heidegger, M. (1927), Sein und zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

Heidegger, M. (1962), Being and time (English translation). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

In Appreciation of the Writing of Iain Banks

We should write more about the authors we like when they’re alive. Bothering to write about them and their books only once they’ve died is perhaps a little disingenuous. Why we can’t raise ourselves to praise reflects our blinkered selves; or perhaps we just don’t appreciate those writers out there until we suddenly realise that there’ll be no more offerings from them at all. Iain Banks has died, and I feel a need to add my voice to the posthumous account of his work.

I’ve just read Neil Gaiman’s recent blog post about his relationship with Iain Banks. It reads as honest, but I wonder if Gaiman also wishes he’d written more about Banks’ writing and about him as a person when he was alive. This is an aside. What I’m most wary of here and now, as I write, is that Banks’ back catalogue won’t be getting any larger. Of course, he has his soon-to-be published last book out imminently (The Quarry, June 2013) but, barring any long-lost manuscripts, that’s it.

I certainly haven’t read as much of Banks’ work as I should and could have done. One day I’ll catch up on all of that (like I should be catching up on Kundera, Márquez, and all the other writers I’ve not become fully, fully acquainted with yet). However, what I have read of Banks has — for the most part — left me feeling extremely jealous, with certain memories, and occasionally astounded. This passage, from Descendant in his collection titled The State of the Art (1991) has remained at some level of my consciousness for many, many years:

This is our home town from before we felt the itch of wanderlust, the sticks we inhabited before we ran away from home, the cradle where we were infected with the crazy breath of the place’s vastness like a metal wind inside our love-struck heads; just stumbled on the scale of what’s around and tripped out drunk on starlike possibilities . . .

It was passages like these from Banks, and other authors who amazed me when I first found them, to inspire me to keep such treasures in notebooks specifically bought for the purpose.

For my money, and for that of many others I suspect, one of Banks’ finest works was The Crow Road (1992). That a novel can be started ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded’ was a young writer’s lesson in opening lines in one fell swoop (not to mention dispelling the myth held by some critics that opening with such a ‘vague pronoun’ as ‘it’ is ‘unliterary’). Crow Road impressed me with its characterisation, family bonds, and geography. The other most cited Banks offering has to be The Wasp Factory (1984). I read this, I remember, way back but it was so way back that I need to read it again. It had an affect on me, but maybe I wasn’t sufficiently developed as a reader or as a writer then to appreciate it. As is the case with praising the recently deceased, we often find we need to read such books as The Wasp Factory again and for similar reasons.

Banks’ writing, for me, wasn’t all worthy of high praise. I suppose it’s inevitable that in any body of work there are some offerings that just don’t come up to the mark. The most notable of these, in my reading of it, was A Song of Stone (1997). It just didn’t feel like Banks writing this: I laboured with it for a while, maybe half way or so, maybe a little more, but it felt like he was trying too hard. That is, maybe he was trying to show us a new Banks, a new voice, or a tangential one at least. The writing attempted the poetic but fell short.

For different reasons I also came to a bookmarked year-long pause on Transition (2009). The writing in this isn’t so stilted, but it did take a few re-starts to try to get the hang of the various chopping and changing of characters and, indeed, places in time and geography. I’m sure I’ll pick up Transition again one day and give it a couple of days of dedicated attention.

It was at some point in the mid-nineties that I dedicated attention to Walking on Glass (1985). I know this because I remember sitting in a chair reading the entire book to my then partner, whose first language was not English. If I think hard enough I can narrow this down to a more or less exact point in time. There aren’t many authors who dovetail with such personal recollections. The Bridge (1986) was another Banks book to have left its mark: the strange liminal world depicted won’t be for all readers, but it found me at the right time, I suppose.

We all have writers in our reading histories who affect us enough (through their good work and despite their not so good offerings) for us to go back to them again and again. Iain Banks was undoubtedly one of those writers for me. In appreciation of words, I shouldn’t have left it till now to say this. I should also consider all the other writers I enjoy reading too, and I should consider them and their words here and now.

A Voice Analysis of a Body (of Fictional Work)

In a continual analysis of the way I’m writing, in building a new collection of fictions, I find there’s a need to be aware of the way of writing that is taking place ‘now’. That is, it keeps changing: what is it now? I’m of the opinion that a writer needs to be in touch with the idea that analysis of their own writing is important. Even in streams of consciousness writing, we can analyse the process. Being able to deconstruct certain elements in the writing or reading process (if not necessarily in writing that all down, then at least in thought), contributes towards a fuller whole. A body of work can be read in various ways: simple chronology of works created forms a basic frame of reference; maybe that body of work can also be read by way of deflections in and out of themes, motifs, structural arrangements, influences, ways of representing concepts and characters, etc.; maybe the body of work can be read by way of individual voices, or tones of the same voice, within the whole.

The trouble with writing a collection that follows a broad theme, but yet is intended as an array of situations and characters, and which allows for deflections in and out of all the above in the previous paragraph, is that one strong piece written in a certain manner becomes the unintended benchmark. This is an aside, yet something discovered in the process of analysis. That a piece can be strong in its own right, without a need for it to have to correlate with the strengths of the other piece, is something that might need embracing. Matching fictions within a collection against each other might well end up converging on the same way of writing: the same first or third person point of view, the same archetypal characters, crucibles or conflicts, resolutions, and/or patterns in twists in the tales.

In analysis of the individuality of fictions found in various notebooks, as the weeks go by, I’m left wondering about the individual voices contained within each, and whether they’re on the path towards aggregating into some coherent whole. That is, the authoritative, the reflective, the defensive (maybe), the unreliable, might converge into something substantial; yet the ‘now’ being such as it is, we’re not to know. Can we leave it to trust, or should we hone in on one strand (because at least then we know what the end result will have the feel of)?

A recent TV documentary about psychological studies into preferred human states concluded that we tend towards people who present as authoritative. Similarly, in our reading we prefer a strong hand, someone to lead the way in the writing, telling us that this is the way things are. We don’t want someone to be evasive or unsure. We want to be taken somewhere and they can steer. We’ll just enjoy the ride. This is true.

Is this true? I’m often drawn to writers who offer me a chance to think for myself, by way of their reflection, or their device of reflecting so as to draw me into what they want to say. In Dark Back of Time, Javier Marías writes in the very first line: ‘I believe I’ve still never mistaken fiction for reality, though I have mixed them together more than once.’ Similarly, in Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, her first line offers a thought: ‘Why is the measure of love loss?’

My next logical step from reflection is the possible defensive. The tone that is ‘I write this because I have to’, as I read it, often opens windows into the writer’s body of work. ‘Having to’ being an implication of the dark draw or gravitational pull of words that will out, no matter what. Franz Kafka wrote a series of meditations that he, perhaps, would have preferred not to be published. In The Men Running Past, he writes: ‘If one is walking along a street at night and a man who can be seen a long way off . . . comes running towards us, then we shan’t lay hands on him . . . after all, haven’t we a right to be tired, haven’t we drunk so much wine?’ Writing because the writing needs to be laid down can be less dour than this. An injection of energy, because the energy of the moment requires it, will run through the whole. In this way it’s real.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita could be the epitome of unreliable narration. Within this strand of thinking — that we can fuse reality and fiction as writers and leave the reader wondering which is which — is a constant fascination for this writer: it’s akin to trying to differentiate the blurred line between indoor and outdoor space (when there are no doors, no marks, just some indication of a possible roof overhead). Or it links to cartography and the way that maps of the edges of islands are never correct: if the map marks the high tide line, or the average tide, this is still never the exact shape of the island at any given moment. What is the exact definition of inside/outside, outline of island, reality/fiction in a piece of writing? This individual way of writing is a strong pull.

Can we leave the potential aggregation of voices (tones of the same voice) to trust (the authoritative, the reflective, the defensive, the fusion of reality/fiction or unreliably natured)? Will trust result in a coherent voice in the whole? Analysis and deconstruction, at least, help this writer to understand the writing of the ‘now’.

What Therapies Transpire

I don’t like to write, but I love to have written.

— Michael Kanin

This concept of time weighs on this writer’s mind. It always has done. Days when the sun finally shines, and the heat of the world descends like approximations of memories . . . arrive with quietness. These are days we should write, because sitting in the sun washes us through. I think: if I write of one particular you, I write of you and you and you. We’re all shot through with who made us.

So the sun comes and I find I’m sat and looking out on the world: the way the day drifts, the irregularities of ants, you. I write this to an unnamed love, but you could be any love of any of us. I want to find every angle of you, but you often just wait out of reach.

What is it we have a need to do when we have to put down the words of the stories that made us? Is this re-creation, or is this a purging, or a construction of who we are? I sit and I consider the day and wait for you to come. Perhaps I’ll be here for the afternoon, and you’ll stay in the clouds. I have a notebook, which I shall use as a net, just in case.

When you do come, you do it like you’re the long-lost sun itself. I don’t hear your footsteps. You have bare feet on the paving slabs and, when I look up, I find I’m squinting and the recollected you smiles at me. You’re backlit, as a memory is, and I can hardly see your features. You make soft shushing noises, take up your long light skirt to your knees, kneel down on your haunches, and fold the fabric at your thighs. You tap the page; I see your eyes and lips, and so I write.

I do like to write you. Others might find it a task as laborious as sawing logs or digging out the weeds. I like to write you because you’re at my knees, shushing, watching the way the words fall onto the page with studied concentration. When the last line of you is written, for now and this time, I feel a little loss: you press your finger to your lips and place it over my mouth. The day takes you back to the clouds.

I do like to have written, days like these when the sun finally shines. This re-creation, purging, construction process has helped the settling of the mind. This concept of time weighs on this writer’s mind. It always has done.

Chalk Marks of the Mind


Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.

He says.

— Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5 (1969)

It’s 1995 or 1996, or thereabouts: I don’t remember for sure. Time has that way of just leaving chalk marks on the mind. I’m standing on a beach some way up the Danish coast. I’m here now, though I don’t know what this place is called. I’m looking out over the water and I can see the Swedish coastline. I’m thinking of the Latvian girl I’ve met here. That night, in the Copenhagen banqueting hall, she knew the games she played.

So I stand here, unstuck in time, and I’m thinking about how time doesn’t unravel in the ways we think it does. We can travel back and forth, but it all gets mixed up. It all stews and bubbles and, when it’s all strained through the holes, what’s left over is thick and slimy, lumpy, persisting in us. It is this to stain the inner skin. It won’t wipe clean.

I turn my face to the wind coming off the sea and here I am some four or five years later. I’m on a beach on the other side of the world, staring out over the Atlantic. I’m north of Salem, Massachusetts. I’m just empty of anything, except the strange idea of trying to peer out over the bend of the planet, three thousand miles eastwards, towards home. It feels odd and unreal being here. The world is small and huge.

A massive wave crashes against a massive rock and diverts my attention. It’s gone dark and then the string of blurry orange lights start to pock the immediate skyline. It’s been raining, I can smell it, and I see the rough lines of the old stone walls of Rhodes Town and the minaret out towards the edge of the harbour. It’s some year or so later. I’m standing on the stones at the lip of the island. There’s a Maltese liner docked nearby. I don’t know where it’s going and I don’t know how we’re going to get home.

Driving by the light of the moon, I’m overcome by tiredness, and I’m woken by the bark of a dog in 1993. It’s Celie, and it’s winter in Dangast, northern Germany. She’s hopping around on the wide empty grey beach, the stiff breeze cutting at my eyes. She must be young. We all must be young. What I still can’t express is what I never knew the first time round: how we would grow, how things would turn out for all of us. Celie’s still with us, and she’s happy in her youth.

I wipe my eyes with the flats of my fingers. It’s 2012 and I’m standing on the grass by the stony beach in Malmö, Sweden. I’m looking out at the long thin Øresund Bridge and at the coastline of Denmark in the distance. Somewhere out there, up the coast, I know I’m looking back at myself from 1995 or 1996, or thereabouts.

Time swills around me, stewing and bubbling, smoothing and blurring away precisions. I strain it through the holes of me, and it leaves just the chalk mark stories on my mind and on my inner skin.

Notes for the Imaginary Biographer

If you could step out of yourself and write a biography of the skin and mind of the writer you’ve just left, what would it include? Someone who reads here told me in person recently that, of course, you can’t collect your own anthology of writings (I was exercising the same ‘out of skin’ thinking process at the time): so I’m not writing here about autobiographies; this is, instead, a question of the research perspective of someone looking in on you.

What are the ‘warts’ in the ‘all’ of your life in art? What are the highs and the life-changing moments? What are the accidental shifts in direction? I can’t write this all here because my autobiography would be selective: you get what I choose you to have.

What would be the research sources for your biographer who chooses to chronicle your life and work, say, one hundred years after your birth and a few years after you’ve gone? I have a stack of pale blue exercise books which have been hidden away in dark places since the age of about seven. They contain some equally dark tales. There are public records of my existence, of my tracing through time; there are photographs and a handful of newspaper clippings, perhaps; there are papers of ill-formed words and letters sent to far-flung friends and other loves; there’s this hard drive blinking away with all my writing secrets precariously contained.

What about the countless emails, and the trail of me left on an equally countless array of websites? I’m an electronic strand of spittle and DNA spread along an invisible imaginary web. What about the countless conversations, and the trail of me left on an equally countless array of other people’s minds? I’m a chemical strand of memory spread along an invisible imaginary neuro-web.

In fewer than a hundred years, my imagined biographer will have a task to unravel me from the anecdotes and memories — some of which may still be true — and from the notebooks, loose leaf papers, emails, websites, social media scraps, photographs, etc. that abound. How can he or she possibly write me accurately?

Yet, if I write ‘me’ myself, I won’t tell all because we only present what we want others to read (no matter how honest we’re claiming to be). ‘Baring all’ is only really baring one perspective, at any one time, of this skin that we’re in.

So, if we’re to be written, we’re written with inaccuracies (or, at least, not absolutely succinctly) or we’re written with selective self-preservation in the onwards projection of our names after we’re gone.

Perhaps I should publish some seven year old’s dark tales: it would help my imaginary biographer, after all.

On How to Write Poetry and Prose

At the risk of confusing the search bots out here on the wondrous wide web, there follows a duplication of two short articles I originally wrote for a beta blog site some months ago. Of course, I go against what I’ve been taught in reproducing them here (for the aforementioned reason of confusing the poor nano-trawlers), but I found that the words still spoke to me. So, here they are:
How to Write Poetry . . .?

Rhythm, meter, assonance, etc., might well form concrete components of a poem, but these portions won’t form the essence of the whole. Poetry is, of course, impossible to define. How do we write something that cannot be defined? How can we analyse such an abstract construct? We can only be objective about our subjectivity. In phenomenological terms, we seek the essence of the experience: others’ objectivity of their own subjectivity chimes here with mine . . .

Poetry is what gets lost in translation (Robert Frost). Or maybe language is surrounded by languages we don’t know how to speak. Too many words here may well pop the bubble. Language is surrounded by the space: ohne Wort. Write delicately, even when with harsh pen strokes.

In a poem the words should be as pleasing to the ear as the meaning is to the mind (Marianne Moore). In the cold harsh delicacy, clarity of sound will manifest. We should strip away all the mud and straw that muffles this. Write as you hear it, but do not be afraid to scratch out and re-write, re-write: it is the search of cold crystal quivering on your skin.

Poetry is the impish attempt to paint the colour of the wind (Maxwell Bodenheim). All the senses hasten: we’re human and bedevilled by these. We can’t escape this, so we should write embracing their constant pleading at us.

Literature is a state of culture; poetry is a state of grace (Juan Ramón Jiménez). We should serve our senses with words; we should not gripe or bemoan our ineffectiveness at finding perfection. Write with love or lament, but quietly so, knowing that words are greater than you.

I am overwhelmed by the beautiful disorder of poetry, the eternal virginity of words (Theodore Roethke). There is little as distasteful as spoiled words: write carefully, though from the well where ordered thoughts don’t often reach.

Writing poetry can only come from unseen places. They are places of quiet grace, despite the chattering and the pleading of our senses: make us cold by perfect words. They are places of potential and of utter clarity, where what is written is a shiver on the whole of you. What is ‘written’ may not be what is contained in actual letters: it may be in between the words, or it may be — in essence — elsewhere.
How to Write Prose . . .?

How do you write prose? How do you write prose? Listen to the way words susurrate. Listen. Why use simple stones of words — lumps — when there are so many better ones out there? Stop here. Pause for a moment with me. Others have listed their rules and techniques, commandments and reflections for writing: they write about writing in general, the life of the writer, and ways of thinking; here we’ll find a small selection, interpretations, on how to write prose.

Neil Gaiman’s first rule of writing is ‘write’. It is a simple instruction, but simplicity often needs spelling out. Words won’t write themselves. Beautiful prose (it is this that this article is concerned with) is not stitched by elves and pixies under candlelight. Write. Out of your gruel and grey slurry, you can pick the small shining jewels.

Treat ‘language as a found object’ (Susan Sontag). Wipe clean the jewels you find; let them settle on the windowsill, on the desk, or in the drawer. Once, when you return to them, look on them with wonder if they shine. Know that you have created these: they may not be worth a penny to another, but you have created these jewels. Look around for more.

Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied (Zadie Smith). If you treat your life as in ‘treat, sweet’ and as in ‘treatment, application’, regarding your looking, you still may never find the most beautiful of jewels. You should not let this stop you from looking. Writing is looking: feel it.

Something that you ‘feel’ will find its own form (Jack Kerouac). In the looking, sometimes we just cannot see. Sometimes we will find the things we have lost, or the things we didn’t know were there, right at our feet. When something is ready to be found, or formed, it will manifest itself. Be ready to let it flow from you.

Flow and rhythm can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material (John Steinbeck). Words are part of you: even the gruel and grey slurry.

So, how could you write prose? Embrace all that flows in you, because this is a part of you. Feel the flow of words in you, and they will find their own shape. Some shapes, however beautiful, will not be the shapes of absolute wonder. Be fine with this and keep searching: your already-found objects of language, in the meantime, will continue to settle as you continue your search. This search must be written out, in all its gruel and greyness, and your jewels may shine when wiped clean. Words can susurrate here. So, how do you write prose?

Imagine the Lost Love of a Letter

When was the last time you wrote a letter? That is, when was the last time you wrote to someone on crisp white paper, or on lilac or pale yellow, whatever attracts, or perfumed if you like, whatever takes your fancy . . .?

Imagine this: a pen that touches the tactile spirit, which is soothing to have and to hold; a sheet of paper with a little give underneath (laid on another sheet perhaps, or over card instead of laid barely on the wooden board of the desk). Imagine this: the wooden board of the desk itself; or, imagine invisible grease-marks of fingers on paper, causing ghost-scratched writing as the ink refuses to take.

In our computer dependencies, we forget about the minor significant trials of actual writing. The analogue writer crafts with cursive care: it’s written into the words. These words here, read as they are by you in the now, in their original form, are inked in a small blue notebook under a sudden light. Authenticity is of primary concern.

Notebooks are one thing, but letters are another. I have a stack of dusty envelopes on my bedside table. They’re variously coloured, variously impressed with love and other dreams. They’re twenty years old, or more. I forget. They sit and wait. They hold me and ‘us’ within their pages. They crackle at the edges: not just with the papery age but with the magic of a twenty-year-long breath held in. They wait. One day I’ll gently unfold them again.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone? I can’t remember myself. This is a shame. Perhaps you’re of a younger generation who has never written a physical letter to anyone at all.

Letters are more than just what the words actually say: they contain the knowledge that someone has taken time to think of you, to craft for you, to carefully put down what they want to say, knowing that it needs thought first (else the scribbling out and other corrections render it incomprehensible). Technology often takes this thought away.

Letters contain the possibility that the writer may have left the words on the desk, settling or waiting, just waiting, before the envelope is sealed. Letters mean a trip out of the house, to the box that swallows and saves the words for a while. Letters wait in the belly of the kindly beast, which protects them from the rain and wind, till someone comes to collect them (amongst the detritus of other modern mailings).

Letters soak up all the waiting and the waiting, all the travelling, wending their way to your hand. Letters are love on crisp white paper, lilac or pale yellow if you prefer; or, once, when letters flew, they were the thinnest airmail paper, lighter than the air, folded over to form their own protective skins.

Imagine this: receive an envelope that does not fill the mind with the dread of ‘what could this unforeseen, unasked-for object be?’ Letters from the bank, or from the offices of the tax collectors or the like, come in neatly styled fonts; they land with anonymous but ominous weight at your palm. Imagine that a letter has your name described in real uneven ink; that there is the trace of fingerprints on its envelope, the faintness of some perfume on its skin; the seal is partly lifted, and you know that someone has touched the tip of their tongue to the gum. There is a trace of someone real held in your palm.

Imagine this: you unfold a sheet of paper, several maybe, and someone who loves you dearly tells you this in words, which don’t always sit neatly shelved on the lines; they offer you themselves in little inked-in illustrations or pencil-coloured pictures; they whisper in the gaps between the written words; there’s more than a trace of them on the paper they’ve touched when leaned upon, written on, folded. Imagine this.

When was the last time you wrote a letter . . .?