Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Silence: the forgotten tool

Well, it's been over a week and I'm proud to say that I haven't even attempted to write poetry during that time!

When most people think about language, they think about sounds and words and structures and intonations and all the noisy stuff that goes into communication. For people with a heavy muse infection the concern for the noises can assume obsessive proportions. But people forget that the silences are just as much a part of language as the noises.

Earlier this year I took part in an online NaPoWriMo exercise - where a group of us attempted to write a poem a day through April. I found the experience challenging, exhilarating and worthwhile - the routine of writing every day was a new one to me and I found myself enjoying the work after the worries of the first week had passed. I've heard the advice to "write every day" before, but had never taken it to heart before NaPoWriMo. It is without doubt a useful routine to cultivate. But after 30 days I was also very glad the exercise was over!

Why? Well, some of the stuff that I wrote during that time is usable (and now forms part of the first draft of my long poem Snowdrop). Other stuff is less useful to me but was still fun to write. On bad days I resorted to limericks. On the worst days I typed up crap. But in the end the exercise descended into a form of unceasing noise - a background hum of "what shall I write today". And when the month ended, the silence returned.

And like I said, the silences are just as important as the noise. I take the (controversial) view that a poem needs to be though about, considered, reasoned with, challenged and reviewed even before the first draft is written. I enjoy writing poems, but I enjoy doodling just as much (especially in meetings) so I don't really see the point of writing poems just for the sake of being seen to be writing poems. If a poem has nothing in particular to say, then maybe it shouldn't be written in the first place!

Hence my pleasure with my current silence. Finding quality silence time is difficult at the best of times. Maintaining this state of mind is an artform in it's own right!

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