Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Writing, Being a Writer
When T.S. Eliot met the young Stephen Spender, who told him he wanted to be a writer, Eliot ticked him off, saying he could understand somebody wanting to write poetry but not the desire to ‘be’ a poet. I am reminded of the New Yorker cartoon of two women talking, one of them telling the other ‘My husband’s like Tolstoy. Except he doesn’t write.’ I too have never understood people who say they want to ‘be’ writers. Writing is an activity, not a state of being, like simply being a princess or an Indian holy man. I’m reminded of all this by seeing Sean O’Brien (not someone all of whose opinions I am likely to share...) announce in the current issue of Poetry Review that:
The preoccupation with ‘being a poet’ is part of the contemporary fetish with ‘creativity’, whereby an attitude and an identity as part of a scene are assumed to be the real thing, rather than the thing itself.
When in old age Georges Simenon stopped writing novels, he changed his passport to read sans profession. Write or don’t write, but don’t go around wanting to ‘be’ a writer. Or if you do, keep it to yourself, world. And so endeth the lesson for the day.