“[T]o write, for me, is to fill my mouth with worry. To worry at something: at tooth with tongue; seeking instabilities, gaps and that fleshy give. Feel it, and the anxiety floods in. But you keep fraying at it, a frayed knot: afraid not.”
‘we have filled our mouth with worry, beads.’
— Veronica Forrest-Thomson, ‘It Doesn’t Matter about Mantrippe’
That sounds about right as a writing process: to write, for me, is to fill my mouth with worry. To worry at something: at tooth with tongue; seeking instabilities, gaps and that fleshy give. Feel it, and the anxiety floods in. But you keep fraying at it, a frayed knot: afraid not. Come up against the refusal. Can’t do this. Can’t say that. Can’t solve it. Can’t control where this might go. Inner censor tells you it’s just trying to keep you safe. Because behind refusal is fear of ——.
‘How can you… [p]rint a piece of your soul!’
— Emily Dickinson to Helen Hunt Jackson
Exposure. We’re told it’s currency, sold visibility as bitcoin; the solution to everything. The without-which. But what if?
‘evade the ego-hill, the misery-well,
the siren hiss of publish, success, publish,
success, success, success.’
— Anne Stevenson, ‘Making Poetry’
The siren hiss of shame, shame, shame; of pointing fingers, exploitation and confrontation. Chew my tongue to sores some more. Get sick of myself and the fragments of phrases, the bitter misdirections taking shape instead as subtweets and shouting matches. Anything but sitting down and letting it~working it~having it out.
So how does a photocopier work, and why does it jam? What tools do I need to replace this plug socket? Tell me about how Linear B was cracked, and how a man took credit for a woman’s work (The Riddle of the Labyrinth, Margalit Fox). Let me make some graphs of this data on harassment and exclusion in the film industry. Send some emails, have some meetings, write an open letter, start a campaign.
I dive into toolkits and systems thinking. As if you can solve a poem, for x or otherwise. As if the poem could be x that solves life’s equations, its inequalities and emergencies.
‘And the state of emergency is also always a state of emergence.’
— Homi Bhabha, Black Skin, White Masks, Foreword to 1986 edition.
But if a poem is just, itself, an emergence; or, better still, a state of emergence. A way of being ready for anything, including the feelings prompted by writing it. A way of worrying at and holding the worry.
I start to look up words in the dictionary: tender / asylum / please
Start to look at textiles and ceramics in galleries, things my body feels the call to touch, gently and consensually. Try to (not-)think about how to make a poem like that, that conversation, that dance.
‘Sew a sun inside a book so that when another person
reads it, the pages turn a butter yellow, the colour of
the crayon a child selects when it’s time to draw the sky.
So that the words themselves emit a weak light,
creating outlines or shapes on the retinal tissue of the
reader, or a taut feeling in the tendons that support
the heart of the person listening, who is also a writer:
another failed unicorn in an audience of fifty, five
—Bhanu Khapil, ‘Avert the Icy Feeling*: Fourteen Notes on Race and Creative Writing (With Bonus Trauma Loop)’
Tender / asylum / please
Remember the feeling(s) I’ve encountered in the work of other writers. Remember that they, too, are data and can be charted. Remember the courage, the no-fucks-given yet endless generous giving. Want to touch it. The slender thread (Khapil’s poem is in a collaborative publication called Threads) that takes the beads (the worry) out of your mouth, links them to others. Others’ others.
Mouth full of beads, worry. Tip of tongue to the frayed end of the thread. Bead at a time, lines stretching back to Linear B and beyond. End of the thread emerging, each time, from the mouth of the bead, ready for the next.