Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference–the way in which we are like no other life.
We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
“I realized that I could remember something and he could remember something different, and if we built up a store of separate memories, how would that work, and would it be okay? The answer, of course, in the end, was no.”
I just finished reading Rachel Khong’s new book, Goodbye, Vitamin. Mostly I related to the details the narrator remembers about specific days, the introspection and doubt that occurs after heartbreak, the strange closeness you can feel to family members while also feeling alien amongst them, the lies you tell under the pretense of protecting the ones you love, the dichotomy between how you remember something versus how the other person in a romantic relationship remembers something.
At the time she was reeling from a breakup, contending with the way a tanking relationship exposes a chasm between each partner’s memories of seemingly joint experiences. How can a person trapped in the morass of imperfect recall identify true north without signposts? “I’m terrified of forgetting. If I could remember everything, I thought, I’d be better equipped; I’d be better able to make proper, comprehensive assessments—informed decisions. But my memory had proved itself unreliable, and I needed something better.”
I have a strange habit. Maybe I fool myself into thinking that it’s a writerly habit: I devote a lot of my life to observing and remembering details. I comb through the past when I’m writing vignettes, but this sometimes prevents me from living fully in the present.
(a brief summary of) things I’ve learned so far today:
On writing every day: Serious runners run regularly. Writers should try to write daily to get to the story. Do what you need to get to the story (even if it means throwing away 800 words of exposition) and then commit yourself to the form you choose. Once you commit, you’ll need to make more choices within that.
On being deliberate: Poetic lyricism operating at the expense of clarity needs to be deliberate. But probably, you should be clear anyway.
On the reassurance that it’s okay that I gain a lot of inspiration from the poems I read: “Literature is a conversation between writers that crosses the boundaries of genre and time.”
On practicing fluency in multiple genres: The more genres you master, the more freedom you gain no matter what you write. (I liken this to dance: the more forms of dance you master, the more freedom you gain no matter what kind of dance you end up doing.)
On when to write myself into a poem: Poetry is a last resort — in the sense that when you realize you cannot express something in any other way, a poem will be the thing you can turn to. If we don’t have a name for a thing, a poem can help name it.
Ocean Vuong is interviewed by Yen Pham for LitHub and speaks about speaking from the point of view of someone else:
In writing poems like this, Vuong seeks “not necessarily to speak for anyone, but to offer a rendition—in a way a phantom—of what could have been . . . Every attempt to speak is also a grieving of the voice that never arrived.” Speaking for someone who never spoke is also a way of paying homage to the absurdism and surrealism of the myriad mythologies that inspire him, tales which “ignore all rational sense” because they come out of a “nonsensical” world. “I think I stand firmly as an inventor and a mythmaker.”
He also talks about winning prizes in writing:
“Competition, prizes and awards are part of a patriarchal construct that destroys love and creativity,” he recently told The Creative Independent. “If you must use that construct, you use it the way one uses public transport. Get on, then get off at your stop and find your people. Don’t live on the bus, and most importantly, don’t get trapped on it.”
Stephen Burt writes on Literary Style and the Lessons of Memoir:
Yet experiments in the genre continue, many of them, like Maggie Nelson’s breakthrough book, “The Argonauts,” from 2015, intimately connected to the drive toward new forms, and the use of fragments and white space, in contemporary poetry. These memoirs take cues from prose poems and lyrical essays, like those in Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen.” They also use the devices of poetry—interruption, compression, extended metaphor—to pay book-length attention to individual real lives, and, not coincidentally, they come from independent publishers known for their poets and poems.
I was also reminded that:
– it’s very handy to stash emergency jamón ibérico in the fridge.
– Vietnamese pho is delicious even in the summertime.
– the sky is the color of sapphire only at a very specific time of day; therefore, describing it as such should only be used when you really mean it.