Why write poetry? by Kevin Nolan

My recently published second volume of poetry ‘Schizo-Poetry – Fragments Of Mind’  is a collaboration with artist/poet Susanne Wawra and is for the most part a confessional work. So in keeping with my current state of mind ‘for the most part’, I shall give you a confessional answer. I shall begin by altering your question and instead ask myself the question, ‘why I write poetry’ while still keeping your question in mind.

Immediately before I even start, I hear someone whispering in my ear, it’s Bukowski.  A quote which I think is from his second novel Factotum. Yes, I would recall these lines again and again throughout the years, sometimes in tears, sometimes in gleeful solidarity and sometimes with no feeling at all, just speaking them out to myself over and over like my own personal mantra-seance…

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

I think it’s especially in these tough moments that Bukowski speaks about that we really ask ourselves the question ‘why do I write’.  Bukowski is basically saying when you can’t go on, go on, echoing the last line where Beckett ‘stops’ his novel The Unnameable, with the line ‘I can’t go on, I’ll go on’. I think in these moments, however you decide to answer this question, decides a lot about who you are as a writer. Generally I find that it is only after moments when tragedy occurs that we really make any changes to our lives.

Writing for me is a spiritual ritualistic practice and literature is a religion. I think it takes something of a belief to get through the type of harrowing times which Bukowski speaks of and then urges us to hang in there, ‘go all the way’,  hold on to something tight and weather out the storm and what it is that you hold on to in some respects is the very reason why you truly write.

You break through the walls of those painful times with a hammer of belief, not a belief in how great a writer you are, but a belief in your own frailties as a writer, it’s a celebration that you are not a great writer but somehow this is more beautiful, more valuable a gift than all your wantings. Allen Ginsberg once said ‘tears are the celebration of the deepness of life’. Personally, I would never have thought of my tears as a celebration, but they are. It’s a radical acceptance and it’s a rich experience for a writer, kind of like when a painter sees for the first time in two dimensions, it’s a game changer and what comes with it is that a particular version of the search dissolves. In some ways, it’s the search for perfection and what replaces it is a very personal type of Kintsugi (1). Kinda like in the film Fight Club when the main actor Edward Norton says ‘it was like the volume on the whole world turned down’.

Why write poetry? Well, a writer has to first and foremostly write for him/herself, it is only through reaching him/herself that s/he will reach others and the deeper s/he goes into him/herself the deeper s/he will go into others. Why do I write? For my latest volume, writing is a type of reportage of one’s inner life, even if it’s dramatic, and when it is fully executed the finished piece gives back to the author the sense that something has been granted or an answer has been given, a catharsis, a prayer has been answered or some solution has been provided and that solution is the perfected expression of the predicament itself. The poem then becomes an answer to some question posed by the author, one might say a solution to some emotional decay or a heightened spilling over the sides of the self. The poem then is a type of prayer, and the answer to the prayer, is the finished poem itself; meaning in some ways that when you perfect the question or poem or prayer, it then becomes an answer in the perfecting of its expression. In some ways I’m saying that just to express the problem is its own answer.

To conclude this interview on why we write poetry, why I write poetry; I would say that my latest expression of the aforementioned thoughts can be found in my recently published second volume of poetry ‘Schizo-Poetry – Fragments Of Mind’. This is my collaboration with artist/poet Susanne Wawra.



Footnote (1):

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The thinking behind it is that we should not throw away cracked pottery but make the cracks the most precious part of the bowl by filling them with gold.