Updated: Jul 23
I’m writing today’s name:
Broken footed table. Now I carry the table into tomorrow’s garden
Where sparrows walk on it.
—from a notebook, Finland, 1982
People tend to ask writers when they started writing. I like the question because I can’t answer it. I remember writing stories about animals when I was approximately four years old and I distinctly recall a moment when in the fifth grade I concocted a short essay about the distressed lives of bumble bees. It was reasonably clever for a child of eleven, so much so that a classmate said I clearly stole the essay from an adult. I began saying I wished to be a writer that same year. There’s nothing like a schoolyard critic to spur ambition.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I really found my writing voice. I studied during my undergraduate years at Hobart and William Smith Colleges where I caught “the poetry bug” and was later fortunate to gain admission to the University of Iowa’s “Writer’s Workshop” where I worked with poets Marvin Bell and Donald Justice.
After graduate school I was awarded a Fulbright to study in Finland where I researched Finnish poetry after World War II—a period of international engagement in Scandinavian writing, much like the burgeoning global awareness in American poetry during the sixties and seventies. Because I was legally blind, my reading (both in Finnish and English) was slow, careful, always difficult. In those years I grew to appreciate necessity in poetry and prose—bad eyes tell you a text should be worth reading. As a Fulbrighter I tried to understand what makes first rate poetry and prose succeed.
My first two books appeared almost simultaneously: a memoir from Dial Press entitled “Planet of the Blind” (a New York Times “notable book”) and a collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Only Bread, Only Light.” Over the course of the last fifteen years I’ve published three books of nonfiction and a second volume of poems “Letters to Borges.” My latest book, “Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey” will appear in March 2018 from Simon & Schuster.
So much for the curriculum vitae. I wake most mornings quite early and drink coffee before the sun has risen and write straight off the top of my head. I never know what I’m doing in advance, or at least I seldom do. For this reason I’ve always loved the painter Jackson Pollock who was famous for painting in trances.
This morning I wrote: