March 12, 2012 / Creative Writing
Allison Backous interviews the poet Christian Wiman about his work, his attention to lament and evil, and his perspective concerning the role of spirituality in contemporary American poetry.
October 8, 2003
Real writers don’t write in coffee shops, scrawling with pencils, drinking iced tea with lemon, while pirating styles and imagination from Pulitzer-prize-getting-fiction writers.
They don’t steal characters straight out of reality by leering at every new java shop patron and then tracing their physicality with the words they substitute for line…Do they?
Say a designer presented you with a swatch of slightly varying color tones.
The fabric for her dress was only four panels to the right of the color of her skin.
Her skin: tawny (if you can imagine).
Her sun dress: almost entirely sand, save the brown skinny straps, the brown stitching and trim.
Earthy for sure, she must have been, because right there on her outer arm just above her elbow’s bend a tree had sprung. Its thick trunk stretched up across her bicep sending out curving knotted branches along the way until its top most boughs divided and then united again in a leafy canopy at the crest of her shoulder. I imagined roots disguised as veins sunken below the skin coursing a path all throughout her, and ultimately down to her dusty, sandaled feet. The detail of the bark was impressive for ink. Long furrows carving through an ancient wooden skin.
The waters that fed the trunk remained unseen, but they must have been enchanted for the ancient tree produced lush emerald leaves. The tattoo was the Bohdi, proven when from her olive bag, the girl produced a book titled “Being Peace.” Followed by a yellow box of American Spirit cigarettes.
She was a tree — or maybe a shrub for she was a titch stumpy, measuring no more than 5’2″ just prior to sitting down. After taking her seat she gathered her maple hair into two pigtail branches, binding them with rubber bands. She lit her tobacco, exhaled, took a hasty sip of iced coffee and split wide the book. Seconds passed and somehow the shrub was distracted from “Being Peace,” and so uprooted herself, gathered her effects and rambled on down the sidewalk, or the path of enlightenment.
And after recording all of this I remember that indeed I love to write. In fact I say quite often that I would love to write and admit quite often that I write quite often, which of course is quite a bit more than I actually do.
Mostly I read. I’m a reader and a sucker for a sun dress, and quite often for the content that lies therein. And as I’m interrupted from my reading, I’m caught believing that if the right sun dress walks through my life, worn by the right life, I will quit my life as a sucker and become a loyalist, faithful till the end.
It’s the riddle of singleness identical to the bane of a person wanting to leave a creative trail of words as bait for the curious, the famished, the needy — enticing them into a meal of thought, or beauty or salvation, but instead most honestly and far too repetitively leads to a vainglorious me. On the good days, the better days, my hope is that it ends with an experience of Thee. Likewise the girl in the sun dress has to love Thee in order that we may better love Thee. But I only believe that on the better days, because lately in these latent days, some days any sun dress will do. And when that’s the case she is just emptiness all dressed up in sexy, teasing my hungry loneliness, enticing me down a trail of hollow promises, baiting a trap. Like a writer trudging through process, tripping towards the promise of acclaim or redemption.
But then again I don’t know from a real writer. Because if you look around this coffee shop, they’re the ones who long ago traded in graphite pencils and notebooks for laptops with cigarette lighters built right in. Their faces are blue with the reflecting glow of lit pixels and blue with the depression of the now uncompleted stories of human suffering that will someday be released to release us all from human suffering.
And at the same time their faces are red from the burning cherry of their fourteenth straight cigarette, and red with an unrelenting burn to masterfully complete the next masterpiece. They drink their sludge thick. No iced tea. Iced coffee maybe — but only in a moment of summer luxury, as a change from mostly whole beans and spit.
These are real writers. Aren’t they? No lemons in sight. Damn, there goes my pencil tip.