30 March 2012

The Writer On and Off the Page: Writing, a Public and Private Act

The end of February and the entire month of March have been filled with literary events.  I attended the Associated Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference in Chicago.  While there, I attended several readings and had an author signing with my press.

In March, I escaped Idaho for a bit on spring break and drove to Vancouver, B.C.  While there I heard my amazing friend Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore read from her new anthology Why are Faggots so Afraid of Faggots? (I find myself driving 8.5 hours to attend a reading this year!)

This month I also attended a thesis defense for a fellow MFA poet here at the University of Idaho, a talk by the immanent translator Willis Barnstone, and also had my own reading and chapbook release party with fellow poet Ciara Shuttleworth.

It has been a busy forty days.  Individually, these events invigorate my own writing and thinking about writing.  Collectively, it has been exhausting.  They have also made me consider the writer’s life both as a public and a private figure. 

In a discussion yesterday, a fellow poet said, “A writer is the kind of person who sits alone in a room to make sense of the world.”  The act of writing is solitary.  At its core, writing lonely.

So then what happens when a writer publishes his or her work?

Most often, in order to get the work “out there” a writer must make some kind of public appearance, whether that is online, at a bookstore, or in a coffee shop to read.  The reader, in order to promote their words, must become an extension of them in some sense. 

Your writing is an extension of your inner-world, but then you the writer must become an extension of your words in the public sphere.  Who is leap-frogging whom?

For many writers, this is a painful process.  I know that in my own experience, I dislike talking about my poems to others.  I also hate the cycle of self-promotion that occurs with the publication of a book.  That said, I am finding that having my chapbook come out is a great way to get a small taste for the hustle one must go through to promote a full-length book.

The poet Richard Siken is notorious for remaining circumspect about his own work.  He said in an interview, “You get the page.  I get the rest.”

What role does writing play in your life at the moment?  Have you experienced the divide between the writer as a public and private figure?  Do you have any advice moving from one sphere into the other?

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