"I Write Not Because I Know, But in Order to Know"

This week's acclimation to the new semester was interrupted by "The Blizzard!!" which was not so much a blizzard as it was a really healthy amount of snow . . . enough that we'll probably be seeing it still in March, until temperatures turn somewhat warmish. 

This meant my children and I were trapped inside the house with each other for two full days. (A. was trapped at work for one night and two days, so we haven't seen him much this week.) Days home with my children are lovely in some ways (baking! board games! playing in snow!) and torturous in others (fighting! rough-housing! and noise! noise! noise!). 

I've still been using my mornings to read, and some of it has been applicable not just to my writing but to my teaching as well. I'm teaching "Effective Thinking" this semester (horrible title, I know; and it doesn't sound like something *I* would be an expert in, does it?) and I found this passage from Marina Tsvetayeva to Boris Pasternak in Letters: Summer 1926 that correlates with much of what we'll be studying this semester:
Don't misunderstand me: I live not to write poems, I write poems in order to live. (Who would make writing poems an end in itself?) I write not because I know, but in order to know. Until I've written about a thing (have looked at it), it doesn't exist. My way of knowing is through expression -- there's the knowledge, right from under the pen. Until I've written a thing,  I don't think about it.
 And a few sentences later, she says: 
I need you, Boris, like an abyss, a bottomless pit, so that there's some place to throw and not hear the depths.
Yesterday in class, I asked them to write the passage down into their notebooks and to reflect on it -- to question the passage, to dissect its clauses and sentences, to think about the opposite of her claims, what she's NOT saying ("I live to write poems") in order to better understand what she IS claiming. And we spoke (briefly) about that last sentence, which I love: about how our friends, our truest kindred spirits, are the receptacles of our thoughts and attempts and never impose limits, and never remind us of our limits; in a true friend/contemporary, there's never an end where our attempts pile up and remind us of our little failures. 

Of course, I'm adding the word failure. But I think Tsvetayeva might agree.

Another reading of the line: Our true contemporaries remind us of infinite possibilities, infinite attempts to test the depths.

Anyway. I think (I hope) it generated some good, useful discussion. 

In my morning reading, I like what I've been doing lately, which is to read poetry alongside prose. I read a few poems and then move to the prose, and this division of my attention, or rather, this "two sides of the same coin" approach is working really well where Rilke/Tsvetayeva and Letters: Summer 1926 is concerned. I feel like reading just one long poem at a time, or just a few short ones, allows me to internalize the poems more thoroughly -- they stay with me more, they resonate with me. When I read poems straight through in someone's collection (because I do that; I'm not one of those enviable people who can just pop into a book of poetry at any point -- I suppose I'm too caught up in narrative, in finding or constructing a narrative through the order of poems) I feel like I lose individual poems. And that seems kind of akin to sacrilege. 

So, more attention on a smaller, more intimate scale. And I feel like the prose and the poems kind of engage in a conversation, speak to one another -- and that conversation may exist solely in my head (!!) but it makes connections between all of this reading, which I'm not really doing with much direction or purpose; but it turns out to be really useful to me in my life, in the life of my mind. (I know, a phrase like "life of the mind" seems kind of laughable for someone as scattered as me, but there you go.)

I'm reading the selected poems of Tsvetayeva (trans. Elaine Feinstein) right now, as I finish her two essays about Rilke in the back of Letters, and next I think I'll read her Art in the Light of Conscience: Eight Essays on Poetry. And then, in a complete turn/departure, I'd like to read Glyn Maxwell's "On Poetry" alongside his verse plays (some of which will be rereads), and perhaps that will move me into picking up my own verse play again. 

If I haven't sunk into the mire of the semester by that point, that is! I wish this semester would be more relaxed than the fall, but I don't think that's going to be the case. I've got too much going on again and I've got to ease up somehow. A lot of it means actively seeking people who can help me shoulder some of the responsibility I've taken on -- especially with my work with the union, but also with the creative writing festival -- and yet I don't see how I'll find time to have those conversations while trying to stay on top of the work I need the help with! 

Anyway. I'll work it out somehow. Or not. Either way, I'll try not to fill up the blog too much with that boring stress stuff this spring. I know I tagged this blog as "a record of panic, parenting, teaching and art-making," but I'd really rather have it filled mostly with the last three items, and far less of the first, you know?

And, as I wrap this up, I look out the window and, um, it's snowing again. Yay!


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