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The Web of Terror

Why have I spent so long staring at a blank?

In other writing I obey the advice I’d give in a workshop: write something, never stare at a white sheet. A few bits of matter are enough to bend an empty universe, make some noise in the empty room (I never could work in a library) which becomes something to fall towards or escape from, to copy, echo or distort. But starting to write this – as I suppose it is – blog, I found myself frozen in the headlight of the PC screen.

Poems come from who knows where, sometimes suddenly, sometimes by a process of accretion, trying things out, finding a way to get between the notes that seems to be right. Each poem is its own problem and its own solution (or lack of a solution). My poems all go through a phase of maturation and editing, sometimes lengthy/radical. When I am ready to send them out (which is not necessarily when they turn out to be finished) they already seem separate. The ‘I’ in them will be at most some possible me, not something I feel the need to make excuses for. A poem that works provides its own reason for being there (and the acid test of what works is public exposure).

Technical or philosophical writing is very different: it must be clear and serve its purpose. Its function is to let the reader/hearer understand what is being said: clarity rules (and clarity is also the best way for the writer to understand what is being said). The advice to start out with any old crap still holds good, with the assurance that the ‘throat clearing’ motions which initiate an essay can and will be cut away later. (Although when the form of intended output is constrained you can hit the ground running: I’m thinking of the 32×45 minute essays of finals – back in the day.) This writing wears its purpose on its sleeve – the reader can quickly decide if that is an interesting purpose and whether it is carried through.

These two forms have been the main strands of my writing life. I’ve written other things as well, for other reasons, journalistic or PR copy, committee terms of reference, a very few short stories (all assignments, none good). I’d like to think I can write effectively for any reason. What if there is no reason?

And so my diagnosis of the short-term block over blogging is that the reason is unclear, amorphous – but without the assurance a poem has that it will have the time to either clarify itself or be junked. In my head is a little voice that says: ‘what’s your excuse?’.

Reader, I don’t have one.