JM’s craft talk blows me out of the water and I start to cry right there in the lecture hall.
At the end I ask him, “Do you think we’re all junkies for that moment of reckoning?” and he smiles, cranes his neck a little, then chortles and shakes his head. After such close proximity with him, (A real poet, I think to myself, goddamn!) I know that this is his way of saying yes. Yes, because JM spoke for an hour this morning, cursing and laughing nearly every other minute, daring us through the intellectual walkway of our own creative moments.
He began by quoting Wordsworth, who summarized the entire purpose of the writing life when he said that the origin of a poem comes from the “overflow of powerful feeling recollected in tranquility.” In other words, true art comes from something unconscious that overtakes us. It is a surge, a reckoning. JM says it’s like committing a crime, a glorious crime, and once you’re in the room you’ve got to steal it all. “When you get in there, TAKE SOMETHING!” he shouts into the mic, smiling the entire time. “It might have hair on it, sometimes its nasty, sometimes you don’t want to look at that…WRITE THAT! Abandon yourself! Don’t hold back!”
Then he laughs again, this time as much to himself as to some subconscious devil that must torture profound poets, residing in our collective conscience. “And now you think I’m going to tell you how to do it,” he says, but what he really means is that there is no prescription. There is no magic pill that artists can take in order to induce the unconscious, sweeping moments of creativity. We wait, we create space in our lives in order to be receptive to it, but we do not have control over when it will come. “You can’t fake yourself into one of those,” he says. “The will [force] makes us sit there…but it can’t do the work of the imagination…Sitting down at the keyboard is like a prayer to go into the spirit of life.”
And later, when he signs me book and winks at me saying “Katey, right? K-A-T-E-Y, Katey, right?” he crosses out his printed name and signs with a Uniball pen, inscribing his signature and, perhaps, a prayer: “Have many poems in your life.”