Susan Sontag and Why I Write

This is from 28-year-old Susan Sontag’s diary:

The writer must be four people:

The nut, the obsédé
The moron
The stylist
The critic

1 supplies the material; 2 lets it come out; 3 is taste; 4 is intelligence.

A great writer has all 4 — but you can still be a good writer with only 1 and 2; they’re most important.

(From Maria Popova’s Brainpickings.)

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Recently I’ve been revisiting the question of why I write poetry:

1. Pleasure: Any creative act is fun for me; poetry happens to be the one I’m best at (counting singing, songwriting, guitar playing, short fiction, acting, drawing, watercolors, acrylics … and who knows what else I dabble in). As Neil Gaiman has said, there’s a wonderful feeling when one brings something into the world that didn’t exist before.

2. Self-expression: Creation is a way to say “I exist” (emphasis on the “I” as opposed to the work product): I have made this; it is an extension of me; it will survive me (even if nobody knows about it).

3. To feel special: Writing poetry is one of the things I do that not everybody can do (driving well, flying a plane, sailing, and cave diving are up there too). So yeah, it’s nice to be able to do something at better than average skill-level (“More! More! Better! Better!”).

4. Self-discovery: Poetry functions as a way to think about the world and my place in it, to find out a little bit more about myself, to dig a little deeper. To paraphrase: “What do I really know about X,Y,Z until I’ve written poems about them?”

5. Connection: Hopefully when someone reads one of my poems they will find something worthwhile in it, something worth stopping for a minute or two to take stock of. I always write with a future reader in mind: What can this poem do for someone else? How can I make the experience worthwhile for whoever takes the time to read it?

6. Recognition: Alas, part of the reason I write is to try and do it well and have others recognize the quality in what I’ve done (hopefully). I wish I could honestly say recognition is not important to me, but it is. If I were the only person on Earth and nobody would ever read my stuff and maybe appreciate it, I’d probably still write … but partly in the hope that maybe by a miracle some future civilization (aliens? sentient raccoons?) may discover the Gilgamesh in me.

7. To be part of literature: Yes, I would love my poems to be taught in classrooms, to be anthologized, to make it into the canon in any small way possible. Hey I said “would love.”

When I was younger, I would have added “to attract members of the opposite sex.”

I think that’s about it.

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