I like this description of poetry from John Carey in his book, A Little History of Poetry.
I’ve been thinking about another thing I love about poetry: its ability to change meaning, depending on the time and place and the person reading it. A poem that seems ho-hum one moment, seems perfect the next.
For example, here is a blackout I made in 2016:
I had completely forgotten that one. I shivered a little when I read it. (Burroughs thought writing could be a kind of time travel or crystal ball reading.)
Here’s another blackout I came across that was cut from the final manuscript of Keep Going, made in 2013, but made quite new on day 50 of our family’s quarantine:
I also like how the demand for poetry changes depending on the times we’re in: You think you don’t need it… until you do.
Here’s a video my friend Dan Roam and I recorded for his Napkin Academy about how to stay creative in good times and bad. Dan is so good at what he does — I remember seeing him give a presentation at SXSW five years ago and 20 minutes later everybody in the room wanted to buy a copy of Show & Tell. We always have fun, and I’m already looking forward to the next time.
The show’s most frequent listener these days might in fact be Ray himself. He said he still listens to the show “all the time,” mostly to hear his brother’s voice and remind himself about times they had together. To remind himself of the jokes they shared. To remind himself of the good times.
“I love to hear his laugh, and I love to hear his take on things,” Ray said. “It’s a rare opportunity that I’ve had to still communicate with my brother that most people don’t get.”
A few years ago at I heard Cord Jefferson tell a story at Pop Up Magazine about a voicemail his mother left him a month before she died of cancer, and about “the power of the human voice and what we lose when a voice goes away.” (At one point he cites a study that concluded a Mother’s phone call is as comforting as a hug.) “It seems increasingly worth considering what we’re missing out on when we neglect the voices of the people we love.”
My wife and I used to make homemade audiobooks with our phones and play them for the boys in the stroller. Now the boys can read on their own, and I wonder whether those recordings will survive, whether anyone will ever listen to them again.
My mom has an old tape of me at age 5, singing Christmas songs for her. A few years ago, I archived it onto a CD so she could play it on her boombox whenever she wants.
My first grader has recorded songs for several years now, and he’s so obsessed with recording everything around him that he asks me at least once a day to record something on my phone. Until this moment, I haven’t realized what a favor he’s been doing me. I can listen to his little voice wherever I am, whenever I want, as long as my hard drives last.
My agent was standing in front of this display at the Book Passage in Corte Madera and he said to me, “You’ve had a busy decade, young man.”
I was reminded of some advice I heard from cartoonist David Heatley, well, about a decade ago: “Give yourself a decade.”
On the one hand, it went so fast. On the other hand, it’s felt like forever. So it goes.
Related reading: “3 Thoughts on a Decade of Publishing.”
My wife sent me this interview from The Cut with Disney heiress Abigail Disney about what it’s like to live with more money (that you didn’t earn) than you’ll ever need. I sent it to my editor, who said, “At first, I wondered why I was wasting my time reading this and by the end I wanted to know this woman.”
Disney talks a lot about how being rich alienates you from people of all regular walks of life, and describes the steps she’s taken to make sure she doesn’t lose touch with reality. “Just like I watched my father increasingly surround himself with yes men, I started to deliberately surrounding myself with no ladies.” (See: “The Need for Eyerollers.”)
At one point, talking about her fortune, Disney says, “My philosophy is you try to earn it in reverse.”
I love that. Whatever luck you’ve had, you might feel like you don’t deserve it, and, actually, you might be right. (If you’ve read my 3 thoughts on publishing, you know one of my favorite lines is from Unforgiven: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”)
Many people would tell those who’ve had good fortune, “No, you do deserve what you have! Don’t give into imposter syndrome!” I like this other approach, which leads you to new work: Why don’t you try to earn it in reverse?