On not writing

By Anthony Wilson, Senior Lecturer, University of Exeter

At the end of November last year I found myself announcing on my blog that I would be taking a rest from blogging for a bit. Until I typed them I had no idea that I was going to write those words. I was not following a plan. Yet as soon as I saw them on the screen in front of me, I knew it was the right thing to do. I told my readers that I was tired and needed a rest, and would be back when I felt ready, sometime in the New Year.

It is now February, and I still don’t feel like going back. This isn’t because I suddenly feel I have nothing to say, or that blogging is no longer important to me, or that I dislike it: it is to do with needing to stop and rest. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me: I have always written poems, and revised them, in cycles, often going for months without putting ink on the paper, only to go through a month or two of intense splurging, often completing several pieces in quick succession. My decision to come to a temporary halt last year coincided with a parallel decision to log off from social media, again, not because I dislike them, but because I knew I needed the space. I was glad I did. I wrote four poems in two days.

I can’t say I have kept up that pace since, but I do notice that poems seem to be ‘arriving’ (Seamus Heaney’s word) more frequently than when I am blogging on a regular basis. I notice, too, that I am reading more, making more notes in my notebook, and having better conversations with people who I work with and are close to me. I am reminded of the late Ken Smith’s advice about how he worked on poems when he had no poem to write: ‘I mooch about…mucking about in a library with no particular book in mind…going on a journey; finding silence; entering places where English is not spoken…sleeping a lot and dreaming; encountering strangers; recording strange events, consulting oracles, collecting images… attempting to cleanse the doors of perception or forget what I know.’ I am both writing and not writing. Would that we could create the same conditions in our classrooms.

Anthony Wilson
Senior Lecturer
University of Exeter

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