Swiftboating Then and Now
If Offered a Choice

Dalton on Writing

I recently found a letter from my close friend and regular contributor, the late Richard Dalton, in a December 2006 column. I had completely forgotten it, and I am pleased to see we had similar thoughts on the nature of poetry (which I have only just taken up, fourteen years later) and inspiration―which we both called a muse.

Your modesty notwithstanding ("But I think I learned by reading constantly, widely, regularly and voluminously from the age of 5. That, combined with an English-teacher mother and a house full of books and magazines, showed me what good writing was. I just imitated it."), I wonder if anyone knows how they write. That question ranks up there with "How did Picasso paint?"

Maybe you can teach how to write unencumbered sentences and think analytically, but the older I get (and the more words I see trailing behind me) the more I believe there is a Muse who spends more time with some people, less with others. It amazes me that I have spent decades earning most of my income from writing without consciously preparing myself or following some prescribed regimen.

Poetry is a wonderfully humbling experience. Trying to synthesize beauty and meaning out of thoughts is a way for me to capture how little we are beyond the spiritual. In fact, I'm abashed that I used the word "trying" in the same sentence as "spiritual." What I guess I really mean is synthesizing (for me, the most mysterious of mental processes) happens, it isn't caused. The Muse at one's shoulder is as real as any "explanation."


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