Alice Fulton has said of Suzanne Wise‘s work that “it bristles with the struggle to define and comprehend the absurd component of evil and despair.” Here in her “Why Write?” piece she turns toward the “monastic devotion” that it takes to write, to look Reality squarely in the eye and not blink at the “tornado” of it all.
As a young poet living in New York City, I created an angry comic strip called The Writer’s So-Called Life. It recounts the travails of a poet who often dreams of quitting her day job and making a killing at other pursuits—as a successful painter and bestselling novelist in two strips, respectively. The lines of the cartoon are hard and jagged—the poet’s hair often defying gravity in electric skyward streaks. Sometimes the picture was nearly scrawled out of existence under the wayward assault of my number 2 pencil.
My propensity for the scribble makes me think that I write poetry to engage with its visual dissonance—its ragged edge of line break and punched-out line and white space. A high-strung person, I know I am drawn as a reader to modern and contemporary poetry’s restless unease upon the page, echoing as it does the raw jangling of my nerves.
A poem’s line break also suggests to me a precipitous breaking off from the status quo—a giddy unmeshing action. And so I believe I also write poetry as a means through which to connect to—and participate in—reality. The world so often appears to me as glossed-over and prepackaged—in tidy news stories, Hollywood movies, campaign speeches, advertisements, theme songs. Poetry splices into that slickness—to point past the edges of the frame, to show the out-takes, to unsync the soundtrack. Poetry can demonstrate a system dysfunctioning as though someone (intentionally) plugged in the wrong codes. In a poem, a scream forms a body and runs after the screamer. In a poem, a self divides and multiplies and does not conquer.
Ultimately, I write poetry because I can’t help it. In fact, I have at times fought against it by forcing my energies toward other forms of writing that would better help my bank account. I write poetry because I physically seem to need to. When I don’t write poetry for significant stretches of time—for even a few weeks—I start to feel dull and remote. I don’t think as clearly or as deeply. I become both bored by and despairing of the terrible things that I read in the news. When I write, I finally have access to my own life force.
Looking back at my comic strip, my frustration with the poet’s so-called life—the poverty, lack of recognition, isolation—keeps company with a fierce claiming of that life. In one strip, the poet is depicted with her head on her desk; her thought balloon reads:
Sometimes I stop typing to say “I-love-you desk!” It is so silent.
But I know it secretly says “I-love-you too, Poet!”
Such monastic devotion is not for the faint of heart. But what hovers above the poet suggests the reward for her labors: the word LANGUAGE springing from a tornado cloud of scribbles.