Our third installment of our Why Write? guest blogger series brings us Ben Aleshire, who typed up the below and mailed it to us from France. One cannot emphasize enough the pleasure of receiving a typed note from France, the letters rattled loose on the page, about to slide out of place.
The two poems which appeared in GMR [Vol. XXIII, no. 1], “Watering the Stones” & “The Cockfight,” were written in a short burst during one very surreal month that I spent in the El Sereno neighborhood of L.A. I had neither a cell phone nor a car, which must have made me unique among the residents of the greater Los Angeles area.
To make a long story short, I had been given a free apartment in exchange for performing as a clown at a Los Vegas zombie wedding on Halloween. The two poems, though, come from images which had been burrowing through my psyche for years: the image of an old man washing the street in front of his shop with reverence, and the image of two chickens tearing one another to pieces. I was so affected, so moved, so changed by these moments that they continued to haunt me until I was forced to exorcise them onto paper by writing them into poems. It wasn’t until I became alone & without responsibilities in L.A. that this process occured–or rather–concluded.
The dominant thinking today is that writers must pursue degrees, awards, and ‘status’ in order to create this equation for themselves as often as possible, i.e.:
experience + percolation – responsibilities = exorcism
But the point of the story is that it wasn’t my process that created, or even allowed for, the poems–it was my capacity to be moved. It was only dumb luck that they images finished percolating in my mind at the exact moment when I also had uninterrupted free time. (Often my poems are scribbled on the backs of envelopes while waiting for the bus; & I firmly believe that anyone with something to say will say it, whether or not they have wailing infants at their breasts, a cushy residency at an art colony, a 10-year prison sentence, etc.) It was also dumb luck that I had received the experiences in the first place–& anyway, it doesn’t really matter whether one’s experiences are exotic or boring, romantic or plastic–isn’t Frost’s immortal poem about whether to turn right or left on the road?
No, there is another variable to the equation, & I’m sure the Germans have a word for it, a long word to be chewed good & thorough. This capacity-to-be-moved is at the heart of why writer’s write, & it can’t be bought (excuse me: taught) at no school. Incidentally, it’s also the reason why writers can be such touchy assholes, & why we make such passionate lovers but such poor spouses.