Letters to Young Writers - Loving Rilke and Beyond to Kunitz
Rilke relaxing between letters
Richard Hugo House, Seattle's Writers Center has just initiated a new blog series, Letters to Young Writers, inviting authors to provide the advice they wish they had received. Seattle poet Elizabeth Austen kicks off the series with this superb piece. Why is it that we so often need to be reminded that we don't need to be perfect? Read the whole post right here.
Years ago I heard Stanley Kunitz say, “The first job of the poet is to become the person who could write the poems."
For a long time I thought this meant I had to become a better person than I am. I thought I had to become virtuous and perfect, so that the Muse would give me wise and beautiful poems.
But what I know now is that all (all!) I needed to do is to become myself, not someone else’s idea of me.
Visual artists David Bayles and Ted Orland, in their indispensable book Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, write that “…becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.”
Or, as W.S. Merwin put it, “No one can teach you to listen for what only you can hear.”
I’ve never written a poem out of perfection. Poems come from the awareness of insufficiency, of confusion. Poems come out of wanting to see more clearly than I can right now. My flaws are openings, points of connection with the suffering and vulnerability of others.