Wednesday, January 24, 2018

to write and not to be a writer

John Ashbery loved Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus. In an interview Ashbery quotes a scene where Orpheus is being questioned by “three sinister judges … [O]ne of them says, ‘What do you do,’ and [Orpheus] says, ‘I am a poet,’ and the judge says, ‘What does that mean?’ to which Orpheus replies, ‘It’s to write and not to be a writer.’”

That’s more or less what I think about myself. I remember my dad once sent me a how-to book on writing magazine articles and, oh, the disappointment I felt upon looking at the gift. Dad did not understand me! I can’t seem to write to order. I’m not completely unable, of course. I did make it through school, producing essays and papers when required. I love to write! I love to write poems, that is. It is not the same thing somehow. 

source: Collected French Translations: Poetry by John Ashbery
edited by Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York

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