During my residency at IAIA in January, poet James Thomas Stevens, presented a craft talk, “Meditations on the Mundane: Rewriting the Already Written.”
James offered his audience a rich set of approaches to finding organizing principles, containers, or metaphors for the work that we are compelled to explore. His talk was a fascinating example of how powerfully an outside text can be as means to explore our interests and obsessions. I enjoyed his presentation for a variety of reasons, but his acknowledgement that writers tend to write about the same issues or themes was permission giving. It makes me feel less compelled to worry about the fact that I tend to explore the same things: loyalty, family, water, land.
He asserted that finding new avenues or sounding boards for our central interests helps give them new shape and meaning. This can alleviate the stagnation that might arise if we don’t look outside for new means for exploration. “Any object can be a metaphor for your life if you meditate long enough on it.” This quotation offers writers an expansive breath when it comes to exploring our work through new avenues or entry points.
A second point that struck a deep chord for me was the idea of gaining a whole new language set if one uses another, older text as the frame for one’s own interests. It’s such an attractive idea; to pick up an antiquated or narrowly-focused book and to allow it to build one’s vocabulary and sense of the world. It certainly makes me want to linger longer in used-book stores or pause at a garage sale once in a while.
I also appreciated the ways this approach to work allows for conversations between time periods and perspectives. James discussed a primer for Native children and this was a fascinating example of education as propaganda, and James’ “response” poem was a powerful interplay of history, politics, and language.
We will write around, through, about, with the same themes - using another text as the entry point can keep the work lively and give us a new perspective on what we think we know.