Tag Archives: Rimbaud

Writing Wednesday: If You Miss a Beat, You Create Another

14 Mar

I had the great privilege of hearing Patti Smith read from Just Kids at The New School a while back.  She read from the priceless scene in which she meets Allen Ginsberg at an automat.  I’m quite fond of kitsch automat culture, and used to frequent the one down on Saint Marks when it was still around.  Basically, an automat is fast fast food: you don’t even have to stand in line to order a burger and fries; you just slip a few quarters into a vending machine and out comes surprisingly delicious warm food.  Whenever I ate at the Automat, I felt like I was a character straight out of The Jetsons.  I was hooked on their mac-and-cheese egg rolls.  The resurgence of The Automat only stuck around for a few years, but as a whole they were big a few decades ago.  When Patti Smith was in her early twenties, scraping by to survive, she fed a few quarters into an automat to get some quick, cheap food.  When she turned the knob she discovered the price had gone up.  The machine had sucked up her meager coins and she was about to go hungry when Allen Ginsberg offered her the additional cents and even paid for a cup of coffee.  They get to talking, she knowing perfectly well he is the great poet, and he thinking the whole time she is a handsome boy!

I knew for a long time that I wanted to read Just Kids.  It had all the makings of a book I knew I’d love—New York City, Beat poets, artists, The Hotel Chelsea, Andy Warhol, music, and memoir.  The only problem was that I was inundated with reading assignments for classes and bills to pay for tuition and books for said classes.  Just Kids wasn’t constantly checked out of the library, which was probably for the best because I didn’t have the time to read it anyway.  But!  I have at last read it—savored it.  I so greatly enjoyed Smith’s poetic voice and her obsession over Rimbaud.  I liked reading about Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe’s relationship, their strivings toward art, their fashion!  And I was so happy to discover that in addition to the Allen Ginsberg connection, Smith also befriended poet Gregory Corso, whose poetry I revere.

Patti Smith also began a relationship with Sam Shepard, and they end up collaborating on a play together.  I find great reassurance in reading their exchange.  Smith was nervous about the prospect of improvising during the play, and on page 185 of the first edition (HarperCollins, 2010), Smith asked, “What if I mess it up?  What if I screw up the rhythm?”  Shepard replied:

“You can’t,” he said.  “It’s like drumming.  If you miss a beat, you create another.”

From Just Kids I learned a lot about being part of the “scene,” which comes across as important to the evolution and success of one’s career.  However, this little line spoken by Sam Shepard is a solid reminder that in writing and in life the beat goes on.  If you miss a beat, you improvise and create another.

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Writing Wednesday: Who Is the Patron Saint of Your Writing?

23 Mar

Detail of Turf One's painting "Holy Ghost."

“Who is the patron saint of your writing?” my lit instructor inquired.

I’m taking a class that looks at how classic works of literature inspire contemporary works.  We look, for example, at how Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge informed Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife.  It seems natural that great authors would inspire other great writers to write either in the same style or the same theme.  And yet, my instructor’s question has had me thinking for days.

I’ve never thought of my own writing as being inspired by another writer.  I don’t try to write like my favorite authors, though I’m sure I must’ve done it subconsciously many times.

In a way, this rejection of sameness is reflective of my life in general.  I was the English major in undergrad who hung out with all the premed students.  I was the Greek kid in middle school with all the Korean and Japanese friends.  It never occurred to me to hang out with people who had my identical interests and culture, and it never occurred to me to try to write like another writer.

Except maybe Gregory Corso.

When I was 22 I wrote an homage to Corso’s “I Am 25.” It was pretty much a rip off of Corso’s poem, but it was meant to be.  Corso writes about stealing the poems of Shelley, Chatterton, and Rimbaud, and I more or less swapped out the names of these “old poetmen” for those of Corso, Kerouac, and Ginsberg.

Along those Beat Generation lines, one of my favorite writers is Jack Kerouac.  Read these lines from On the Road:

“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”

“The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sigh and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death.”

It pains me how beautiful these words are.  While so much has been made of Kerouac’s subject matter and improvisational style, I find that it is his lyrical descriptions and, yes, the rhythm of his prose that captivate me the most.

I have zig-zagged across the country, visiting places Kerouac visited, and I’ve written short travel articles, but I don’t write road-trip novels.  I would like very much to write about America, though.  I’ve written about Kerouac, sure, but I haven’t (consciously) attempted to write in his style.  I love punctuation rules too much.

I would probably choose Jack Kerouac to be the patron saint of my writing, but in reality, my writing voice comes out more like Sue Monk Kidd or, as my mom has pointed out, Donald Miller and Anna Quindlen.

Others tell me to read David SedarisHe’s Greek!  He writes about his family! And indeed, I do see his humor sometimes creeping into my personal essays.  One time, right after reading David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, I will confess I conjured up his style for an article I wrote, but I fear that was only similar to off-key humming of a song that just played on the radio.

Must I choose just one patron saint?

I admire great writers, and I love to reference them and turn other readers on to them, but I don’t think I could ever choose just one to be my patron saint.  I’m way too much of a schizophrenic writer for that.

Who is your patron saint of writing?