photo: Jay Mantri
“The Hush Tradition” are the words which sprang to my mind the morning after listening to the poet, Kenneth Steven, at a reading recently.
He generously explained a little about how he writes.
For him, it is like being struck by lightning – all of a sudden, a small phrase will pop into his mind, and he recognises it is a part of a poem and he must write it down before it fades from his mind. At that point, all he needs is total silence, paper and pen. So even if with people, he will excuse himself, go somewhere quiet and write for a short time, around 5 or 10 minutes, intensively – and that is the main parts of the poem. (This is reminiscent of the poet Norman McCaig, who famously observed that writing a poem took the length of time to smoke a cigarette)
At this point, what is written are fragments. Later, it takes time to rearrange them, find where is the start, middle, ending – almost like assembling a jigsaw. This is the part that takes time: a few days of moving the words about and a further few days of reading it aloud, going back over each word.
For the prose books he writes, there is also an intensive time of writing, outpouring and then revising, revising.
A place to write is also key to his process – he has a “writing cabin” where he can have that silence – and for maybe the first hour of his time, he is letting go of the worries and distractions of the day. As a non-driver, he has to take a bus to this writing place and even this distancing time is productive: one time, on the way, he realized how a completely different way of telling the story in one of his books was the way forward.
Now when I first heard of having a “writing cabin”, this seemed an impossibly glamorous situation for any wouldbe writer. However, it is very achievable, as it is simply a shed at the bottom of someone else’s garden, by arrangement.