The two-faced mask

When I think about why we create it seems like an insanity. Producing any form of literature must be the most futile existence: the months and years of work and craft that go into writing a novel or poetry collection can feel as if your intestines are being forcibly removed and piled onto a plate for people to pick over and devour, or reject. And the writer does this voluntarily like the most devout masochist.

There are the positives: support from peers, magazines and publishers who’ve taken time to understand the themes and philosophies and champion the work; receiving invitations to perform at events where people genuinely have a love for poetry and want to engage; or being booked to bring a poetry workshop to a community group who are excited at the prospect of trying something new. These are the things that keep a writer hacking through the wasteland of failed poems, terrible gigs, and a strong desire to quit and retrain as – well, anything. 

I’ve also been thinking about the ego of the artist and how we need to have a certain amount of confidence to even consider putting our work out there, whilst at the same time a lot of the poets I know are filled with a crippling anxiety about their work (myself included). We all wear our two-faced-mask: the outward, public face of cool confidence, while in private we’re agonising over whether we sent a poem out into the world too soon or if we’re reworking it until it suffocates. We worry about how people will respond, or if we should just burn the latest creations, which reminds me of the often quoted phrase, A poem is never finished only abandoned, and I’m becoming more aware of just how true this is as I grow and mature as an artist. 

Recently a poem came to me called Dharma. It unfolded unexpectedly onto the page with the rhythmic train motion as we travelled overnight from from Varanasi to Kolkata. I can’t fully explain where the voice of the poem came from, but there’s a bit I keep returning to as if it were written by somebody else: 

It feels like a mantra sent from the subconscious so I’m going to try folding this way of being more into the writing process. Writing has always been a tool for understanding thought processes – a way to map the interior landscapes and for me it’s a compulsion I cannot escape, so perhaps this is a reminder to stay true to myself, especially when getting wobbly about sending new work out into the world. 
Photo by Sophie: Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia, Jan 2017.