I recently travelled to Manhattan. First time to America. Have wanted to go all my life. Gift from my wife. Thank you. While there (only three days) I wrote a whole flutter of poems – I knew I would, I wanted to. Manhattan 2012 And then I noticed that I’m tapping into a deep vein of writing every time I travel. In 2011 I stayed a week in Castleton, Derbyshire – a whole whelter of work, 37 poems, some of them were fine (‘how ‘do), others experimented and found some very interesting forms – Have. Went up to London recently, only for the day – a whole wadge of poems. Very satisfying. Maybe I can write.
What is it about travelling and writing that I cannot do at home? Why do I write more and freshly when travelling? Here comes a theory: because when travelling out of local it is relatively and comparatively new. Because it is new my reactions and observations are fresher. And if I am alert to them I have the material with which to write. I don’t have to compose, I just have to transcribe. The key is in the alert rather than just the travelling. If you are alert to the mind – to your experience, to your mind’s noticing of the tabs and particulars and profiles of your experience – then you have the material to show the experience as fresh and unique as it is. If you can write you have the skill to show the experience as fresh and unique as it is to others.
I wandered across an article on Philip Whalen today which noticed that he made use of and incorporated what his mind noticed in his vicinity while he was writing the poem. And if you work your way into his poems there is a vivid sense of geographical location in them. Even if he is just cogitating on something there is ‘geographical’ syntax in the actual chatty, rambling, correcting words he uses – you enter into his breathing mind so much that you end up thinking his poems rather than just reading them.
So must I travel in order to write? Sometimes I can be alert in completely familiar surroundings – my study: place of hope, anxiety and boredom! ‘after an hour …’ – and produce just as fresh writing as breathing the mist and lights at an airport early in the morning (Heathrow Airport). The key is in the alert. I have often thought that there is an intimate connection between training in awareness and the development of writing. You can’t develop your writing without training your awareness, you can’t train your awareness … without sitting (well you can, but it’s bloody difficult, much too much distraction). It is not a co-dependent connection – writing and awareness – but it is intimate.