Accidental Poet

Most of the spam is blatantly spammy and instantly forgettable.  But every now and then something appears which is so random, so illogical, so surreal, that it almost qualifies as poetry. Here is one I only mildly edited earlier:

‘Invest in your intention, dreams, enthusiasm, vision. Your zigzag enlivens you. Madness would activate dancing, sure enough, humanitarian would unite me with friends less fortunate. It’s first-class dance, then, and you advance, you dance. It’s approximately communal ventures. Though you’re up first, you shilly-shally awhile. Wind up your marvellous conversation, strike your aligned activity! Leap, you close by people, back in time! Find yourself, mettle your business, benefit theirs.  Today, from now on, more than ever, scrape stirs you go off at a tangent. And it soothes you and nurtures your essence.’

So, if a computer can write something approximating poetry, what should we make of automatic writing?  This is the unedited flow of pen on paper, when a writer connects with their subconscious and feels that their words are being ‘dictated’ to them by some external source. French historian and literary critic Taine and Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa claim to have used this form of writing for some of their work.

Yes, there are some extreme examples of automatic writing – such as Martian alphabets and spiritualist messages from the Beyond.  But what I am referring to here are those words that seem to come out of nowhere  – in my case at four in the morning more often than not. I stumble out of the bedroom to a quiet corner, trying not to wake up the rest of the house, and scribble down something in haste, in fury, desperate not to miss the Muse.  In the early hours of the morning it seems brilliant, truly poetic, very profound…

In broad daylight, however… it’s about as good as the random string of words above, produced by robots. I save a phrase here, a word there, perhaps more the feel of the poem or story than the actual wording. What I do find is that it helps me to access a part of myself that usually lies dormant, a part that exists beyond the endless professional reports, shopping lists, laundry duties and trying to coordinate everybody’s schedule.  It gives me ideas.

No. That’s not true – I never experience a shortage of ideas. If anything, I suffer from the tendency of chasing after too many hares and ideas simultaneously.  So what it does give me is silence, recollection, a reminder that you need to make time to listen to yourself.

So, if you want to try automatic writing (nowadays better known as ‘free writing‘, as described by Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg), here is one way to get started:

1) Find a quiet time of day (or night), when you are not likely to be disturbed.  Find a quiet, comfortable place and get all your writing materials to hand, so that you do not need to interrupt yourself to search for a new pen or more paper.  Handwriting works better than laptops, but if you are so uncomfortable with notebook and pen that you would get distracted, then use your computer.

2) Most manuals say you should set a time limit.  I don’t actually do that myself. Or, rather I set myself a minimum of 10 minutes – but if the Muse grabs me by the throat and forces me to write for longer, who am I to argue with her?

3) Don’t worry about what you are going to say, or how you say it: grammar, spelling, punctuation, editing as you go along.  Again, I don’t quite stick to this rule: if I feel like crossing something out and rewriting, I will.  But if I am crossing out everything and rewriting the same phrase again and again – then that’s a definite No-no!

4) Once you’ve finished, set it aside for a few hours, maybe a day.  Then go back to it and see what you can keep, what new thoughts it has triggered.  Is there anything in what you have produced that you would like to explore further?

And if you have found a rare precious word, an accidental couple forged in beauty or distress, if you glimpsed some hidden treasure…  be happy, be realistic and keep on digging!

Or, to mix metaphors in a bout of automatism, it takes a lot of churning to make butter…


11 thoughts on “Accidental Poet”

  1. Hi Marina,

    I love the spam piece above – it is, in fact, quite beautiful!

    I’ve tried the free writing technique, and what usually happens to me is some kind of diary-esque outpouring of my feelings and anxieties. Very grim! Probably means I need therapy 🙂 x

    1. Yes, best spam I’ve had in months!
      Don’t worry about needing therapy… That’s why I have my diary – so I can get all those cumbersome anxieties, frustrations and rancour out of the way. Actually, poetry seems to work best at 4 a.m. But sometimes I get these weird sci-fi or fantasy lit outbursts – and these are the genres I tend to read least…

  2. Marina Sofia – You are so right that sometimes it can help to just free oneself from logic and just write. Anything. Even if the result isn’t any more organised than that spam message is, it can spark some good ideas. Thanks for the reminder. And that spam message is priceless!

    1. That spam does get you thinking, doesn’t it?
      It’s the juxtaposition of the unexpected, I think, that frees me up to see things in a new way. Thank you for your comment. You are always so prompt in replying, I wonder when you eat or sleep!

  3. I love your faith in this process. The writing of my own that I am the most pleased with has come about from this type of exercise. It is, as Natalie Goldberg describes, like writing meditation – both productive and therapeutic. The spam quote sounds like a something translated from English into Japanese and then back into English!

  4. Lol, you had me until that last picture :p

    but seriously, this is all very true. I find myself doing automatic writing in the middle of the night (I tend to start a draft email on my phone to jot it down, but I’ve started keeping a pen and paper by my bed for those moments.)

    This really hit me though>>> “I suffer from the tendency of chasing after too many hares and ideas simultaneously. ” I’m the same 🙂 I have so many ideas floating around in my head, then I think about how long it’s taking me to finish the first draft of my MS, and I’m like, “Oh crap, this is never gonna happen.”

    But I guess all you can do is keep writing 😉

  5. I just love free writing, and for a long time did the morning words. When I looked at them a month later, I was always surprised by what comes out after I clear away all the scum.
    And I really liked what you wrote about the words being dictated by some external source. That, to me, is the Zen of writing, and when I feel most connected to the ebb and flow of the world around me.

    Didn’t Julia Child say something about everything tastes better with butter? Keep churning! 🙂

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