Friday, October 22, 2010

Writing As A Luxury

 "Art, in a way, is a deceptive luxury. To create, you have to allow the time." ~ Albert Carmus

"The great Haitian novel would be about hunger, but if one is hungry, you can't write a novel." ~ Danny Laferriere

I heard these quotes together in an interview my father sent me yesterday about a Haitian writer. They really struck me, that writing is a luxury of time and comfort and space. If one has no home, no shelter from the rain, no food to eat, is struggling to just survive, these people do not write, even if they have the great story to tell.

Perhaps that's why we don't hear so much about great books coming out of countries where survival is the main objective.

And yet, those countries are the ones where there is more poetry, and a greater love of poetry.

At the National Book Festival I sat in on a poet who was talking about how she'd won awards and traveled for her writing. This is one of those rare poets in the United States who actually makes a living writing poetry. And then she said something that stunned the audience. "I don't tell people right away that I write poetry. If I meet someone, on a plane or at a party or event, I tell them I speak, or I tell them I write books and change the subject, but I don't tell them I'm a poet."

I think one lady in the audience about had a heart attack. She stood up and shouted at this poet: "How can you be ashamed of being a poet?"

And the writer replied back: "Because American's have very little appreciation for poetry, or for poets. In other countries it's a big deal. If you look closely, the great poets come from poorer countries. South America has some of the greatest poets, and the greatest appreciation for them. People there love poetry. But here, they look at you funny. They ridicule you. They act as though it's not real writing, not something to be valued."

I don't have anything perceptive to say about this. It's just gotten me thinking, about who is writing, and why, and what readers value. About how my preferred form of writing in high school and college was poetry, because it was cathartic, and how that changed over time into stories in which I could hide better behind characters and plots, and hope to make a little money at it if I'm lucky.

Do North Americans not value poetry because it shows vulnerability? And do we love our fiction because it we can identify from afar?

And is writing a luxury?


  1. I love this post!! I know so many writers that never mention their poetry. I don't know if it is that North Americans don't appreciate the value of poetry as much as it is that perhaps in recent decades we certainly haven't had to lead a life of struggles and so that is not understood. Hmmm so much to think about, Heidi!! :) Thanks

  2. Yes I believe writing is very much a luxury. It takes hours of tedious work for little or no money. Excellent post. I'm RTing this one.

  3. I do think writing is a luxury. I've often called it my guilty pleasure. And when I started writing I pretty much gave up every other pastime - #1 to help justify the time I spent writing and #2 because I found their appeal had dulled for me compared to writing.

    I think you really hit on something about poetry being a more raw, direct insight into ourselves whereas in fiction we can hide behind the story. Man, I've got so much of me hiding in my novel. Americans are so repressed.

  4. I think a lot of people who don't value poetry don't understand it or were turned off to it in school by having to read a lot of poetry they couldn't identify with.

    Writing is a luxury. You have to have time free to do it.

  5. Writing is a luxury.
    Poetry is an art and one that I enjoy when in the mood. Excellent post.

  6. I used to write only poetry in high school like you said. I've never thought about why but now that I do, it seems I felt it was a better easier avenue for expression. Now, writing does it for me and I don't enjoy poetry because I want more.

  7. I don't understand some poetry. I think lack of exposure probably has something to do with that...I wish I could write it. Your post made me feel sad for the writer you wrote about...It's a shame that she has been made to feel this way. Art is art...

  8. I'd say writing is a luxury. Yet, then again, many writers also have to work full-time jobs to pay for their writing luxury, fitting in writing times whenever they can because they just HAVE to and this can be very agonizing.-- Not anything like a luxurious hot bath or spa treatment!
    Poetry is not easy. I admire those who can write it.

  9. I think Americans in general would prefer to hide behind characters, not just us writers. Look at our pop culture icons: Lady Gaga, Kat Von D, vampires -no one wants to truly express an honest self. Poetry is too raw, too real, too exposed for us.

  10. Writing is a luxury...and a necessity. At least for me! ;o)

    As far as poetry--I do appreciate poetry, but I've never been particularly successful at writing it. I actually think being able to write poetry strengthens narrative writing.

  11. Thank you everyone for your great comments and input on this subject! I was going to write everyone individually and suddenly found myself buried under a huge pile of emails. Excuse the mass thanks, but I do so appreciate what everyone wrote!