"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?