Frank Rubino’s letter of invitation and inspiration to the weekly Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of February 16, 2021
I’ve been reading Homeland Elegies, a novel by Ayad Akhtar. Written by the author of the play Disgraced, It was on a number of ‘best of 2020’ lists and has many pleasures, including cringey sex scenes and an erotically described bourbon. Its political sophistication, geographical sweep, and compassionately-observed characters trying in various painful ways to deal with America’s marginalization of Muslims after 9/11 make it spectacularly uncomfortable. I’m really enjoying the form of the novel, which is a fictionalized memoir. That gives its events the credibility of true-life, and permits the author to explore ideas in “transcribed” conversations. In it, Akhtar (the character, who is a playwright) enumerates some of the journaling practices that produce the exhaustive detail in his writing:
1. He records his dreams by taping a short pencil to his finger so that when he wakes at night he can directly transcribe them, with what feels like an extension of his body. (A friend tells him that if he wakes up and loses the memory of the dream he can recover it by returning his spine to the position it was in when he had the dream. He tries it. It works.)
2. He goes home after a dinner conversation and records it, and even reads and analyzes it for theme. (This does seem to stretch credibility because there’s a fair amount of serious drinking.)
3. He writes every evening what has happened that day. (I’m thinking of Kharms who, if nothing happened on a day, wrote “Today I wrote nothing”)
Also, Akhtar uses footnotes to meticulously correct and expand upon ‘the record.’
Though I’ve written about dreams, I tend to stay away from them in my poems. I was taught that dreams are anathema to good writing because the events of a dream have no consequences. I’m not sure that I think that, but I do know that when someone gets set to tell me their dream (my mother has some very long ones) I tend to find it harder to pay attention to than some other things.
Every-day-ness is important to me. I need fresh, topical words, so every day I record something that is interesting or has emotional impact every day. I have gone through periods writing faithful accounts of everything that happens, but so far I haven’t figured out a way to make that practice add up to more than busy-work. The subconscious curator needs to be exercised.
Do you write every day?
Back to those usual questions that fascinate us: is your writing a true and accurate account of your life?
Anyway, what gives your writing its credibility?
Here’s a link to a 16 second video I found on r/youtubehaiku/, the reddit channel where “Videos 14 seconds and under are known as Haiku videos and 15-30 seconds are Poetry!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GX69llei1EIt will tickle your absurdist funny-bone, speaking of Daniil Kharms.