WHY I WRITE ~ Charles Jensen
1. What do I write?
I tend to write poems, although what is and isn’t a poem is often a source of rich inner monologue for me. I don’t consider most writing to be poetry, and I don’t even consider all of what I write to be poetry. In some ways, I continue writing in search of a definition of what exactly it is I’m writing. Is it prose? Is it nonfiction? Is it subjective? Is it genre? Does a line break make it a poem?
2. Who do I write?
I once admitted that although my work tends to be about other people (real or imagined), it is often also as much about my life or my experience as it is theirs. Or, to be glib, poetry is a kind of drag. I wear the clothes, hair, and make up of various voices and I mouth their lines as if they were my own. And sometimes, we’re saying the same things.
3. Where do I write?
I write mostly hunched over at my desk. When my desk had its own room, I wrote often. When my desk had its own loft in a light-filled apartment, I wrote constantly. When my desk shares room with a Nintendo (aka “Nofriendo”), a television, a cable box, and an internet connection, it feels neglected. I am only human.
I have also written an entire sequence of poems in bed. They were about a murder. These things are unrelated. For that reason, where I write rarely influences what I write or who it’s about.
In my college years, I filled about seven blank notebooks with notes and poems while sitting in a coffee shop smoking cigarette after cigarette, drinking mochas—I truly was that guy.
4. When do I write?
Not often enough! My current circumstances should allow for some forgiveness, however. For instance, I am writing right now. This counts for something. I attempt to blog every day. Creative work, though, is more fleeting of late, although I do tend to write in spurts rather than an even smattering of work over time. Once an obsession, a voice, an imagining captures me (or, as I like to suggest, chooses me), I’ll write poem upon poem until I’ve exhausted all the fuel. And then the quiet time returns, when I’m doing the other work of the writer: living. And sometimes reading.
5. How do I write?
I like to take Aaron Shurin’s advice: “Get out of the way.” I try to let the poem do its business without much interference or anticipation from me. Later, I’ll come in with my delete key and my nimble fingers and I’ll begin shaping the poem into where I think it should be headed. I edit primarily by subtraction.
6. Why do I write?
In other lives and careers, I learned that forming a question with the word “Why” puts the receiver on the defensive because it demands justification. For that reason, when you argue with your lover, you should phrase things with “How come” instead; it’s less confrontational. Dustin, if you’re seeking my justification for writing, I simply don’t have one. If you are asking a variation of this: what prompts me to write, what is my writing goal, who am I trying to please? Those questions are answerable. If there’s a hope for why I write, it’s simply this: I believe I have the potential to write something in a unique way that will, ultimately, transform my reader somehow. It doesn’t happen every time. And I’ll feel good if it even happens once. I keep writing.