Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Nourishment for the imagination - currente calamo!

Nourishment for the imagination comes from the written word; books, newspapers, magazines and, dare I say it, blogs such as this and those in the Poet-in-Residence's A-Z Links (see sidebar).
The first point worth making is that reading expands one's vocabulary. This in its turn stimulates the imagination. Here you may safely gormandize yourself to the point of gluttony.
Some might argue for TV and theatre. But with TV especially, and theatre to a lesser extent, the imagination plays a more passive role. With everything conveniently laid out before you and little or no effort required on your part, your imagination might well go to sleep. If you watch TV's Grand Prix Motor Racing after a full dinner you probably will.

The compost of nourishment must be dug into the soil of imagination and given a good forking over. And this takes some effort on the reader's part. More effort anyway than fishing down the side of the armchair for the remote control and flicking through the TV channels like a zombie.

If you want to write, certainly it pays to read something interesting and thought provoking. Newspapers are seriously good at stimulating the imagination. Cheap tabloids, the so-called Boulevard Press, are especially good. Just feel the heat, the anger and passion, simmering in the readers' letters columns.
Thomas Bernhard, the Austrian playwright and novelist, used to race through large piles of newspapers like a maniac schoolboy with a pile of Penny Dreadfuls. The newspapers needn't even be current issues. Somebody, whose identity temporarily escapes me, never read a newspaper before it was a month old. It's not the news you are after, in some newspapers there is no news to speak of, but it's the stimulus.

Another advantage that reading has over TV, theatre, cinema and so on, is that you can take it with you wherever you go. American artist Raymond Pettibon, for example, rips whole pages out of novels rather than carry the book around. He's not interested in reading the book right through. He's after what I'm after. The stimulus, the nourishment, the information, the ideas.

What is it that is handy, convenient, and is fireworks for the imagination? It is, of course, the humble poem. Take a verse by Wallace Stevens. Copy it out. Carry it around with you. Make notes, cover it all over with different coloured inks, as I did last year with one of John MacDonald's haiku books, permanently folded into my raincoat pocket. Better than being on the shelf gathering dust, I'm sure John would agree. Books have to work for their corn in the Poet-in-Residence residence. You won't find many mint condition, pristine poetry books here. Mostly they are ravaged, raped and ripped apart. Mostly they cost one euro or less. What else would I do with them?

Until next time, Currente calamo!°

°with a running or rapid pen


  1. Agree wholeheartedly. There is nothing like reading.
    I am surprised how many people in my writers' group say they haven't time to read anything!!
    I love to make pencil notes in the margin of my books, or underline bits - and if I buy a second hand book, particularly poetry which I am adding to at present, I love to read bits that someone else has annotated.

  2. I agree in principle, but -foolishly, probably- can't bring myself to "desecrate" books by tearing them up. They just accumulate - unless I lend them out, in which case I rarely see them again!

    By the way, I feel I should own up and clarify things: Robert McTavish did not exist. I made him up. I had a website some years ago that I based around the idea of a planet almost identical to earth on which slightly different things had happened. Robert McTavish only exists in that imaginary world. (The most fun bit was concocting the cod McGonnagal).

  3. Re Mr McTavish and Nessie. Funny you should say that. Check out this!

  4. Dominic, thanks for sharing your speck on your camera lens - erm - I mean the Bristol Channeal Sea Monster.


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