Issue 3/2007 | Archives online, Essays, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

The poet Jouni Inkala finds the words-to-be of his slowly forming poems unbribable

My little fingertip, the size of
a crocodile brain, and a turpentine-taste
on my palate monitor this moment
on the unoxygenated
planet of weariness.
One will be baptised – spray paint
suddenly swishing its message
in my brains – as often in my life,
with something darker than water
freezing in the font, and I'll recall
it's actually a donkey's-years-old
message from my own stanzas.
Their prophecy's often come true,
made itself at home, burnt nerve cells
like a lantern fish
finning backwards against darkness deep down.
Thus, sometimes stanzas have to
assume the torch-bearer' s role – one
often avoided like the plague.
Resilient and infrangible, the lines have to
get on with their work, like a termite queen
laying an egg every three seconds
for twenty years,
leaving a human to notice
their integrity.

Poetry must penetrate where the road is hardest of all or where it has not yet ever been seen. For in no other way can it find its way to things as yet unspo­ken or even unperceived.

The poet believes in the letter of this demanding inner law, believes in it, and it asks of him both patience and speed. For when a line shows half of its face for a moment, or merely raises an eyebrow in amusement, it must be recorded at the speed of light, either in the memory or on paper, otherwise it is in great danger of being forgotten – or, during the delay, changing into something different from what it was in its rawest state – in other words, to sink beyond reach.

But that is of course not enough, because there are also times of slow waiting, and in their cocoon-like interior initial lines wait for the right moment to find oth­er lines to go with them. And of the possible arrival time or platform, carriage seat number of these, expected and wished-for, there can be no prior knowledge. There is only the poet’s blind, seeing trust in the fact that some line, born of a powerful earthquake in his consciousness, will find its place in nothing more nor less than the only right company. The waiting may last two days, a few minutes – or the dazzle of years.

Long ago, I thought of a pulsing verse that would form the heart of a future poem, before whose pecultarly resonant existential verbal bass voice I felt an ex­traordinary certainty: I can but accept this. At the same moment I sensed that it might be a very long time before it would sing in some poem. The unbribable can­not be forced into performance before their time is ripe; no one can tame them through sheer willpower.

An unguarded moment is needed for those which must be joined to be joined. Why this should he so, I fortunately do not know. And how things should be dif­ferent, that is something I really do not wish to know – perhaps I would not take the opportunity to find out, if offered it, for I might lose what I enjoy most about this calling: that I can have dealings with a kind of freedom whose modes of work­ing and conceptions of time are in a class completely of their own.

Sometimes I have called poetry flame-throwing – let this name do honour to something which could in a moment singe the poet, but which can also consider­ately offer from its lava-hot heart to him who waits,a line, a verse or even some­times more – at suitable intervals.

Translated by Hildi Hawkins

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