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ideas ixd lit

To forget oneself is to be enlightened by the myriad dharmas

Last night I read the New York­er pro­file of Matthew and Michael Dick­man, poets from Port­land, Ore­gon who hap­pen to be iden­ti­cal twins. (Here's the abstract). In their work, they have very dif­fer­ent voic­es, but there's a strange sort of twin telepa­thy that seems to exist with­in it. They also edit each other's work, pro­vid­ing insight and feed­back to each oth­er about works in progress. Dur­ing one edit­ing ses­sion, one of the Dick­mans recalls an inter­view with for­mer Amer­i­can poet lau­re­ate Mark Strand in which Strand cau­tions against rely­ing on "clus­ters of words" that pop into your head … This sound­ed to me like a good rule of thumb for writ­ing. (It also added fuel to the fire of my dis­like of Twit­ter and Twit­ter-like tools that encour­age peo­ple to offer half-cocked, cliche-rid­den mini-opin­ions about every­thing.) I plun­dered the Inter­net in search of the inter­view. Turns out that he was refer­ring to a 2003 piece in Post Road Mag­a­zine. It was con­duct­ed by writer Michael O'Keefe. The rel­e­vant bit is the last pas­sage from Strand, but the con­text is help­ful:

Mark Strand: Nobody wants to arrive because that's the end. One wants to have open­ings con­stant­ly before him so there are places to go.Michael O'Keefe: Do you believe that some­times words can get in the way when you write?MS: Words do get in the way when you have heard them used in a par­tic­u­lar man­ner before. When you write all you've got are words but they both get in the way and serve as a sal­va­tion.MO: Do you avoid using any kind of com­bi­na­tions of words that you could remem­ber eas­i­ly?MS: Yeah, I mis­trust them because it means that they exist­ed in that way before. The idea is to use a mod­i­fi­er-noun com­bi­na­tion that may nev­er have been used before. Oth­er­wise you may be just quot­ing oth­ers or quot­ing your­self. The excite­ment comes when you have done some­thing that was unthink­able before.

Amen, broth­er. Mis­trust ease. Seek the unthinkable.In my dig­ging, I also found some excel­lent Strand resources, includ­ing a nice inter­view in a 1975 issue of Ploughshares and a very help­ful page at the Library of Con­gress that even­tu­al­ly led to my dis­cov­ery of the above inter­view.