Writing Difficulties – My Ill-Formed Brain

There is so much on my mind lately: writing, shop projects, work, my wife, prostate cancer, and 17th century poets.  The problem now is to decide which to write about.

Since this is my writing night I’ll limit this to writing and 17th century poets.

I am not much of a poetry reader or lover.  It’s rare to find me with a book of poetry under a tree.  The only time I’ve really read a whole book of poetry is when I had to for a class at San Jose State.  Still there are a few poems I know and love.  One of my favorites is this one:

The Author to Her Book
Anne Bradstreet  (1612 – 1672)

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did’st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call.
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet.
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
In this array, ‘mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.
In critic’s hands, beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known.
If for thy father askt, say, thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.

Great stuff and it’s a poem that often comes to my mind when I sit down to write.  Perhaps you need a little history lesson to fully appreciate this.  Anne Bradstreet lived in what was then known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Bradstreet was the wife of the governor, educated and a poet.  She wrote books and poetry that was circulated among friends and family.  Much of what she wrote survives until today.

In 1647 her brother-in-law traveled to England with a one of her manuscripts of poetry.  He arranged for it to be published – likely against her wishes (although this point isn’t clear to me).  Women of her time had few rights and likely she would have had little power to stop the publication.

The above poem is a response to that publication.  The poem is self-critical and she starts the poem by blaming her own poor abilities.  However the quality of this poem clearly shows her skill as a poet.

Take for example this couplet:

I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet.

The rhyme and meter hold up and even the metaphor is well done.  Even feet referring to the meter of the poem and is compared to walking.  You’ve likely read bad poetry that has a hobbling meter.  Its nicely done and not the work of a poor poet but is the work of a gifted poet.

Bradstreet even politely calls her book a bastard – look at the third to the last line,
If for thy father askt, say, thou hadst none;

By the end of the poem she does what all good mothers are suppose to do – she accepts the child, her book, as her own and blames its problems on herself.

I loved this poem from the first time I read it.  When I was studying for my BA in English I tried to duck work on poetry but when I had to write about a poem I always tried to use this one.  I know that I wrote at least two papers on it and recited it in at least four different classes (only one professor told me, Andrew don’t use that poem again).

I love this poem because it speaks to me and the way I often feel about my own writing.  Half the time I really dislike what I write.  There are times that somewhere between the wonderful vision in my mind and the harsh reality of the page the magic and power of my words gets lost.  Sometimes that story that sings in my soul, croaks sourly on my screen when my hands are finished typing.

That’s how it goes sometimes.  Still I struggle on and from time to time something magical hits this screen and even I marvel at my words.

Why did this come to mind today? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this blog and the two books I am working on.  Each is in a different stage and a different state of dress.  My non-fiction book is outlined and waiting for the publisher to approve before I carry on writing.  My fiction book is a work of speculative fiction and I re-read my notes the other day.  I like my idea but two attempts I’ve made at outlining the story and getting the wonderful vision in my head down on paper have failed. There are two scenes that keep coming powerfully in my mind’s eye but they shift and blur and escape from my grasp before the vision can move through my fingers and on to the written page.

This poem came to my mind again today when I sat down to write this blog entry.  I had now clear idea what to write and my mind and soul are being pulled in a thousand different directions tonight.  Some of which I’ll write about later.

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I work in the high tech world doing software release engineering Then I got prostate cancer Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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