To write and write and never read is to cook and cook and never eat.
Richard Hugo wants you to starve. No wonder everyone hates poetry.
Is creative writing its own discourse community? Is that why we have schools of poetry and writing movements? Is there an established set of rules (a lineage, if you will) from which one must draw and subsequently shape and, ultimately, abandon to truly write “well,” or can a writer simply learn from self-contained practice? T. S. Eliot, the father of prosodic disillusionment, seems to believe in the former, and I’m inclined to agree with him. When innovation is your cultural and intellectual currency (as it often is with writers), you have no choice but to create a dialogue with others to evolve.
I greatly admire Hugo. He’s a fantastic and insightful poet, and I aspire to possess even a modicum of his talent with words. However, he’s also a hypocrite. I find it strange that The Triggering Town is so full of practical, sagely advice for neophyte writers, yet it has an introduction that discourages the reader from seeking inspiration elsewhere, asserting in the second paragraph that “one learns to write only by writing.” This is incredibly useful if you want to refine Aunt Chloe’s beef stew recipe with the exact same ingredients ad infinitum, and also if you happen to delight in only eating beef stew. The Epicureans among us, however, may yearn for a salad or a moussaka or some Chinese after a short while.
I don’t imagine Hugo wrote in a vacuum. He shaped his writing style from the clay of older literature, just as newer writers will do with his work. He’s well-versed in literature, he uses poetic conventions and elements–hell, even writing in verse is derivative, and he doesn’t seem to have any qualms with that. How does a writer progress if he doesn’t have ideas about how to do so? Anyone can follow a recipe, but skilled cooks alter and incorporate and taste and, most importantly, seek out new experiences.
Despite my seeming disdain for his philosophy, I absolutely encourage everyone who cares about their writing to read The Triggering Town. You just might find an intriguing recipe for pupusas.
image: Cover of The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo