Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Pen and paper

When asked about their creative process, a growing number of poets seem to mention that they write verse directly onto a screen. We're not just talking teenagers here - many of them are from my generation or older.

I can't envisage myself ever doing so, not only due to the ritual of picking up a pen, looking at a blank page and feeling its crisp, smooth touch. Instead, my preference for paper is mainly practical: my work might take ages to come to physical fruition, more often than not preceded by lengthy conscious and unconscious thought processes, but the initial actual act of writing is a dash. I rush to get down ideas and turns of phrase before they escape, first taking one route, then another, doubling back or careering onwards, all of this in a burst of concentration that might only last a few minutes but forms the basis for the poem.

If I were writing directly onto a screen, the delete button would be far too accessible during that intense tumble. In fact, the final poem comes later (if at all!). Days or weeks afterwards, there's a slow-motion reenactment of the rush, something that would be impossible without pen and paper having been used in the first place. No matter how often you save a draft from a screen, no way can a string of saved files provide a complete "paper" trail.

Pen and paper give me a complete record of the drive that set me off, letting me back in to my poem's core. Via the afore-mentioned reenactment, I retrieve and discard an element, recall how and why I took a certain path, and above all find a new perspective that helps the piece come together as a whole. I can't imagine writing without these two tools, but so many other poets appear to be doing so. Another question might be how their poetry is changing as a consequence...

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