Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Writing comes
and I welcome it
grabbing it as it enters--
a passing phrase
a fleeting image
gossamer words
fashioned into
half-finished sentences
as I wait
in the places
where writing
has visited me before.

 In Beyond Walls, Amy Frykolm describes poet William Stafford's habit of rising to write poetry each morning before dawn.

Stafford didn’t write before dawn only because it was quieter then. He wrote in the early morning because he had greater access at that time of day to the unknown. His method for writing poetry was based on something he called “welcoming.” He would sit and welcome the language that came to him. Once an interviewer challenged him on this practice. ‘Don’t you ever revise?’ the interviewer asked. I do, he said, but only by welcoming still further. “I drift back through the poem with something of the same welcoming feeling I had when I began it.” He didn’t set out with an idea. He set out with an intention to welcome whatever came, almost always something that hadn’t been known before.

I know this "welcoming"--this process of language that comes  unbidden, yet  indirectly invited, always. And, although, I do not intentionally arise early each morning to write,  I  remain in what Donald Graves calls a "constant state of composition."

I have always explored these "comings" in poetry, feeling free to wonder and wander as I write, exploring, expanding, and transforming ideas, language...  and myself.

I have found myself in the last few years, however, reading and writing more nonfiction, creative nonfiction..... essays, if you will.

I have become interested in this form as I continue to experiment, in general, with the many possibilities for blending genres.  This form seems most like poetry to me in its ability to build  and arrive where I may not have intended to go, but am so glad I did.

It was with great delight that I discovered Katherine Bomer's newest book, The Journey is Everything. about teaching essay writing.

Bomer also discusses the connection between poetry and essays, confirming my suspicions and intuitions:

To me, the essay is most like a poem in tone. Like poems, essays might focus on something minuscule and with luminous language, render it enormous; or they might find something considered ordinary and demonstrate how extrordinary it is.  Essays stun me the way poems do, inviting me to consider an aspect of the world that I did not  know about or to look with fresh eyes at something I thought I already knew. (page 18)

Both Bomer and Fryholm remind us of the origins of  the word essay, and of this literary form , as well as the role of Michel de Montaigne in the genre's creation.

Montaigne retired from his role as a French statesman and retreated to his estate around 1571.  There he began reading and writing and essaying--trying words, ideas, and language.  He wrote about his everyday world, philosophy, religion, politics, human nature, and more.  In Book 1, his essays included such titles as:  

On Sadness, 
On Idleness, 
On Liars,
Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us, 
On Punishing Cowardice, 
On the Power of Imagination.

His many essays ( 3 books) were ultimately published in a massive volume entitled Essais-translated Attempts or Trials.   Project Gutenberg offers  The  Complete Essays of Michel De Montaigne

For more on the background, context, intentions, and writing processes of Montaigne, you may find helpful this article, Me Myself and I by Jane Kramer from The New Yorker.

Amy Fryholm closes her article about the essay with an invitation to explore our own worlds in the manner of Montaigne :
Essay writing, in particular, is an invitation into the “not yet” of our own experience where the unknown has an opportunity to speak to and through us.

So I want to try--- I want to essay  my world, my memories, my experiences. I want to welcome  the inklings, the tiny thoughts that come  that lead to deeper writing.

As with any writing we are learning-- or trying,  it is useful to immerse ourselves in that form, to take time to notice and name what we see-- and to think about how we might, then, translate into our own writing what we have noticed.

 Several collections have been useful for me as models,  mentor texts, for exploring the form.....  for pushing me, pulling me toward welcoming, experimenting --- trying ---essaying.


 I also recommend  " The Best" Series published each year:


And finally,  I offer books  that give advice, suggest exercises, and other ways to practice as you grow in essaying.  The first I own, the other two are currently on my To Be Read Pile, ready to assist me in my latest  journey.


 Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Select a topic to explore in the manner of Montaigne, starting with a title such as On___________.

In your writing explore what you know and what you don't know about this topic.  What is uncertain or troubling ?  Is there a call for change or growth for you or for your community? 

What do you discover as you write?
What questions arise, suggesting further exploration and writing?

Or spend some intentional time attentively observing your surroundings, encounters and conversations as you go about your day.  Write an essay about one observation, exploring why this particular observation is important to you.