Dec. 4, 2009

God Bless the Experimental Writers

by Corey Mesler

            for David Markson

            "One beginning and one ending for a book was a
            thing I did not agree with."

                Flann O'Brien from At Swim-Two-Birds

God bless the experimental writers.
The ones whose work is a little
difficult, built of tinkertoys
and dada, or portmanteau and
Reich. God help them as they
type away, knowing their readers
are few, only those who love to toil
over an intricate boil of language,
who think books are secret codes.
These writers will never see their names
in Publisher's Weekly. They will
never be on the talk shows. Yet,
every day they disappear into their
rooms atop their mother's houses,
or their guest houses behind some
lawyer's estate. Every day they
tack improbable word onto im-
probable word, out of love, children,
out of a desire to emend the world.

"God Bless the Experimental Writers" by Corey Mesler, from Some Identity Problems. © Foothills Publishing, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Rainer Maria Rilke, (books by this author) born in Prague in 1875. He was a delicate boy, born prematurely. The year before he was born, his mother had given birth to a girl who died after a week, and she wanted her son to fill that place. Rainer's given name was René, and his mother dressed him in dresses, braided his hair, and generally treated him like a girl. Later, he wrote, "I think my mother played with me as though I were a big doll." But his mother also encouraged him to read and write poetry, and made him copy out verses before he even knew how to read.

At his father's request, he went to military school, then to the university. He fell in love with an older married woman, and she introduced him to many of the intellectual and literary stars of the day. He lived in an artists colony, and then went to Paris and worked for Auguste Rodin, and was inspired by the sculptor's commitment and discipline.

Rilke managed to live all over Europe for free, thanks to his wealthy connections and patrons. For a while, he lived in a castle in Italy, the home of a princess, and it was there that he took a walk along the cliffs and suddenly heard the voice of an angel say: "Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?" This became the first line of the first of his "Duino Elegies," his masterpiece. Another of his patrons, Werner Reinhart, let him live in his castle in Switzerland, and there Rilke composed his "Sonnets to Orpheus." He died from leukemia in 1926, at the age of 51.

He wrote:
Whoever you are, go out into the evening,
leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite,
whoever you are.
Then with your eyes that wearily
scarce lift themselves from the worn-out door-stone
slowly you raise a shadowy black tree
and fix it on the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made the world (and it shall grow
and ripen as a word, unspoken, still).
When you have grasped its meaning with your will,
then tenderly your eyes will let it go.
(translated by C.F. MacIntyre)

It's the birthday of writer Samuel Butler, (books by this author) born near Bingham, England (1835). He didn't get along with his family, and as soon as he was old enough, he wanted to get as far away from them as possible. So he moved to New Zealand and worked as a sheep farmer. He moved back to England, but his experience in New Zealand was the inspiration for one of his most famous works, Erewhon, which was published anonymously in 1872. It was a utopian novel satirizing Victorian society. But his true attack on the Victorians was his novel The Way of All Flesh, which he based on his own painful childhood, and which he considered too critical to publish during his life. Samuel Butler died in 1902, and the novel was found and published in 1903.

Samuel Butler wrote, "A friend who cannot at a pinch remember a thing or two that never happened is as bad as one who does not know how to forget."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »