Dec. 2, 2005

Creative Writing

by Michael Van Walleghen

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Poem: "Creative Writing," by Michael Van Walleghen from Blue Tango (University of Illinois Press).

Creative Writing

One of my students
has written a story:

It's the end of the world
and an alien spaceship

is circling the planet
trying to make contact.

Hello? Anybody down there?
But it's just as they suspect.

After the atmosphere ignites —
nothing. Not a whimper. Even

our germs are dead. Now
they'll have to start over.

What a drag! Other planets
in the galaxy are doing fine

but you and I, the human race,
we just can't get it somehow.

Perhaps reptiles might work
or something underwater…

And so it goes for fifty pages —
fifty million years in fact,

one dimwit, evolutionary dud
after another — until finally

Homo Erectus! our old friend
back again. Talk about irony!

The best minds in the universe,
eon upon eon of experiment

and here we are, right back
where we started, doomed —

perfectly ignorant, oblivious
to art, language, metaphor...

yet hearing voices nonetheless,
the genius of creation itself

mumbling at us from a cloud.
So what can we do after all

but sweat blood, struggle,
learn to write it down —

never mind the spelling
the ribbon without ink —

the lords of the universe
are circling the planet

like moths around a desk lamp
and the whole dorm is asleep.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of T. Coraghessan Boyle, born in Peekskill, New York (1948), the author of Water Music (1980), World's End (1987) and other books.

It's the birthday of Maria Callas, born Maria Anna Sophia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos, in Brooklyn, New York (1923). Another opera singer said after she died, "Her use of words, the vitality of language in her singing, was amazing. She was hellbent on her own destruction, and broke all the rules of singing. But so what? That's why we're still talking about her."

It's the birthday of Nikos Kazantzakis, born on Crete (1885). He wrote Zorba the Greek (1946), and The Report to Greco (1961), in which he describes himself as a young man arriving at a monastery in the Sinai Desert, and asking the abbot if he can make a retreat in this holy place, where he will be sure to hear the voice of God. The abbot tells him, "All voices can be heard here in the desert. And especially two which are difficult to tell apart: God's and the devil's."

It's the birthday of Ruth Draper, born in New York City (1884). She wrote her own one-woman shows and performed them for forty years. Few people have ever tried reviving any of the monologues she wrote, because no one who has heard her do them thinks they can perform them as well as she did.

It's the birthday of Dr. Joseph Bell, born in Edinburgh (1837), one of the models for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character, Sherlock Holmes. He said that physicians should be able to diagnose diseases without ever touching the patient.

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
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