The Hermit Poet

October 24, 2005

Aesthetic 2: Writing as Exile and Memory

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:54 pm

As the contemporary Chinese poet, Liu Hongbin, once said “Writing poetry is the beginning of exile.” From the outset, once we put ink to paper, the poem or essay has moved out of the home of our mind and into a strange new place from which it can never truly return. Writing exiles the idea from creator, exiles the artist from his community, and exiles the moment from its historical context. The work becomes a letter adrift in the world, without name or destination, it wanders from mind to mind, book to book, always in search of it rightful home.

Still, even if writing ultimately makes the work itself a refugee, the act of writing is an act of attempted salvation or restitution. We write to remember or recreate what we fear to lose, or most likely have already lost. I write to capture a certain stillness in place, the moment of the pendulum swing, even the sense of weightlessness there. If the present moment that I write becomes exiled from the past and future, I must find it a new land to set down roots. Each manuscript is a calling together of lost children from the same village who come stumbling out of darkness, violence, and obscurity into the space on the page.

If writing is a form of exile then what is beautiful must be that which echoes something from the land I came from, some familiar line or phrase borrowed from the language of loss and memory. Whether that land is a place in time, in the world, or in some buried emotional reality, it is a meeting ground for many people. It must be a universal language. Something that lies at the root of what we all long to say, but do not know how.

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