we shall have to think up signs,
sketch a landscape, fabricate a plan
on the double page
of day and paper.
Tomorrow we shall have to invent,
the reality of this world.
–Octavio Paz, “January 1st” (translated by Eliz. Bishop)
For my husband’s birthday dinner this week, we invited a friend to join us. He is 92 years old, and regaled us with stories of his first dog, his experiences in the Navy, his career, his marriages, and his children. (I was especially impressed with a daughter who insisted on taking her horse with her when she left home for college.)
After dinner, our friend had several riddles for us, all of which required “thinking outside the box.” These required, he warned, that we focus on certain key words, and not assume that they meant something conventional. So in one riddle (the most straightforward of them) “home” got translated from one’s house to homebase in baseball, but even words like “man” and “distance” and “into” had to be further or more deeply perceived.
Writing requires a constant thinking-outside-the-box. I remember a poetry professor who warned us (back in my MFA days) against including the moon, or love (!), or hearts in our poems. But of course we do want to write about the moon, and love, and hearts. I’m often dismayed by how many other poets are writing about struggles with teenagers, or care of aging parents. But that doesn’t mean we don’t write about these things — of course we MUST write about them.
The trick is to think more deeply, to think in layers, to not write conventionally or through our first assumptions. As I have said before, my goal is to write — and to live — as though the gate’s been left open.