If you read this blog, you know how I advocate reading, writing, and revising regularly in your genre. I try to do each of these weekly. But last week, I skipped my drafting and revision sessions even though I had plenty of time. If you read about the A-affair
, you can see why I spent a lot of time cleaning my house, putting it back together, and enjoying the relative peace. I felt a lot like we do after a bad break-up, one in which you never loved each other.
However, I did complete my reading last week, Basho’s
“Backroads to Far Towns” and gleaned some writing lessons from this. He set out on a creative pilgrimage in 17th century Japan despite his fears that he would die on the road. Basho didn’t so much “write” poems as much as he “made” them. They were often created ad hoc, spontaneously, as gifts, exchanges, or commemorations of the lived moment.
On example is this one, written on the road:
scarlet on scarlet
the sun unrelentingly
the autumn winds
Its impetus came from its moment, not the lyric imagination of a creative genius. If I were Basho, I would have at a few poems from the last week, made in the moment. I would talk about what’s blossoming in my yard, how the leaves are falling already, the dark, and vacuuming. The naturalness of my time and its season. Instead, I have some valuable lessons I gleaned from reading Basho’s journal.
1. When you’re yearning or stuck, commit a case of wandering artistry, but follow a master’s well-worn trail.
Drifting life away on a boat or meeting age leading a horse by the mouth, each day is a journey and the journey itself home. Amongst those of old were many that perished upon the journey. So – when was it – I, drawn like blown cloud, couldn’t stop dreaming of roaming, roving the coast up and down . . . yearning to go over the Shirikawa Barrier, possessed by the wanderlust, at wit’s end . . .
Basho was in bad health and was not being romantic when he contemplates his own death upon undertakng his journey. That said, his wanderlust and ambition to follow Saigyo’s (a famous waka priest-poet) own trail, compelled him to begin. These words come from his first note – and mention his anticipation of the Barrier – a peak point for the creative pilgrim.
2. Your greatest source of inspiration might disappoint but you can write through it.
At post town of Sukagawa visited one Tokyu and were had to stay four or five days. First thing he did was ask: “Anything come of crossing the Shirakawa Barrier?” What with the aches of so much travelling, with body and mind exhausted, apart from being entranced simply by the scene and remembering other times, there wasn’t much chance for thinking words of my own through.”
beginning found in Oku’s
rice planting singing
is all that the crossing brought, was my reply, which . . . led to composing three sequences.
This is the Barrier Basho mentioned in his first note, which he finally reached nearly 5 months after beginning his journey! And look what happens. He’s so darn exhausted that he can barely summon the energy to appreciate it with “his own words” though I am sure the words of others were ringing through his mind. Yet, when prompted, he responded with a composition. He probably literally composed that haiku (though not his best) as a reply to his friend’s question. And then he composed 3 more which he left out of his diary, probably because they weren’t notable enough to include as he edited.
3. Tell the truth, moment by moment.
Spent night at Iizuka. Bathed at hot springs there, found lodgings but only thin mats over bare earth, ramshackle sort of place. No lamp, bedded down by shadowy light of fireplace and tried getting some rest. All night, thunder, pouring buckets, roof leaking, fleas mosquitoes in droves: no sleep. To cap it all off the usual trouble cropped up, almost passed out . . . future seemed further off than ever, and recurring illness nagged, but what a pilgrimage to far off places calls for: willingness to let the world go, its momentariness, to die on the road, human destiny, which lifted spirit a little . . .
Basho’s writing honestly about more troubles on the road, as well as recalling his mortality more directly. We can understand how he feels. We’ve all had dark nights when the sunrise itself made us thankful to be carrying on, despite our weariness. Basho records his problems but does not dwell on them. He moves on and allows the writing to arise from what’s happening in the moment.
4. Make your own poems & read the work your contemporaries and friends make.
Back on shore, put up at inn whose second-story windows opened upon sea, feeling of resting on the journey now among wind and cloud, extraordinarily high . . . I, wordless, tried sleeping, but couldn’t. On leaving my old hut, Sodo had made me a poem . . . and Hara Anteki a waka (poem) about Matsu. Undid my neckbag, let them be my company this night.
Even though Basho is having another sleepless night, he seems to be enjoying it as much as possible. I can sense his exhilaration and the comfort he takes in reading his friends’ work. He is sure to be learning from them as much as anything else.
One of Basho’s final poems, created as he edited his journal.
5. Do something different with your poems.
On the sixth day of
even this month’s poetry’s
rough as the sea is
reaching over to Sado
the Heaven’s star stream.
Basho was probably referring to an annual festival in Japan in which people make poems about stars and hang them on trees. The star stream is the Milky Way. I imagine the stars are more easily able to retrieve the words and stories hanging in the air. What do you do with your words? To me it seems a shame to write only for a page and then sentence the words to the page forever. Basically, words on pages make writers rich or famous so that’s all anyone wants to do with words around these parts. Those aims are fine but there are other options as well. And rebel creators explore all the options (and create NEW ones). Try doing something surprising or unusual with your words and be open to the possibility that this new use or action might change your perceptions about writing. Start to see your words as a thing you can do stuff with.
And finally, I share my favorite haiku from Basho’s journal:
silence itself is
in the rock absorbing
This week, I’ll be posting a writing prompt for rebel creators as well as some inspiration I’ve found around the web. What are you creating this week?
Big Rebel Creator Hugs!