Before writing is reading; before reading is walking the dog. I wake up sometime before 8:00 and get out of bed. I am almost always awake before Shelley (named for Mary, not Percy), a pit bull mix who is decidedly not a morning person—or whatever the dog equivalent of that is. I am thinking about "morning persons" because recently my friends have accused me of becoming one. Relative to the rest of my adult life, they're not wrong; this time last year the sentence "I wake up sometime before 8:00 and get out of bed" would not have been true. But the morning people I admire all seem to get up before 7:00, to be thinking and reading and writing by the time I'm dragging myself out of bed. If anything I am an aspiring morning person, but I always stay up a little too late. If I were really to commit to this I'd be asleep by midnight, but I usually stay up until at least 1 watching something—a movie or a show. Recently it's been Taxi, which I enjoy considerably. But as a comment in one of my notebooks reveals, "I should get back into the habit of watching movies."
Notebooks: my writing life takes shape around them. I keep 2-3 going at any given time, with 4-5 different projects spread across them. In fact, sitting down to write about my writing day has proven difficult because I conceive of my own poetics in a thoroughly spatial way. There are notebooks with projects, rather than a routine with a schedule. That's not entirely true: a graduate student, I have a dissertation to write, meaning deadlines, which are temporal. But even as I look at the piles of books I've made in the course of doing research, I can't help but convert the time they represent—time spent reading, taking notes—into the spatial fact of, well, books piled around a chair. Even the piles have piles now, says Andy.
(I delete a version of this paragraph that is about not liking academic prose. It's not true. I do really like a certain kind of sentence that for better or worse academic writing lets me write. "It is even in prose, I am a real poet" as Frank O'Hara says. It's the deadlines I don't like. More precisely: I am learning to think temporally about something I am used to considering spatially. This is hard. Deadlines reflect the process of this learning. Anyway: my writing constellates around my dissertation; my writing days reflect this constellation.)
Writing has always been a pretext for reading. When I first started thinking of myself as a poet I imitated every new writer I came across at least once. I didn't know what I liked or what I didn't—of what I read or what I wrote. As I got older this imitative practice extended to the work of people I knew in real life; writing became the basis for friendships that, in turn, have nourished further writing. And this became the basis for further reading. I am not exactly a fast reader, but I do as much of it as I can. I take a lot of notes. If I can, I like to write the notes in the books, but I'm not picky. I just need a record of my reading, something I can come back to later. This could become raw material for poetry, but more often than not it just tells me if the thing I was reading could be that raw material, or if it was something else that my reading reminded me of—"cf." followed by a name is the most common of my annotations—that I should look at next. Mine is an art of collage. I invite the reader to register changes of tone and century. (Robert Glück wrote that, not me.)
Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there. That's Benjamin. It's good advice. It's silly, but good. A big part of my writing day involves going somewhere else to sit and write. My favorite form of this, so hard now to justify for money reasons, is to take a trip on a train somewhere. I love to sit on a train with a notebook and write dozens of pages of poetry, or even just a couple things that help me clarify all of my thinking in various different genres. Travel, for me, has always been an exciting occasion to write. I guess that's not unique to me. But as I say in a poem I wrote last summer:
do you believe
this poem belongs among the stars that spell out
CENTRALITY OF TRANSIT
in love as in everything else
I like these lines for the way they disclose the central tension in my writing life, which is my absolute fidelity to two mutually exclusive kinds of poetics: O'Hara and Spicer. You have the insouciant on-the-go kind of travel-poetry, versus the hermetic, intensely local poetry whose theme is often poetry itself, as an extremely impersonal, even transcendental thing ("the stars" spelling something out or determining it—was I making a joke about astrology? I'm a Scorpio, I don't know what that means).
This is a roundabout way of confessing I think the picture I'm including with this essay is not a good representative of my writing "space." I have temporarily taken over the room we call the office and turned it into where I write, but this weekend I will be straightening it up so that the space is shared again. I will probably experiment with writing in the kitchen, for a change of scenery and pace. But that is not a writing day so much as a notion of one that I want to turn into a reality. Come to think of it, I wonder if this essay has effectively detailed my own writing day beyond saying that I wander around and read a lot, and have failed, to establish a routine or a habit about it. Maybe I lack the courage for routine; maybe I will not find the courage I need there. Maybe it's just that this essay isn't finished because I haven't told you about the things I do that aren't writing, other than walking the dog and teaching, that I do, which to me seem essential for thinking about my own writing day. Chief among these is talking with friends, which to me is the basis for all of what I do, in writing and reading and everything else. Then there is watching things: TV, movies. I'd like to try to watch more of the latter. I find the visual a stimulating goad, perhaps because of my spatial bias.
And finally there is driving: to and from work, to and from the grocery store (this last is very recent; we live across the street from a Stop And Shop where the workers are currently on strike, and we will not cross the picket line). When driving I always listen to music; sometimes I talk to myself. Sometimes I think about recording this talking but usually it is a bad idea, usually it ruins the talking in advance by making me try to speak in sentences, when really nobody speaks in sentences (and only sometimes do we write in them). This seems like a good place to stop, not least because the dog is impatiently agitating, reminding me that it's time for her dinner. After that I'll probably write some more.
David W. Pritchard is a poet and a scholar, but not a poet-scholar. He is the co-author of the chapbooks More Fresh Air (with Greg Purcell) and Impropria Persona (with Kay Gabriel). Recent writings in verse and prose can be found in, or are forthcoming from, Tripwire, jacket2, the Lambda Literary spotlight, Matter Monthly, and Dreampop. David is a grad student at UMass Amherst; he is working on a dissertation about New Narrative, Gay Liberation, and the poetics of revolutionary transition. He lives in Holyoke.