Letters To a Young Poet

Going down again. Work, writing, moving — we leave in nine days. Safe to assume me dead for the interim. 🙂 If you need anything, email or call. I may pop up sporadically.

In the meantime, take this amazing letter, sent by Rainer Maria Rilke to Franz Xaver Kappus. Then do yourself a favor and obtain the rest.

February 17th, 1903

My dear sir,

Your letter only reached me a few days ago. I want to thank you for its great and kind confidence. I can hardly do more. I cannot go into the nature of your verses; for all critical intention is too far from me. With nothing can one approach a work of art so little as with critical words: they always come down to more or less happy misunderstandings. Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures.

After these prefatory remarks, let me only tell you further that your verses have no individual style, although they do show quiet and hidden beginnings of something personal. I feel this most clearly in the last poem, “My Soul.” There something of your own wants to come through to word and melody. And in the lovely poem “To Leopardi” there does perhaps grow up a sort of kinship with that great solitary man. Nevertheless the poems are not yet anything on their own account, nothing indpenedent, even the last and the one to Leopardi. Your kind letter, which accompanies them, does not fail to make clear to me various shortcomings which I felt in reading your verses without however being able specifically to name them.

You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all — ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity: your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it. Then draw near to Nature. Then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose. Do not write love-poems; avoid at first those forms that are too facile and commonplace: they are the most difficult, for it takes a great, fully matured power to give something of your own where good and even excellent traditions come to mind in quantity. Therefore save yourself from these general themes and seek those which your own everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, passing thoughts and the belief in some sort of beauty — describe all these with loving, quiet, humble sincerity, and use, to express yourself, the things in your environment, the images from your dreams, and the objects of your memory. If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place. And even if you were in some prison the walls of which let none of the sounds of the world come to your senses — would you not then still have your childhood, that precious, kingly possession, that treasure-house of memories? Turn your attention thither. Try to raise the submerged sensations of that ample past; your personality will grow more firm, your solitude will widen and will become a dusky dwelling past which the noise of others goes by far away. — And if out of this turning inward, out of this absorption into your own world verses come, then it will not occur to you to ask anyone whether they are good verses.. Nor will you try to interest magazines in your poems: for you will see in them your fond natural possession, a fragment and a voice of your life. A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity. In this nature of its origin lies the judgment of it: there is no other. Therefore, my dear sir, I know no advice for you save this: to go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called on to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.

But perhaps after this descent into yourself and into your inner solitude you will have to give up becoming a poet; (it is enough, as I have said, to feel that one could live without writing; then one must not attempt it at all). But even then this inward searching which I ask of you will not have been in vain. Your life will in any case find its own ways thence, and that they may be good, rich and wide I wish you more than I can say.

What more shall I say to you? Everything seems to me to have its just emphasis; and after all I do only want to advise you to keep growing quietly and seriously throughout your whole development; you cannot disturb it more rudely than by looking outward and expecting from outside replies to questions that only your inmost feeling in your must hushed hour can perhaps answer.

It was a pleasure to me to find in your letter the name of Professor Horacek; I keep for that loveable and learned man a great veneration and a gratitude that endures through the years. Will you, please, tell him how I feel; it is very good of him still to think of me, and I know how to appreciate it.

The verses which you kindly entrusted to me I am returning at the same time. And I thank you once more for your great and sincere confidence, of which I have tried, through this honest answer given to the best of my knowledge, to make myself a little worthier than, as a stranger, I really am.

Yours faithfully and with all sympathy,
Rainer Maria Rilke

More catching up, slowly

So. Steve (the greenbottle fly, if you remember him) continues to persist. I think he’s even gotten most of the coffee off of his body.

Brief update, mostly for a couple of links. WoW friends will appreciate this, courtesy wired_blogs: “From MMO to CEO”, a rather belated article covering the transfer of leadership skills learned in online game guilds to the workplace. When I presented “Warrior Queens of the Cyberworld” at Immersive Worlds last year, one of the questions from the audience had to do with precisely this — whether workplaces are beginning to recognize the immense leadership skills necessary in managing massive online guilds. It looks like they are. Future resumes will list typing WPM, educational training — and how many wipes it took your team to take down Onyxia.

My last contribution to Inside Job at the Escapist went in last night. I think it’s a good one. It’s been a very interesting ride. Perhaps more thoughts on this on Friday, if I’m not dead (I think I may be picking up [info]jsridler‘s cold).

Between Settlers, other writing commitments, work, and visa-related real life garbage, I managed to get into a serious crunch for about the past month, a side effect of which was aggravating the mild RSI in my left neck/shoulder. Saw a massage therapist for it on Tuesday, and am in for apparently multiple more such sessions, but after a couple of days of soreness I’m finally feeling a bit looser. I hadn’t even realized how much mobility I’d lost in my neck. The therapist asked if I had trouble driving, with turning my head, and I said no, I didn’t think so — but my neck now turns significantly easier and farther than it did on Tuesday. Yikes. I think I am too young for this shit still.

[info]cristalia has posted eloquently on writing business and why stories like Michael Cisco’s should be shared. Obviously, I tend to agree. This was actually the main reason I came over here to post in a timely manner, in case I’m reaching anyone who hasn’t already read Cisco’s account with Prime Books. I, too, have heard a similar experience with some of the folk there, and have been trepidatious as a result.

It’s a complex thing. There is so much fear, in writing and in the games industry, of taking action that may threaten one’s career. The thing is, and this applies equally to both, when you really get down to it, there are enough GOOD people working in both businesses that it is never worthwhile to hide or sabotage yourself in order to avoid offending a lousy employer. It is the Sanders thing in a new iteration, though certainly less clear cut. But the principle remains the same. Anyone telling you to shut up just for the sake of shutting up probably has a less-than-noble motive for doing so. Keeping lousy treatment (or, in [info]yhlee‘s case, truly egregious coffin-nailing wackjobbery) silent because speaking up Just Isn’t Done is a great way to perpetuate said lousy treatment. Kudos to Cisco for taking the uncomfortable step and sharing his experience, here’s hoping that the full truth comes out. And for those who truly wonder whether speaking up can jeopardize a career, I can tell you that all it does is cut you off from people you really shouldn’t be working for in the first place. I actually find it a rather excellent sorting mechanism.

We are all worth more than this.

Mortality, and catching up, almost

Settlers is done. Not yet submitted, but done. The excitement begins.

I have been largely underground and thus was remiss in not mentioning a couple of things, though those of you that read the other Homeless Moon journals already saw this.

The folk at The Homeless Moon and I — that would be [info]jsridler, [info]scott_h_andrews, [info]boonofdoom, and [info]justinhowe — decided last year to put together a chapbook of our work. Most of them are being much more clever in their descriptions of this undertaking, but it’s 2:30am and I want to go to sleep. So I’ll just say that some of the initial proposal for the chapbook was to show what we could do to the big ol’ world, but mainly we just wanted to put together some stories and appear in the same publication, something that, barring blackmail or other unsavory tactics, was not likely to happen fast enough for our chum-like impatience.

John Klima very kindly blogged about the chapbook on the newly-revealed Tor.com — looks like a snazzy site indeed, breaking many a mold for previous expectations of online speculative fiction fare.

Anyway, re the belatedly mentioned chapbook, I’m honored to be sharing page-space with these stories, and you can, as the site page says, download an electronic copy of the chapbook for free if you weren’t lucky enough to snatch a copy at ReaderCon.

Speaking of which, I was not there. I neglected to mention that here, and in particular I owe an apology to [info]elenuial, whom I conned into applying for Odyssey and should just now be recovering from the shell-shock of the six week experience. I’d intended to go to ReaderCon and harass various folk — [info]lesser_celery, [info]cristalia, [info]time_shark… I shouldn’t have started to name names, there are many more. But. 2am. Visa issues and Canadian Immigrations put the abrupt kibosh on this plan, causing [info]jsridler and I to forfeit our already-paid-for Pricelined hotel, and more irritatingly to miss the con and the opportunity to see rarely-seen folk and hang out with the HM guys for a few days. We are also not at TNEO due to the chaos of preparing to move out west. Next year, however, all of this will be corrected. I understand ReaderCon was pretty cool, as always, and congratulations to those who pulled Rhyslings or one of the new shiny Shirley Jackson awards.

More updates when I have had sleep. A parrot update is long overdue, with photos of Smeagol’s semi-new cage. Vasya is in her annual summer super-molt, but recently began voluntarily taking baths, almost, and has polished up her beak. I wonder who she’s trying to impress.

A particular greenbottle fly has been buzzing around here for the past three days, being generally annoying and doing its fly thing, bouncing off monitors, chasing food, etc. About an hour ago I heard a persistent buzzing; it had kamikazed itself into my coffee cup from this morning and was in the process of noisily drowning. A-ha, I thought; nature at work. The stupid irritating buzzing will be no more.

Then in about two seconds I sighed and realized I was not in fact going to let it come to a messy end in stale coffee and non-dairy creamer. So, without much help from the fly itself, I fished it out on a second attempt with the end of my pen.

It has been fastidiously drying its wings, perched on a copy of Julian Dibbell’s Play Money, for the last hour. I have named it Steve.

Determined to foment a rebellion 2008-06-17 18:39:22

So, I am sitting here in my silk kimono robe (don’t get too excited, I’m also wearing a t-shirt and jeans) and my slippers and I’m feeling very writerly. It’s a nice feeling considering that over the past few days I’ve been going through one of those crises of conscience about what constitutes “important” writing (thanks, Time book). But now I have to go buy groceries. It’s a glamorous existence.

Sometimes, though, there is praise. The writing life is enough of a persistent beatdown that I am always shocked when this happens.

First, Kieron Gillen enjoyed “Slave to the Beat”, which went up a week ago and I kind of forgot to tell you folks about (oops):

Erin Hoffman writes about Audition Online for the Escapist. I’ve played a little of this MMO rhythm action game, and went away a tad depressed, but Erin goes completely native in an entertaining fashion. I’m probably alone in my wish for an actual game-of-the-film Audition though, in a kirri-kirri-kirri kind of way.

Kieron recently made yet another top-game-journalists list; he’s certainly one of the better guys working in the field, so anything from him feels like high praise while I trudge along as a sort of confused non-game-journalist.

And Alvaro Zinos-Amaro Reviews issue #27 of Lone Star Stories at TheFix, including “Whatever Shall Grow There, Dear”:

Annamarie’s viewpoint is expertly developed. The way she catches fragments of conversation and meaning from her parent’s arguments but is completely sensitive to the underlying emotional reality of which those arguments are symptomatic rings true. There are numerous images that are beautiful without being ornate, touching and innocent without being sentimental (“Pale late afternoon sunlight filtered through the gauzy white curtains in the living room and made the oiled oak floors glow burnt orange.”) They place us in Annamarie’s world and convey a sense of ethical sensitivity, an almost ennobling naivete, by acting as metaphors for her thoughts and emotions.

The storytelling technique is deceptively simple, and the characters all fully realized. Hoffman centers the tale around Annamarie’s coming-of-age, to great effect, and delivers a knockout ending that bears the bountiful fruits of transformation.

As mentioned when I announced the sale, it’s a special story and a difficult one for me, so it’s extremely gratifying to see someone “get” it, reviewer or otherwise. I would say there’s even a difference between “praise” and when someone “gets” your writing — they extrapolate meaning from the original work that was there in your heart but not obviously stated on the page, painting a picture that resonates with the emotional framework of the story’s origin. It’s a feeling of kinship, and it’s at the core of why I send this stuff out, to test for those precious connections between experiences and minds. Otherwise it could all just stay in the trunk; it’s dangerous, after all, to dissect a part of yourself and spin it into something that you invite people to poke with sticks. But I’m glad this one got out.

Alvaro’s review is worth note because he actually covered the poetry in the issue, too — something that I wish more reviewers would do on The Fix and in spec-fic reviews in general. The poetry in that issue was terrific and well deserving of contemplation and highlight.

Okay, groceries now.

A small bouquet of updates

Of the publishing variety. “Whatever Shall Grow There, Dear” is now live in the current issue of Lone Star Stories, along with other excellent fiction and poetry that you should imbibe immediately. Take a look at [info]sovay‘s “Firework-Makers”, and the poems of [info]papersky and [info]seajules. Everyone seems to be on LJ these days. 😉

While you’re at it, head over to Schezerezade’s Bequest, the online edition of Cabinet des Fees, and check out [info]sovay‘s lovely “Bonny Fisher Boy”. And before you conclude that I am stalking [info]sovay, I say this as segue to the update that SB has recently accepted my poem “The Fall of Fairy Castle” for their September issue.

When you’re done doing that, you should hie yourself out and purchase a copy of the first issue of Tales of Moreauvia, containing as it does [info]jsridler‘s very excellent “Engine of Desolation”, as well as a story by the habitually skillful and entertaining Rita Oakes. Can’t lose.

Last but certainly not least, feast your eyes upon the snazzy page that is Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which will be debuting this Fall under the steady hand of Scott H. Andrews.

Being that I’ve been in Albany and New York City in the last week, I was in range of the Kindle’s Whispernet, and boy did I use it. The Kindle can in fact be used to surf the web and check email, but what got me in trouble was the ease with which I could download free book samples. I’ve also downloaded books from Project Gutenberg and piped them onto the Kindle; I have not yet attempted [info]boonofdoom‘s clever notion of reading slush on it, but plan to soon. It has already caused me to purchase three books I would not have otherwise, and sampled over a dozen I likely would not have picked up anytime soon. I suppose I should be lucky I was only temporarily exposed to Whispernet. In preliminary conclusion, the Kindle is not quite the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, but it is clearly Australopithecus to that line, and I remain both impressed and frightened.