Since Boxing Day or so, helped by a virus that weirded me out for about two weeks, I’ve been unusually prolific on the poem-writing front, which is really rather cheering, but also energy-sapping. As Robert Lowell wrote to Theodore Roethke in July 1963, just weeks before the latter’s death by heart attack while playing tennis at the age of 55, “to write we seem to have to go at it with such single-minded intensity that we are always on the point of drowning” (quoted in Ian Hamilton’s 1982 biography of Lowell). He liked watery, especially marine, imagery, did Lowell. Whilst his own intensity may well in part have been a result of his bipolar disorder, the gist perhaps is that the single-mindedness required to write poems which are refined to perfection, or near as dammit, demands very focused time and lots of it.
I often like to think that the paid employment I do on week-days gets in the way of my true vocation. Yes, I know that sounds pretentious, but how I envy those who can set aside time when they are fresh and alert to do some writing. Like many others, I mostly make do with writing on evenings and weekends when all I really want to do is slouch; and doing so is knackering. Lately, though, I seem to have snatched some decent writing time on bus journeys, from Hampton Court or Kingston to Twickenham, which has been a boon. My wife’s mantra is, “It’s later than you think” – wise words made wiser recently by news of the deaths of three friends and acquaintances of my age. So I’ve been trying to make the most of my time with a mantra of my own: “Get running, get writing, get the fuck on with it.”