Solitary, Hermetic, Self-Taught

Just read this longish piece by American poet Kay Ryan (it’s a few years old; thanks to Karl for pointing me to it). She is attending a poetry conference after a lifetime of preferring not to. She describes herself like this: “I love the solitary, the hermetic, the self-taught.”

As someone currently mulling the prospect of greater artistic collaboration, who has almost always avoided working with others–at least, when it comes to writing fiction and poetry–her witty words were delicious food for thought. Such as …
“I wanted my poems to fight their way … Fight and fight again. No networking, no friends in high places, no internships. I think that’s how poems finally have to live, alone without your help, so they should get used to it.”
“I think poets should take the lesson of the great aromatic eucalyptus tree and poison the soil beneath us.”
“I think it’s good to admit what a wolfish thing art is; I trust writers who know they aren’t nice.”
And finally … “Everything truly attended to is a spiritual practice, isn’t it?”
Now, read my previous post if you haven’t already, because this post is an aside, a footnote to my day. Can you tell it’s writing day? I’m catching while catch-can.
Green Dreams
Snail Tales


  1. drakealley

    Hi Carrie,

    I discovered your blog while browsing for CanLit materials online, and keep coming back for your reflections on raising a family and the writing life. I’m getting ready to start my own family in the next few years, and your blog shows me what’s possible (with a lot of daily hard work).

    To the point: I really enjoyed this post, and thought you might be interested in another, shorter article over at the Poetry Foundation. It’s an introduction to the work of Eleanor Ross Taylor, a poet who “lived cannily slant to a high-octane literary milieu,” as the authors put it. You can read it here:

    Oh, and I love those snail photos. 🙂


  2. m

    I love the last one–“everything truly attended to is a spiritual practice”. I’m going to write that down and post it in my writing space. So good, so true.

    Although I’d have to disagree with ‘poison the soil beneath us’. Writing is such a solitary life, if I pushed away my writing friends…ugh…I couldn’t do it. I really don’t think I could. Their support is vital.

  3. Carrie Snyder

    Hi Maia,
    Thanks for letting me know you’ve been visiting … it’s always a pleasure to discover someone new. I will visit your link on my next writing day. Today, it’s bread-baking and brainstorming alternative snacks (alternative to grocery store packaged; somehow harder than it seems it should be).
    I look forward to visiting your blog(s)!
    Yours, Carrie

  4. Carrie Snyder

    Marita, could you tell me more about your writing friends and their support? Do you belong to a formal writers’ group? I am curious to know more about how other writers work–alone or with others, or some combination of both. I’ve always been solitary. Kay Ryan’s words really hit home for me, even “poison the soil” … though I wasn’t sure I liked discovering that.
    Enjoy your day!

  5. m

    I did both my BFA and MFA at UBC’s Creative Writing Program, so I had instant writing friends because of the program.

    Some of them are simply friends who also write, so we get together and sometimes talk shop and sometimes don’t. It’s nice to know others understand the madness that writing can be.

    I am involved with a small writing group. We’ve been reading each other’s poetry for ten (!!) years now. OUr group used to be bigger, but now it’s just the three of us. We all used to live in the same building in Vancouver, but now we’re in three different cities over two provinces. We moved our work shopping online to a private blog where we post our poems and critique them. Because we’ve been reading each other’s work for such a long time, it works really well. I couldn’t imagine starting a new group fresh, though. We comment on each other’s work, read mss, talk shop. It’s good.

    It also helps that my husband is a writer. We talk process and obstacles all the time.

    I probably could go on, but this is long enough for now! If you have any further questions or need clarifications, please ask. I always have something to say!

  6. m

    p.s. I should admit that since I moved from Vancouver (where most of my writer friends are ) to Edmonton (where I only have a couple of (writing) friends) I’ve been much more productive and my writing has improved immensely. It could be just a coincidence of timing, but maybe there is more writing being done because there is less talking about writing.

  7. Carrie Snyder

    Thanks for your honesty, Marita! I sometimes feel guilty of the same thing–talking more than doing. (And I don’t count blogging as writing, though I enjoy it a great deal, and it certainly doesn’t hurt the general practice.)

    Part of me craves the potential solidarity of a writers’ group; part of me says, ah, heck, just go on as you always have. Maybe I won’t know till I try.

  8. m

    A writer’s group can be great. I love mine. But if you do join one, choose carefully! Over the years our little group has invited others in (and originally it was four of us) and we were all friends, but it was clear that just because two people really liked each other and got along very well, it didn’t mean that they would mesh well in a group. And I think starting one fresh would be better than joining one already in progress. That way you can create your own group dynamics instead of having to navigate ones already entrenched. But, then again, if it’s the right group, maybe that doesn’t matter!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *