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Monday, May 23, 2011

Ocean's Process

So you've probably heard all your life that writers should get up early, every day, day after day, and write. This is the discpline most often cited as eventually leading to great writing. Just being there in the chair, making the commitment, that's the key--it must be true, as everybody says so.

Well, almost everybody. In stark contrast to this conventional wisdom, poet Ocean Vuong describes his own process during an interview on Blog Talk Radio's Blood-Jet Writing Hour with Rachelle Cruz.

Vuong discusses his earliest attempts at writing on a daily basis, which he found to be a difficult method. Eventually he learned that, for him, "...writing a poem is a very rare occasion. I write very poem every two or three months." In fact, Vuong says that for him, writing more than often than this is a distraction that dilutes the strength of his work. (And anyone familiar with Vuong's intensely evocative work knows the potency of his lines, which in no way could be described as diluted.)

Vuong compares writing a poem to pregnancy. For months he walks around with the poem inside him, nurturing it constantly without bringing it into the world, without putting anything on paper, until the right day comes and he is seized with "a frenzy of creativity after months of idleness." At that time, Vuong writes 10 to 25 drafts in the first sitting, which can last for hours, and within about three days, his poem is complete.

Vuong doesn't "believe in writer's block." He thinks what passes for writer's block is really just fruitless attempts at writing under the wrong process. Vuong encourages writers to experiment with various methods until finding what works for them.

Check out the entire interview (with readings of poems) here.

And read some of Vuong's poems here at Vinyl Poetry, here at Diode, and here at PANK Magazine.

(And by the way, despite the familiarity of the title of this post, I don't know Ocean Vuong personally; I was just enjoying his gorgeous name.)


Mari said...

My process exactly. How comforting to know I'm not alone. Thanks for posting, Jessica... where do you find all this great stuff?! I'd be on the Internet 24/7 to dig up half of the things you do. Well, that's why I follow your blog. I'll read Vuong's interview. Thanks for doing this important work.

Mari said...

Also, I'm wondering if there's a cultural component to Ocean's process, i.e. it's occurred to me that the idea of sitting down at the desk every day, writing a poem a day, "cranking out" (to use Ocean's words) the work, etc., might be a more Western, goal-directed notion of productivity, whereas Ocean seems to favor the internal gestation of the poem, which might be an Eastern bias. It's a thought (and one that appeals to this Hapa poet!).

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Hi Mari, I don't know much about Ocean Vuong, except what I learned from his interview and his website (both linked in the original post). He is a practicing Buddhist however, which probably has a lot to do with his more organic, less goal-oriented process.

I don't actually go looking for any of this stuff; I just run across it. In this case, I happened to publish in a journal alongside Ocean Vuong, whose work I was unfamiliar with. But I was blown away by it, and immediately went online to find more of his stunning poems. I'm really glad I did too. This guy is an undergraduate, so we probably have lots of beautiful work from him to look forward to.

Mari said...

Hi Jessica -- Ocean seems very wise for his age, and the depth of his poems reflects his wisdom. At the same time he seems like a very "normal" college-aged young man! It's an appealing combination. I look forward to reading more of his work. Thanks again...