After years of working towards getting a collection of poems published, I've finally made it, and I am very pleased with the result, both in terms of the poems I chose for it, and the excellent job the publishers, Oversteps Books, have made of the book. It looks beautiful to my eyes, and I hope it will find readers who will like it too.
So I am pleased with myself, sitting back on my laurels, taking pleasure in having arrived at my destination, revelling in a moment's relaxation. But with just a fraction of my mind, wondering how long I can get away with living in this state, knowing that in some dark mental corner lurks the question--what next?
I don't like using words like 'inspiration' in connection with writing, because in too many minds this word has an almost magical significance, and I don't believe in magic. As the artist Edward Atkinson Hornel said 'The real mood of inspiration comes oftener through work than by waiting'. This quote has often been responsible for getting me back to work.
It's better to write something, even if it falls short of what you wanted, than to sit around waiting for an unspecified magic to produce 'would be' perfect words. There are, of course, those subconscious promptings, which may be what people mean by inspiration, but they don't come without the hard work of thinking about what you are seeing and doing. That is where the words really come from. If you don't do that, the unseen part of your mind doesn't supply the prompts that I could--but won't--call inspiration.
In the same way that I try not to use words like inspiration, I prefer using utilitarian words where possible. Our species frequently likes to imagine itself superior to other forms of life, happy to ignore our rather obvious failings, while casually demoting the significance of other living things, both sentient and insentient. We don't need much encouraging to use words that confer a special status to our existence, so I try not to make things worse. Meanwhile, it's unlikely that the universe notices, or cares about, our tiny specks crawling all over just one small planet in a cast of billions.
My word for life is the functional word 'process'. I see life as a process that continues on its way whether we take an interest in it or not. My idea of being alive is to engage with that process, to interact with it as best I can, rather than to passively accept, without comment, what happens around me. The significance of an art is that it takes the raw material of the world, whether its physical reality, or the imagining of it, and reassembles existence in a personal realisation of its significance, that at its best may have some universal value. I would argue that this is far better than living life 'off the peg', as consumers not creators.
As I suggested at the beginning of this piece, the question 'what next' lurks momentarily unacknowledged in my mind, but in actual fact I am already halfway through a collection provisionally entitled Consciousness. I'm sure I won't be able to say anything especially new about the subject, but I might be able to supply a personal insight into what it feels like to be conscious, and I am willing to try. Failure is a distinct possibility, but it wouldn't be so worth trying if failure wasn't a real risk. What was actually loitering in my thoughts was what do when that is finished, which, at my age, is the nearest I come to optimism.