Bridget Hoida on: Why I Write

I’ve always loved liars.

Writers who speak in hyperbole and whose pages are bursting with extraordinary exaggeration are totally my cup of tea. Like love stories. And war stories. Stories about childhood and politics and everything in-between. Especially, when guised as the truth. Especially when cloaked for the sake of story.

Portrait of Anais Nin taken in NYC in 70s by E...

And speaking such, I want to share a story with you. It’s not mine, that much is true. I came across it in the stacks of the periodical room, back when journals were bound twice yearly with thick leather backs and kept in rooms called libraries. I used to work in one such magical place. I was the assistant librarian in the Periodical, Newspaper, and Microfiche room at the Doe Library of UC Berkeley. I loved my job. And in ways most bibliophiles can understand, I miss that job more than I miss my youth. Because for me that job was my youth. It was paper and newsprint and dusty stacks of words that I would turn when I was supposed to be shelving or referencing or otherwise amending. But like every other assistant librarian, every volume I shelved was a volume I read. So there I was in the belly of the basement of PNM–while the microfiche machines hummed and clinking nickels made Xerox copies– reading serialized love stories of Henry and June. I will not lie. I do not remember who wrote it. I do not remember what journal or even what year. I am a bad librarian. But I remember the words:

“There is a hotel in Paris, above a café, of course, where Anais Nin and Henry Miller met for the first time and then made their way up to room 41. They brought along a picture of June, I swear to God they did, and they set it on the nightstand, (or perhaps it was already there). What they did next biographers are uncertain, but it involved most definitely Anais, Henry and Henry’s jacket. In Henry’s version he took the jacket off, laid it on the bed and Anais, naked lay upon it. In Anais’ version Henry took off all his clothes and wore the coat on top of both the bed and the woman. In June’s version the jacket was on the floor, out of June’s sight. Henry and Anais made love on top of it. Anais wore black lace underwear and when they were finished, Henry did a somersault on the bed and said to Anais, What? You expected more brutality?

“Before they met they had agreed to be platonic. Six days earlier, March 2, in a letter, Anais had sworn to Henry with silver ink on purple paper:  The woman will sit eternally in the tall black armchair. I will be the one woman you will never have. Excessive living weighs down the imagination. We will not live, we will only write and talk and sail the swells. Writers make love to what they need.”

Writers make love to the truth they need.

And in truth, the jacket is why I write.

This post, originally entitled “Lie To Me” first appeared on Ladies Who Proust: the real life Proustian heroines. To read the article in full and to find out how Henry’s jacket relates to Marcel’s cup of tea click here: Ladies Who Proust

Bridget Hoida on: Surrealist free-association

As if Parisian tents and 18-point times weren’t already high enough on my love list… now there’s the Metro Poem, ala Jacques Jouet, who, according to Daniel Levin Becker “burns all his drafts.” Which has me imagining, of course, the musings of my darling Magdalena as she navigates La Cienega from Fairview (or at the very least the 10) to Rodeo. I’m keeping the constraints (as outlined below) but adjusting the stops if you will… from the open and close of the metro’s door to the irrational alternation of red and green traffic lights:  When the light turns red, you write the line down. When the cars start again, you begin to compose the second line. No writing while the car is in motion; no composing while it’s stopped. And instead of stations, we’ll use neighborhoods to break our stanzas. We’ll call it the Unbuilt Highway Poem with a nod to the Beverly Hills freeway that never was.

From Daniel Levin Becker’s essay “Little Demons of Subtlety: On the Oulipian Constraint” in Berfrois:

“The Metro Poem: it’s a free-verse form with rigid compositional rules. You get on the metro and compose the first line of a poem in your head. When the train makes its first stop, you write the line down. When the train starts again, you begin to compose the second line. No writing while the train is in motion; no composing while it’s stopped. If you change to a different metro line, you pause on the platform to write down the line you composed before getting off, then start a new stanza for the next leg of the trip. You write down the last line upon arriving at your destination, and then go wherever it is you were going in the first place.

The metro poem is oulipian mostly in the sense that, if done rigorously, it’s surprisingly challenging—straightforward as it sounds, the time strictures make it less like a Surrealist free-association exercise and more like a suicide-aerobics drill for the parts of your mind that usually make observations into ruminations and ruminations into language. It constrains the space around your thoughts, not the letters or words in which you will eventually fit them: you have to work to think thoughts of the right size, to focus on the line at hand without workshopping the previous one or anticipating the next. You have to actively avoid the master craftsman’s impulse to map out the whole poem, since that would defeat the momentary experientiality of the thing. “There is no question of correcting one’s composition, beyond the time of composing the verse, which means that the time for premeditation is reduced to a minimum,” Jouet writes. “No manuscript version.” (As a rule, Jouet burns his drafts.)”

From: “Little Demons of Subtlety: On the Oulipian Constraint” by Daniel Levin Becker