Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 9:42 PM on Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Inspiring writers


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference keynote speaker Rita Dove.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, above, opened the 10th annual Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference last Friday with a talk that got the attendees excited about the literary adventure ahead. In her talk, "Silence and Utterance: The Poet's Life," Dove spoke of how she became a poet and writer, why she chooses to write poetry over prose and how writers and poets need to overcome their innate shyness.

For excerpts of her talk

"The authority of the voice is the poem," she said. "The story has to have a voice to speak through. Language needs the human breath moving through it."

"We are always trying as human beings to describe the indescribable. … We are trying to grasp what cannot be grasped, but we are always trying. We coax them from the sidelines and we invite them to dance as well."

"If you ask me today what I as a writer begin with, it's silence — within that silence the poem arises as an utterance."

"Is a poem a mating for magic? Yes, somehow. Is it a punch in the gut? Yes, sometimes. In the end it also is a music; it is the music of language."

"The prose writer urges us to talk a walk with him in the garden along the pond's edge. The poet will say, look deep, look deeply into the pond we passed to see what's there."

"I write poetry for the silence that glimmers beneath it."

"The conundrum of being a writer, or making a living as a writer — one has to be both fierce and tender, loud and quiet, brash and introspective. …The mouse has to turn into the lion king and cannot shy away, scurry away or even squinch the eyes shut."

"We have to speak. We break the silence of this contemplation with that utterance. We draw attention to ourselves with that utterance."

"I believe if the fit isn't right, if you aren't the rightful heir to the story you're trying to tell ... if the heart doesn't fit into writing, no matter how hard you struggle to extract the truth of the work, you'll come up short."

"I don't think its really fruitful to talk about inspiration as some divine visitation ... I think you find it, or it finds you. The story finds you. one of the things we have to do as writers is open ourselves so it finds us."

"We come to that point when as writers we must bring our utterances and our silences to bear witness. That intersection is both intensely intimate and public."

"We start at silence and we end at silence. The first kind of silence is born of awe and yearning. The final silence, when the work is completed, is hopefully awe and peace, the kind of peace that is understanding."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.