How I write – Achille Mizzi
by Marie Benoit
Let it be said right from the start that, aside from the occasional review, I write and publish only poetry. I do not possess that diluvian flow of words which compels me to sit down and write according to an established routine as some novelists do. I am certainly no Balzac whose writing stamina was said to be prodigious. Nothwithstanding all this, I did manage to produce seven books of original poetry, a modest contribution by any measure.
According to my mind the poetic process is diametrically opposed to prose writing. Whereas the language of the novelist is factual, diluted and most often follows standard rules in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure etc., the utterance of the poet, at least the lyric kind of poet, is condensed, highly charged and emotive. The poet synthesises his thoughts and emotions to essentials using metaphors, similes, symbols and such like. The poet cannot afford to be journalistic, ephemeral, discursive or superficial. He has to extract the “maximal meaning in minimal wording”. At least that is my poetic credo.
I started being interested in poetry in my early teens. I cannot now fathom whether I was born with the forma mentis of a poet or whether it actually followed later when I started perceiving myself as a poet. If one were to accept the premise that poeta nascitur, non fit (a poet is born not made) one has to concede that initially there must have been a certain aesthetic sensibility and a predisposition that inclined me to assume the role. I can now recollect that in my youth my imagination and sense of observation were acute, as was my fascination with the sonoric and tactile qualities of language.
There is no specific place and time where I write poems. It could be while driving my car, lying in bed, reading or out on my daily walk. It usually comes unannounced. There might be a lull, of say months, without my putting pen to paper. These visitations are not usually connected to my normal train of thought but are often abrupt, disconnected, sometimes starting from the germ of an idea and developing irripressibly until they become uncontainable. If I do not happen to have pen and paper at hand it would be a problem. If the gush is not tamed instantly it loses its immediacy, becomes flabby and turgid. Although the concept of the ‘Muse’ is obviously a fanciful invention, inspiration is in reality the flash of enthusiasm and wonderment that moves the poet to record his experience.
I do believe that writing poetry is not just an intellectual exercise but also a sort of becoming, an experience, a recollection of the emotion in tranquillity (as Wordsworth put it). A logical exercise it is not: it is more of an analogic exercise. It is like looking obliquely at the world from the corner of your eyes … like peeping from a hole in your head … handling the world intuitively.
Of course writing poetry is not without its pros and cons. In certain circles poets are considered as visionaries and idealists who waste their time daydreaming. In others they are held in excessive regard. In some instances they were even considered as prophets and “unacknowleged legislators of the world” (P.B.Shelley).
My nagging anxiety has always been that of maintaining the highest possible level in my poetry by writing not only the odd poem but a cohesive corpus of poetry animated by one philosophical ethos. What I aim at is that every single poem should bear my hallmark like a tesserae that has been picked out from a big mosaic.
Another problem is communication. Some readers find “modern” poetry rather dense. Watering it down is often difficult and distracting. Ultimately, understanding poetry depends on the reader’s receptivity. Poetry at its most concentrated deals with questions, not answers, and some of the questions it wrestles with are complex and painful. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, / Or what’s a heaven for?” The notoriously obscure Robert Browning wrote that, in his poem Andrea del Sarto.
Even though my poetry is said to be a trifle egocentic, yet I maintain that lyric poetry has perforce to be somewhat personal as it portrays how the ordinary person is impacted by nature, by human intercourse and by historical circumstances. When the poet speaks out he is assuming the role of the archetype of humanity. His is the voice coming from the substrata of human consciousness that cannot but speak in any terms other than those that are fundamental.
By the way, I still use a pen to write my poems. While the computer is marvellous for juggling words, the pen leaves a permanent record of the actual genesis of the poem.