by Marie BenoÎt
How I write now and how I used to write in the past are two totally different things. How I write now can be told in one short sentence. I write when the mood takes me. Which it doesn’t as it used to, because I’m retired now and have lots of time on my hands. And with me, some degree of tension is needed for my mind to start flashing.
So how did I write? Well, when I was lecturing and, even more pressing, tending my family at home, my mind was constantly churning with ideas. Apart from the occasional verse or two, I started writing poetry late, way back in 1984, when I was already 41. I started writing it regularly when the first poems in Maltese came, and “regularly” meant it came pouring out. I wrote on anything that came my way – bills, envelopes, even toilet paper. Lines used to just come into my head, in Maltese or in English, but mainly in Maltese, and I had to jot them down immediately, before other lines jostled them out of my head.
Writing in Maltese was an amazing experience for me. I had always spoken and written in English and yet poetry showed me inroads into my own language which I had never seen before. It was as though my whole life till then had been sowing, I was finally reaping. Sometimes the rhythms of the language emerged in quasi-Biblical fashion, sometimes in argumentative, sometimes in lyrical. I seemed to be a repository for the poems which were emerging, and my conscious mind seemed to have nothing to do with their conception. It was wonderful and also a bit frightening. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep; but after a bout of writing, I couldn’t stay awake. It had nothing to do with willingness, I felt feverish and driven by a compulsion which was not always welcome, especially to my family.
When the inspired texts were down on paper, my consciousness became very instrumental in their completion. It was then time to mould and form. At the beginning I used to write a lot more into a text and it used to break my heart to weed parts out, but it was necessary in order to produce finished poems. I would spend hours poring over changes and then returning to the original sometimes – hours during which I was also dazedly doing the washing or cooking or shopping. Before I bought my first PC I used to copy out revised texts, over and over. When the miracle of word-processing came into being, I would print out texts and carry them with me, even when I was out. Mainly I worked at the PC on the landing of the house I lived in then. Later, I carried my laptop around the house to where I felt like. But I still write first drafts on paper with a pencil, biro or felt pen, whatever I lay hands on first – although now I do it in little notebooks I buy for the purpose.
I must admit that when I am pressed for time, as I was when the children were younger, or when I had essays or even exam papers to correct, I was more prolific. As a result, the time I have on my hands during the day – when I’m not translating, which also needs a considerable degree of creativity – doesn’t usually furnish me with blazing ideas, so that I sometimes worry I’ve had it as a poet! At night, though, it’s a different matter. I sometimes feel that too much consciousness is an obstacle to writing, and so at night, when I begin to release my mind, ideas start to blossom and then it is up to me to decide whether I want to pick them or to sleep. It is a choice, because when I choose to write, it means the adrenalin is to keep me up – not only for that night but also for a long time afterwards. When I choose to write – and let’s face it, even the choice is influenced by the degree of urgency – I normally write more than one poem and sometimes the ideas are in actual opposition. I am fascinated by paradox and conflicting notions, so it’s hardly surprising.
Recently I am reading voraciously, as I used to do in my earlier years. Perhaps, despite the fact that I am 67, the repository is being filled again and I may one day return to being more prolific. It is a wish I am in two minds about, I must admit. I love the thrill of how I used to write, but it is a thrill which is double-edged – only other writers must know how exhausting it can be!