On not just writing what you know

Selected Poems – C.P. Cavafy: On my way to Istanbul, I picked up a copy of Constantine P. Cavafy‘s Selected Poems at the Athens airport. Cavafy is one of modern Greece’s most celebrated poets. Whether he’s writing about Hellenic historical events or homosexuality, his poems have a kind of cool, elegant detachment, kind of like the marble statues you might find in an archaeological museum. The thing about Cavafy is that he didn’t live a Rimbaud-esque tortured poet existence. He worked for 30 years at the Ministry of Public Works, and spent a large portion of his life living with members of his family. So, his body of work didn’t necessarily follow that creative writing standby of “writing what you know”. In fact, this is from the introduction to the book: In an early ars poetica he wrote that the notion that a writer derives most profit from “personal experience is undoubtedly a sound one; but were it strictly observed it would limit termendously literary production”. Thanks for that reminder, Constantine.

I was also struck by the poem below – it’s a kind of warning for our over-sharing generation, all our blogs and twitter and flickr and facebook chatter (guilty on all counts).

As Much As You Can
If you cannot fashion your life as you would like,
endeavour to do this at least,
as much as can: do not trivialize it
through too much contact with the world,
through too much activity and chatter.


Do not trivialize your life by parading it,
running around displaying it
in the daily stupidity
of cliques and gatherings
until it becomes like a tiresome guest.

One thought on “On not just writing what you know

  1. High achievement always comes about inside the framework of high expectation.
    What we should actually learn, from the given group of circumstances, determines whether we become increasingly powerless or even more powerful.

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