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F. E. Sparshott EVERY HORSE HAS A MOUTH: A PERSONAL POETICS This essay does not seek to anatomize the creative process, but looks at the credentials of the very idea of such a process in the field of poetry. It is in three parts, somewhat loosely interrelated. The first part inquires into the legitimacy of inquiring into the "creative process"; the second describes some aspects of my own experience, to see whether anything in the processes of my creating deserves to be called a creative process; and the third asks why one should try to effect a union between such disparate concepts as those of creation and process. It may seem reasonable that someone who has both published extensively on aesthetic theory and made a public profession of poetry should be asked to testify from personal experience on "the creative process." Yet a poet's first impulse when asked how he writes poems is usually to resist the question. "With pencil on paper," he will say; or "in English"; or "with difficulty"; and so on. These may be truths, but the questioner is likely to feel they are the wrong truths. Yet why should these not be the only truths there are? Why should there be a further question? Anything that ends in a poem must be a poetic process, and anything that ends in an original poem must be a creative process. What more could one say? A way of writing should have no interest for the public independent of what is written and published, and when the worth of what is written is established, it can be of no consequence whether it was written in this way or that. It is notorious that when poets talk among themselves they find little to say about the processes and procedures whereby they write. These have nothing interesting in common, and confessional anecdotes soon grow tedious. The problems in which poets show an engrossing common interest are those of publicity and finance: how to get their work before a 147 148Philosophy and Literature sufficient public at a rate that makes it not quite suicidal to devote some reasonable proportion of their lives to their exacting art. The process of writing enters into this concern only insofar as it is related to skill or luck in attracting commissions and similar opportunities. This has been said often; but, however often and emphatically it is said, it always needs to be said again. Yet people persist in asking about "the creative process" as though that were something above and beyond writing poems or painting pictures. What makes them persist in the face of such discouragement? Perhaps there are two things that seem so puzzling that they feel they must return to their question. First, since poetry for most poets is not a living and never has been, and is less likely to bring fame than to incur rejections and contemptuous reviews, one wonders what drives anyone to choose it for a career. And second, since poems are seldom asked for and even less often fill any social or economic need, how does one decide on any particular occasion to write a poem, and how does one decide what poem one shall write? Those do seem to be good questions. Yet to ask them presupposes one or both of two things, both strange or absurd. The first presupposition is that any activity that is not justified either by socio-economic yield or by an outcome successful in some other fashion is at best inexplicable and at worst suspect. But that is absurd, as Aristode showed: some activities must be valued for themselves alone, or nothing can have value. The second supposition is that to write poetry is to do something odd or at least something requiring explanation: that poetry is somehow not normal. But that would be a strange thing to suppose. The occasional practice of poetry seems to be very widespread. A large proportion of our young people commit themselves to verse at least once in their lives, and regular poets are not especially rare; history fails to record any society in which poetry was not practiced, or in which the poet was not...


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pp. 147-169
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