Gifts, Callings, Bad Poetry

Reading on The Gift has slowed since my initial, awe-struck immersion into its exploration of creativity and the necessary, yet particular, sorts of generosity and openness it entails. Much of the reason is that Hyde has moved from using a variety of folk and cultural examples to illustrate his point into a focused, full-blown discussion of Walt Whitman and the way the poet accepted what was around him and engaged in the work of gratitude to then churn out verses in response. Hyde does accept that some of the dude’s lines were pretty strained– but I’ll have to admit to general intolerance for the Big American Poet. His work has always felt to me as if the man is trying too hard to convince us how wonderful everything– maybe even he himself– is, in spite of the societal problems he acknowledges; all the praise of nature and cities and kinky spirits sounds like the stuff of a high-school drama nerd running around in poet blouses and over-emoting in the lunchroom. I get what Hyde wants to say: that we have to be open to and receive what’s around us as a gift, which is only dormant, or not fully realized, until we hand it back after having done our work on it. Super– but I wish he could have found a better writer to employ as an example.

I did just finish Bartleby & Co., which was enjoyable, and for good or ill, continues to support me in my not really wanting to rise above my literary laziness and go after writerly glory. Here, for instance, the narrator gives us an excerpt from a Derek Walcott poem (I’m not sure which one), one of those amazing instances where the writer seems to have taken your thought right out of your head:

One could abandon writing
for the slow-burning signals
of the great, to be, instead,
their ideal reader, ruminative,
voracious, making the love of masterpieces
superior to attempting
to repeat or outdo them,
and be the greatest reader in the world. (1)

I’ve often wondered if that might be enough for me, a real role to assume: a truly appreciative and attentive reader. Doesn’t every writer need us? Would literature, or its creators, survive, were we not around to lap up amazing word constructions and narrative sleight of hand? I wouldn’t even need to be the greatest reader in the world (cf. my snoozing through Whitman), but simply committed to and gifted at the practice of my true calling: namely, reading. And as Hyde would say, that gift– which (should) keep those truly called to writing going– cannot be bought or sold, and so as long as I keep on doing and enjoying it, that should be enough.

Shouldn’t it?


(1) Enrique Vila-Matas, Bartleby & Co., transl. Jonathan Dunne (New York: New Directions), 2000: 154.


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