Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I was talking to someone today about "projects." It's a term you hear a lot in quasi-literary discussions and I think it's a bit of a problem. This person wrote to me because a friend of hers was concerned about the fact that she didn't write poems in an organized, project-oriented way and thought that she should be, and what did I think about that? Well, I think she shouldn't worry about it, at least not if it's out of a sense of that's-how-it-should-be-done. Some people work quite naturally in that way. Rachel, my wife, is one such person, and I know several others. I'm not one of them and I know I'm far from alone.

People's creative processes are as different as the people themselves. This strikes me as an altogether positive thing. But there is quite a bit of pressure, subtle and otherwise, in our culture to conform to a certain mode of artistic production. I was talking to another poet recently who, like me, is prone to distraction and to working unsystematically on several things at once. It's hard, if you're honest about this, to apply for grants, because the entity holding the purse always wants to know what it is you're going to be using the money for. Trouble is, if I'm honest, I might as well not bother applying for the grants at all, because I rarely have a good idea of what it is I'm working towards until I'm almost finished. My friend has gone so far as to complain to the Canada Council about this discriminatory bias, but to no effect. This is even more futile than filling out honest grant applications.

So this is why people feel they ought to be "doing projects," even if it's a completely unnatural thing for them. In another recent conversation, a friend of mine said that she felt obliged to continue working on a project that she wasn't happy with because she'd received a grant for it. I and others at the table told her that was ridiculous: drop the project and write whatever you want to. This is the good news: once you've got the money, they can't take it back. Even someone dumb enough to give money to a poet should know better than to expect anything in return, never mind exactly what the poet promised.

The moral of the story is that if you want to get ahead, you're best off lying. Fortunately, few people are better equipped for the task than poets.

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