Friday, December 10, 2021


You are invited to read Tony Trigilio's fascinating essay, "Writing What You Don't Know: Poetry and the Arcane." You can see the entire essay at BIG OTHER, but here's an excerpt:

As I mention earlier, the advice to “Write what you know” reaches its limit in the presence of the arcane. To be sure, writing what you know can be empowering as a validation of the truth and wisdom of your experience. But I would suggest instead that the most productive work comes from those moments when we write what we don’t know—when, to channel Spicer again, we “interfere” with the boundaries of the known and attune our ears to what is being spoken to us from the arcane “Outside.”

More specifically, these are moments in which we interfere with the part of ourselves that doesn’t want to step out of the boundaries of common sense, that fears getting lost in the dark wood of unknowing. On the surface, it might seem counter-intuitive to welcome an alien frame of reference, a strange and destabilizing angle of vision, as we sit in front of the blank screen ready to write. But if we are to discover new ways of seeing the world, as good writing can help us do, then we might need to loosen our grip on the most familiar, ordinary parts of our everyday consciousness: “You have to, as much as possible, empty yourself for this,” Spicer says. The arcane doesn’t have to reside in outer space. Instead, it can be found among us, planted firmly on planet Earth—in gossip, scandal, and soap opera kitsch, to name a few possibilities—an affirmation of the wisdom and insight we can find when we celebrate, rather than domesticate, our most eccentric curiosities.