I said something deep today while talking on the phone with JAA. The discussion was about ourselves as writers. A notoriously douchey conversation topic, but we are writers so we talk about that thing a bunch.
We had stumbled into a discussion of looking backwards at our old work. Seeing what it was about. Learning from it. Personal archeology. JAA writes in journals all the time. Every few months he takes a journal and moves the work onto a computer and begins to edit. I tend to not write things down. It means I forget a bunch, but the written word is like concrete to me and I don't like to set things too early.
I mentioned that I do have a pretty rigorous computer filing system. It's by year and alphabetical. I even put draft numbers in there.
I mentioned that I was sifting through poems from 2000 recently. That it felt like a gift to be able to go back to that time and rethink the work. Edit it. And here's where I got all deepish. I said:
As writers, we get to rewrite our pasts. Erase it. Rework it until it's perfect.
And thinking on that, I realize that I meant it. But not in a erasing the past to pretend it didn't happen way. In a way similar to a cover-up tattoo. You will always remember that there was something else there, Always. And maybe only you can see it. But it exists. Foundational. Underneath.
I've been thinking a lot about foundation lately. Being back in NM has led me down paths I walked 12 years ago. My early 20s were spent writing a lot and working only on weekends. It was great in the way only your college years can be.
My foundation as a writer is in that space. That work. Re-reading it, I am struck by how of that space I was. Writing angry anti-war poems. Aping Ginsberg's voice. Trying to write a poem about body image form a woman's perspective. A few slightly questionable sex poems that border on being rapey. It's all very young man of me. Very Bush V. Gore of me.
At the same time I've been reading a few actual foundational texts for my Pub Weekly review gig. I read a new translation of One Thousand and One Nights by Hanan-al-Shaykh. And then this week I did the new Wole Soyinka translation of Forest of a Thousand Daemons by D. O. Fagunwa. The Fagunwa book is only from 1939 but is deeply foundational to modern African lit. 1001 Nights is obviously foundational to most lit.
They relate to each other in tone, in topics, and in structure. They both are about someone telling stories. They both rely heavily on morality and on a readers pre-known knowledge of certain tropes. They 'teach'. And they both have deep, problematic sex politics.
Foundational literature - Aesop. Plato. 1001 Nights. Forest of a Thousand Daemons - is a thing we often don't think about. That little hidden thought in the back of our head. It only rears up when we actually reopen the file saved away somewhere. When we stare into it long enough to see ourselves in there.
The ugly and the beautiful.