Thursday, May 31, 2007

Livvie and Rilke and Me

People talk of Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet" as a fate-driven catalyst - it is put in their hands by a mother, or a lover, and skews their life to a new direction. I have, in fact, never heard of anyone buying the book for themselves, it is always a gift - frankincense and myrrh before the new writer. I take the fact that I did not immediately read the copy my mother gave to me as another indication that I am not a poet (besides the fact that every poem I have attempted has been an embarrassing failure).

My daughter Olivia, just turned four, not content to wait for an agent of fate to offer the book to her, ripped the dustjacket off of my copy at two - clawing it from the bookshelf. Like a spiderweb, I would find the book in the most unexpected places: tucked between sheets, stacked with her Disney DVDs, on her bathroom stool. A storytime fidgeter, she would bring the small burgundy volume to me, devoid of illustration, sit quiet and statue-still in my lap, insisting that I read it to her. This is all the more curious, in that her older brother is much more inclined toward the solitudinous persuasion of Rilke's insistence then her hell-on-all terrain-wheels.

Finally reading the pair of Rilke books I solely own, including "Letters", in preparation to read M. Allen Cunningham's new novel about Rilke "Lost Son", I recognize what all the Rilke fuss is about. But unless I am overcome by the occasional urge to attempt poetry again, Rilke will only speak to half of me - the lover of literature, over the creator of literature - for though I recognize the truth in his observations, I feel that for "Letters" to have a catalyzing effect on me in my writing, it needed to be administered earlier, when my chemistry was still in tempest; now I feel more viscous in my process and motivations, so that even if I was penetrated by Rilke's advice and insight it is not immediately quantifiable. I tend to be more influenced by writing, than writing about writing, the majority of the time.

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