the responsibility of the writer to say yes

Monday was our first meeting of this spring’s Write Whole: Survivors Write group. For the second of our writes that night, I offered a series of three sentences/fragments — the idea is to choose one (or let one choose you), and let your writing flow in response. Here were the prompts:

When was the last time I told my story?
It is the responsibility of the writer to…
I don’t want to write about…

I used the second of those for my own writing; that fragment was inspired by Grace Paley’s poem “Responsibility.” Here’s what I wrote:

It is the responsibility of the writer to tell it like it is, to tell truths that make no sense, to make poetry out of contradiction, to find the laughter in what cut us to the bone. It is the responsibility of the writer to name the bone and the knife, to put a name to every finger and give the voice of the blood released, it is the responsibility of the writer to talk in metaphor and juxtaposition, to define the bumblebee curl for the masses, to tell about what lies beneath the pretty stones and responsible stories of our history. It is the responsibility of the writer to turn up the stones, to peel back the painted-over walls, to unlock the closets, to look beneath the bed, to translate the unwritten rules, to describe how silence feels when it gets wrapped around you at night, to ask “what happened then?” It’s the responsibility of the writer to follow her own words, to write what wants to be written — even if it’s not what someone else wants her to write: family or community or lovers or friends or comrades in the struggle: what happens if she lets no one dictate the direction of her pen?

It is the responsibility of the writer to wander and imagine, to daydream and fictionalize, to hold open uninterrupted hours with his dictionary, to make up words and re-visualize details. It is the responsibility of the writer to go deeper, to play dress-up, to go everywhere someone tells them they’re not supposed to go. It is the responsibility of the writer to contradict their own truths, to find a third way, to evangelize and desecrate. It is the responsibility of the writer to tell their own story, and then tell the story underneath that story, and then create poems for the story beneath that — to take all day trying to find just the right way to describe that particular blue, the quiet and specific blue of his eyes or his shirt or the sky on the day, on the first day or the third day or the last.

It is the responsibility of the community to give the writers the space and resources to accomplish this wild and peculiar labor; it is the responsibility of the community to offer bread and notebooks and money, to — well, if not always welcome these words, then at least to welcome their spirit. It is the responsibility of the writer to say yes to their improbable creative vision, to grab hold of its great black mane, and give over to this earthly ride. It’s the responsibility of the writer to feed herself — words and water and protein, all manner of nourishment. It is the responsibility of the writer to deviate from sanity, but to keep hold of a lifeline back into the mind that is her right. It is the responsibility of the writer to sing with brown sparrows and canaries, to climb fences with squirrels, to prowl the night with alley cats, to circle hot and high with hawks, to run roughshod over city streets, to bring asphalt-stained memory to the page and offer that terrible, necessary song out to her world.

One response to “the responsibility of the writer to say yes

  1. This makes me feel like I have a purpose.
    Love this:
    “It is the responsibility of the writer to deviate from sanity, but to keep hold of a lifeline back into the mind that is her right.”
    and this:
    “and offer that terrible, necessary song out to her world.”
    Gave me chills!!!
    Thank you for this.