“Nomade, 2007” by Jaume Plensa, found in Des Moines Sculpture Garden, Iowa
Photo Credit: Catherine Keefe
Everyone asks why there can be no fiction in Composing Self.
Exactly, I say. I say there’s enough to blow your mind in the world without having to stop and say:
But. Is. This. True?
I say, only those who don’t have to worry about the next meal and the roof overhead have the luxury of stopping to study this thing called “self” and why writers might create one. I say you’d better look around and share your voice with those too weak to speak and you’d better write true or you might be dismissed.
How real is this?
Let’s say: 911,395,855
That’s how many “undernourished people in the world right now” there are. Were. It grows by the second.
1,557,016,576 is the bigger number of the bigger number of “overweight people in the world right now.” Growing too.
Real time statistics fluttering up each second on StoptheHunger.com
Who could make that up?
Do you know how many bodies are – according to the very real “Famine Scale” – a “cause for concern?”
That real scale is made up of steps based on body counts, numbers per thousand, steps reaching toward heaven on piles of corpses creating an overall “Crude Mortality Rate.” Is there any other kind of mortality rate from a preventable death?
These silent statistic sentinels hold back a monsoon. Behind each digit rounded to the nearest million
is a name,
a name with a real live birth date and a coming-too-soon death date
with mothers human
and fathers too
Meanwhile, we’re over here stuffing ourselves. Really really, I could write a story about that, replies the one who writes novels as if this has never occurred to me.
As if I’ve never read Hamsun or Kafka, García Márquez, or Lispector, or Morrison or Martel.
“But what about testimonial literature?” my friend from Argentina asks, the one who survived barely the unclean war and has lots of fiction to contribute.
“We call it fiction so no one can say, ‘that didn’t really happen.’”
I say, enough of that open door.
“But what about censorship? Your perspective is so Freedom of Speech American,” says my friend who won’t let me use her name or place her birthplace on the map.
Exactly, I say, my freedom means I can limit your “write to censor.”
And then, the intake of breath. And the question, as if I’ve never read Dante.
“Ah, but why allow poetry?”
They all ask this, as if I’ve somehow allowed myself to unwittingly be trapped by the “I.”
“Is poetry true the way nonfiction is true?” They ask, licking their chops, waiting to pounce upon a debate I may be unprepared for. Yes, I say, and now I can let David Shields and his Reality Hunger Manifesto take over because he got to the page first.
“The poem and the essay are more intimately related than any two genres, because they’re both ways of pursuing problems, or maybe trying to solve problems.”
And I’ll defend further than David, to where my limb droops under the weight of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s line: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
Poems are true the way music is true the way photography without Photo Shop is true, the way flesh and sunrise and dirt and death, birth and hunger and warm hands are true. The poet is the response, the mirror, the lens to reality. Poetic inspiration – quite literally, poetic inspirare from the Latin “to breathe” – is shaped by the willow whistle of crafted composition to give language to the universal human experience.
You can write a poem without a character, a poem about an apple, a pie, a sun.
You cannot write fiction without character.
I can’t keep track of every human right now.
I don’t want to add imaginary numbers to the people to keep track of in my heart.
Everyone asks why there is no fiction in Composing Self.
Exactly, I say.
It is all too true.
What you just read, is one example of a manifesto. Put, most simply, it’s “a public declaration of intentions, opinions or motives,” according to the authors of “Writer’s Community,” a blog dedicated to writer development.
Can you write a manifesto for your final?