It’s most distressing for a writer when
he cannot think of what to write about
he stares at the blank page and bites his pen
nothing coming in or going out

he cannot think of what to write about
sitting stationary constipationary
nothing coming in or going out
and praying for an intermediary fairy

sitting stationary constipationary
fidgeting then looking at the clock
and praying for an intermediary fairy
to appear and break the writer’s block

he stares at the blank page and bites his pen
the poor pen’s riddled now with bites
it’s most distressing for a writer when
he has to bite his pen— but only right.

67 responses »

  1. Clever. Very. Wasted on me, though.

    The angry feminist in me wanted to change all your pronouns: Since “one” and “their” won’t do at all, in poetry, let’s at least have some works written by women feature “she” and “her”!

    The silly child in me was sticking out her tongue:
    “Let’s make that intermediary fairy an impatient Tooth variety. THAT’ll put an end to all that pen biting! Haw!”

    • Dear, dear Babe…..I could have predicted you might see it that way, and thank you for giving me a good friendly laugh this morning! Would you believe, I considered making all the “he” pronouns “she”,(because I could have been writing about myself) but the feminist in me (once alive but now defunct since I grew older and more worldly wise) decided that “she” would not have writer’s block; she would have been inspired and busily writing and not have to bite the pen. She decided she was too busy composing the poem to worry about the politics of resentment. She had finished that war a long time ago, declared victory, and come home.

  2. Of course it isn’t inexpensive for a pensive writer to chew up all his pens.

    And then, there’s something wrong with the English language:

    he or she stares at the blank page and bites his or her pen–as I am sure this attempt to correct the language messes up the meter of your line (or whatever–remember, I am not a poet).

    • You know, of course, that no one who writes well sets up ugly stumbling blocks to mar the flow of their prose with those dual pronouns. And I am glad not to find the word “gender” in your comment. Gender is a linguistic term referring to the quaint practice of giving inanimate objects masculine and feminine designations….in French, for example, and several other European languages. The English language has quirks, but gender isn’t one of them. And ‘it” remains an “it”… (though English prosody does have masculine and feminine metrics—but that’s linguistic, too.) Men and women, on the other hand, do not have gender, they have sex. But what can I say…some people are prudish and bothered by the word sex and insist on the incorrect term gender instead. You’re right about messing up the meter….but you are a poet, too, if not a versifier.

      • Men and women have sex, true enough, but there are so many other possibilities. What language could possibly keep up with our protean mores? Even poetry must have a hard time keeping up. And, gastropods, for instance, also presumably have sex. The possibilities all told are many. Help me out here.

        • Of course there are many possibilities, and thank goodness for that. But you see, men and women have sex, even when they are not “having sex.” That’s the point. Gastropods, I don’t know about, except to say that they do have ‘gender” in French, if not in English: in the singular they take the masculine definite article, no girls allowed. Whew! It’s a good thing I’m not writing French poetry these days, that’s all I can say!

  3. Yes I know how that goes. I enjoyed the play on words and a new word for me “constipationary” which fits so well into the rhythm and sonorous nature of this poem. I know that it had to be a pen that got chewed but note that few use pens these days. My writer’s block is generally before a keyboard or with pencil before blank paper. I must stop this analysis as the poem gives a universal message and a very clear message. It is very clever.

    • I don’t know if “constipationary” is an actual word, Jane. I just made it up, but haven’t looked it up. It ought to be, don’t you think? You might be surprised at how many people still do use pens as part of the writing process, these days. It’s that old brain to hand connection, unmediated by a device of any sort. I’m glad to have both the pen and the keyboard. They serve different phases of the writing process for me. Since I compose with the pen and edit with the keyboard, I wonder… can’t chew on a keyboard, so what does a blocked writer who uses only the keyboard do ….stare into space? Keep typing junk until something emerges? Hmmm…you’ve got me thinking!

        • Both are very handy….the old typewriter was difficult for erasing and revising, I thought. The pen allows you to cross out, but still see what you wrote (unlike the computer where all your past versions disappear). I think the younger generations are not going to use the pen as much, but, like you, I like the best of both worlds!

          • Very handy and very different as you say. With the computer, you can keep track of changes with the review function, but I never bother, it feels too complicated on the computer, for some reason.

  4. GREAT!! I love the way this is written – it’s probably another style I know nothing of…… My favourite lines: sitting stationary constipationary
    nothing coming in or going out

    You nailed that experience! I agree with you on the pronouns.

    • I’m glad you liked the pattern, Pauline. It’s a kind of “pantoum”, a bastardized Malayan form that seems to do funny things when adapted to English. It was fun to write and took me all of ten minutes! Glad you agree on the pronouns too. 🙂 Thanks.

  5. I love the title, especially the way you say it. I love that it does what pleases me most about poetry, it has concentration, crosstalk and language play, and it makes me laugh, but there is underlying grit. What is the form? A villanelle is in my mind, but I honestly don’t know.

    • It is indeed like a villanelle, Hilary, in that it is structured on whole lines that are repeated. It derives from a Malayan form, the “pantun” that came through the French (e.g. Baudelaire’s “Pamtoumes”) and was adapted to English by some 20th century Americans who watered it down, excised the rhyme and popularized it to make it an exercise for creative writing classes and workshops. I tend usually to avoid that kind of form, preferring traditional British and European ones in English. But thanks to some of my blogging buddies who were playing with it, I thought I would give it a try. It was a lark, really, a lot of fun, and I’m very pleased by your reception of it!

  6. I have been sitting here biting my computer mouse and wondering what to say! It is a most enjoyable “pantoum”, and I think the rhyming scheme you used greatly added to the effect and fun of it. I can only say “damn it” – you have beaten Susanne and myself at out own pantoum game!

    • I think I’ve already bent your ear enough about my thoughts on some of these adapted forms, Bruce, but I was very impressed by the way you and Susanne dealt with it. I eschewed the internet explanations of it and went back to my trusty old book of forms, and lo and behold, there was a description of it there that included rhyme. I wondered if the required rhyme scheme would help hold it together. I think it did, and it does. As I said above, it basically wrote itself in ten minutes. You and Sue were my inspiration [and Lewis Turco’s book of forms my usual trusty help.] Now you can write a sequel….something about a writer biting a mouse?

      • There’s a thought re the sequel… you’ve given me a definite idea… I’m finding that “exploring” these different forms that so many of the more recent “forced” forms often write about themselves… and about nothing else. In other words, I am starting to suspect that the “forms” themselves have little to offer content.

        • To me there is a difference between these “invented” forms and the ones that developed (and changed) organically with time, as natural language grew and evolved. A lot of the forms, like the “shadorma” (now there’s a real invention) and the so called “haiku” simply count syllables, and are done with it— no mention of the spirit or intent of the thing.

          English, on the other hand, is an ACCENTUAL/syllabic language….we have iambs, trochees, anapests and dactyls which lend whole different feelings to our lines of poetry….they are not simply technical words to memorize for a school lesson in prosody. By the same token, the sonnet, the ballad, and especially the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish forms were meant for particular kinds of content.
          The form helps, in the sense of limiting and honing and polishing, but it also attracts or repels certain kinds of content. The trick —and not a simple one—is to make them dance together, and say what you mean to say….or what you didn’t even know you wanted to say…without sounding like you’re living in the past, rewriting all the ones written before.

  7. I really like the image of the bitten pen, poor thing, and especially like constipationary. Well, if someone can call a spoon runcible, then you can make up constipationary. Yes, I think you’d gnaw on the mouse (or the cord) which could be dangerous.

    • I don’t think I was ever a pen-biter, but I used to watch my students, during an essay exam and saw a great many pen biters among them! I chuckle at the “runcible spoon”….do you know they have disposable plastic ones now? Not sure if that’s an improvement on the one the Owl and Pussycat had; it’s probably meant to substitute one weapon for two at backyard picnics.
      Bruce said he was biting his mouse….I hadn’t thought of your idea of the cord; that could indeed be dangerous!

      • I honestly thought a runcible spoon was a grapefruit spoon as a child. I was in college before I realized he’d made it up, but what a great word! I have never been a pen biter either. Much more likely to eat or bake something…

  8. “stationary constipationary” That is gold.

    I haven’t used a pen to write for years. (Well, except for when I was doing “The Artist’s Way” and I had to write three pages every morning but that only lasted a week.) So no pen biting but I have been known to throw the keyboard (in the days I used a desktop) or, now, I slam the laptop closed. Pens would be easier and cheaper to replace.

    • It’s probably generational, MoSY. When I was in the third grade, we wrote with steel pens, dipped into inkwells of india ink…..imagine the kids doing that today! Also, I worked professionally as a calligrapher, so….the pen is definitely my close friend (though it’s a gel pen now!). I don’t bite it, at all. But I also passed through the age of the mechanical typewriter, and that was a real pain in the butt, so I very much value my laptop keyboard, and all the wonders it can accomplish.

      P.S. I only lasted about a week with “The Artist’s Way” also. 🙂

      • I’ve used a nib and inkwell. But it was a re-enactment for our school centenary when I was in Grade 4. 😀
        I did, however, do shorthand and typewriting at high school. See, I’m not that young. For whatever reason, my thoughts seem to flow more easily when I type than when I use a pen. [shrugs]
        I think I gave up on The Artist’s Way when the task was to write about some horrible person in my past who must have said or done something to discourage me and that’s why I couldn’t believe in my own creative ability and I sat there and thought, “Nope. Can’t think of a single one.”
        Some of us just doubt ourselves. There’s no bogeyman in our past. We’re just our own worst enemy.

  9. These days, I think I feel the tiny (yet also infinitely large) imprints, or hollows, of the seeds of things that I think come back to their imprints to lay down. I can feel the darkness and the soil of darkness, rich, but the seeds are not there though their impressions are. I often wonder if the impressions are the seeds…I just wonder why i feel their hollows but not the seeds themselves, which makes me think the seeds are the words. People often describe a kind of “ripening” before understanding comes, i often feel like understanding (words) comes and fits into these hollows that are there in my body/mind. The things I don’t know how to express come to life with the right words, when they come my way…just a little musing : )

    • That’s a truly lovely musing, Anna, and a prose poem in itself! It reminds me of Thich Nhat Hahn who attempts to explain the dark/light, good/evil coloring of the world as seeds that we carry within ourselves—some from our own unique experience, and some inherited from our ancestors—and how we should water the good ones and let the not-so-good ones die back. You are seeing the seeds as words. I agree that they do come your way—the right ones—if you’re lucky. But for me they come from other words; words engender words. I trust that process.

  10. Fabulous. I just loved it and have nothing clever to add. And can’t get the image of Bruce chewing on his mouse out of my head now. (the artist’s way…ergh…kind of glad that wasn’t just me…) 🙂

    • Thanks, Bianca. That truly is a funny image, of Bruce and his mouse. Maybe he’ll write a poem or story about it….though we know something very untoward will happen by the end of it! 🙂

  11. Very pensive. Love the play on words … stationary constipationary is my favorite … and the play with pen, pensive, write, and right, made me grin. Well done oh Peanut of the Night.

  12. I couldn’t help but laugh, you use the most interesting combination of words – perfect for the moment “stationary constipationary.” It is amazing to me how you come up with the most interesting lines when writing about something that gnaws at every writer (and artists too). Love it Cynthia.

    Hope you have a beautiful weekend (we might see snow Saturday, but today in the 60’s).

    • Those two adjectives, stationary, constipationary, seem to be a big hit, this time around, Mary. Who woulda thunk it? I guess we all know what it’s like to come up against that wall when we are trying to create something. You have a good weekend, too. Enjoy your Texas snow!

        • I’m happy to say none of my pens are bitten…and that’s saying a lot, because I once worked professionally as a calligrapher…I have steel pens, quill pens, reed pens, brush pens, gel pens…etc. etc.. and nibs out the kazoo! All kidding aside, I don’t believe in writer’s block, though I know some people say they suffer from it. The work comes in its own good time, when the time is right; and if I think I’m supposed to write and cannot (you’re right, it’s a rare event) then I put down my pen and go do something else for awhile, until the words are ready to come. There are enough forced and unnecessary words floating around the world; I don’t need to add to them. 🙂

  13. Ah, but Cynthia, doesn’t the muse always return eventually, often at the most unlikely or inconvenient moment? I’ve jumped out of showers or pulled into motorway service stations to scribble something down. I don’t like forcing a poem, though I did write three at a workshop the other night. I find the real stuff comes in its own sweet way, in its own good time.

    My very best to you Stateside from wintry Wales,


    • You are so right, Paul….the good stuff, the real stuff comes in its own good time, and I laugh with you as you jump out of the shower or pull off the road to scribble something down: been there, done that, as current parlance has it. The funny thing is, if I don’t make an immediate note, and think I will remember that wonderful snippet of a phrase or idea, it does get lost—especially as the years pile up. ‘Tis a truly mysterious business we’re about. There is serious snow falling as I look out my window this morning. I hope you’re keeping warm in wintry Wales!

    • It’s so amusing, isn’t it? I did not set out to say that, but once again, readers have given it a whole context I didn’t even think about…I love when that happens! Thanks, Inese.

  14. Oh Cynthia I do believe
    That when you sit at your word processor
    It’s Divine guidance that you receive
    And the words just flow professor

    I cannot bear to think that you
    Bite your pen and look at the clock
    Your words are from the heart and true
    And you never get the dreaded block

    The writer’s block is for someone like me
    Who waits for the fairy inspirationary
    Hours later I rise to make a cup of tea
    Convinced that inspiration is not brought by a fairy

    • How delightful! A poem for a poem! It’s true, Shubha, that I don’t suffer writer’s block very much, but it’s also true that I don’t try to write until something moves me to it…not a fairy, of course, but a mysterious urge or inspiration, (I like your word “inspirationary”) probably what is called “the muse.” Thank you so much for your verses, I loved finding them here. Now go have that cup of tea; you deserve it!

    • Oh what a laugh! I just made up that word, thinking that if it wasn’t a real adjective, it ought to be. Just now, when I read your comment, I googled “constipationary,” just to see if it was a real word, and the first entry for the word was myself, this blog, this poem! I’m famous! 🙂

  15. “sitting stationary constipationary, nothing coming in or going out” – lol 😂 I’ve been this way for some time. An inspirational relaxational laxative is in order.

    • I’ve learned there’s such a thing as dry periods. The key is not to worry and thereby force the natural process into what it does not want to do. I believe I read some of your advice on another blog…something about taking the time to lounge on the sofa and eat chocolates…that’s the ticket. You are an artist, and things will out.

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