August 13, 2015

At Home With Poets and Writers

Does Robert Frost's Franconia, NH home fit his poetry?

The Saturday Review used to include a Writer's Desk page with a photo and brief piece about where a writer did their writing. Those writers included Charles Bukowski and Raymond Carver. That led me to explore both in person and online the homes of other writers. Perhaps, looking at a writer's writing space gives some clues to what they wrote or how they wrote. Perhaps.

Take a peek at the homes of Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Paul Dunbar and Walt Whitman.

President Abraham Lincoln had written a poem about his home, which opens with this stanza

My childhood home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it too.

and ends with this:

I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I’m living in the tombs.

The boathouse in Wales where Dylan Thomas spent the last 4 years of his life. did a feature on the home in poetry in which they say the home can be a "mythic, imagined place, the location of childhood memories, or the brick-and-mortar remainder of a broken relationship. It can represent the proverbial 'room of one’s own,' the simple pleasures of eating and gardening, or hold the drudgery of chores."

Stanley Kunitz said in an interview that, “There was a cloud that hung over our house in Worcester, Massachusetts and it took me almost fifty years or more before I could face it in a poem [The Portrait].”

The "cloud" was formed by the deaths of his father who publicly committed suicide weeks before Kunitz’s birth, and the death of his stepfather and both of his sisters.

W.H. Auden wrote a collection, About the House in which the home becomes an extension of the self.

I suppose I must be quite at home in the world of poetry, because I got 9 out of 10 correct on The Guardian's quiz about poets' houses.Any guesses about what writers used these homes?

I used to believe that I could be a better and more productive writer if I had an isolated cabin in the woods in order to write. I suspect many of you have fantasized about having a place in the woods, a mountaintop or island retreat where we could go and find inspiration and peace.

There is no good evidence that those places actually do inspire writers or allow them to focus, and there are plenty of writers who work in cities and at home surrounded by distractions. 

If you are interested in this topic, you might enjoy reading The Writing Life: Writers On How They Think And Work, American Writers at Home and Writers' Houses.

We know that a writer’s genius does not come from the place where they do their writing. But I think that when writers find some kind of retreat or escape their homes for a place to write, that does tell you something about them, and that space may actually be the inspiration for their writing. I like knowing about a writer’s tools. Pad and paper, or fountain pen, legal pads, an old manual typewriter or a laptop computer? I like seeing where writers work.

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