“The Lady …
The lady is a humble thing
Made of death and water
The fashion is to dress it plain
And use the mind for border”
― Elise Cowen
I’m not sure why but the first time I ever set eyes on a picture of Elise Cowan I wanted to know more about her. I can’t explain why, I just felt something. What I did find was a marvelous poet with a brilliant mind. She was a woman dressed in black with these thick-rimmed glasses; little did I know just how much I would love her work. Why am I writing about her? Well I know you can find anything you like on the Internet but I want you to know her and read her work. It is a rather sad tale and I believe that no one should ever be left in their literary grave and go unnoticed.
I often wondered, what ever happened to the women of the Beat Generation? They may have written, they may have sat next to Ginsberg in a café or along the bar next to Kerouac but what lurked inside them. Some of these women were thought of as the muse or the girlfriend; the hanger-on. Deep down these women had fire in their bellies and poetry in their souls and it was dying to come out, dying to be heard. Disturbingly, I have read pieces online saying that the Beat women were just not good enough writers but of course every piece of art is subjective; it is for the reader to decide. Elise did not want to be unsuccessful or contained in any way. She hated the fact that becoming a successful writer like the men around her could be an impossible task. She was admitted into hospital because of the deterioration in her mental health but soon checked herself out; she went back to her parent’s house where she committed suicide. Elise was just 28 years old.
Her lifelong depression was certainly reflected in her poetry. Her work was very real, very haunting with a free form structure. It felt distant yet so personal and relevant. During her short life, Elise didn’t have any poems published and it is very sad to learn that only a small portion of her poetry survived of which some have appeared in various collections thanks to a friend of hers. In 2014 a volume was put together from her only surviving notebook, titled Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments, edited by Tony Trigilio.
Recognized only for her associations in the Beat movement, her writing went unseen. We never hear that Elise was a writer, they often say “wasn’t she Ginsberg’s girlfriend?” After her death her parents burnt her work, its content disturbed them with its references to sex and drugs and they didn’t want it going public. To burn the very words that seep from a writer’s soul is to destroy it altogether but her poetry still lives on. Her parent’s decision to burn her work is quite disgraceful but like a phoenix, she certainly did rise from the ashes even if she isn’t around to see just how many people enjoy her work.
“If you only write when you’re inspired you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist because you’re going to have to make your word count today and those words aren’t going to wait for you whether you’re inspired or not.
You have to write when you’re not inspired. And you have to write the scenes that don’t inspire you. And the weird thing is that six months later, a year later, you’ll look back at them and you can’t remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you just wrote because they had to be written next.
The process of writing can be magical. …Mostly it’s a process of putting one word after another.”
I think there could be a chance that most of us creators wander the earth in hope of being struck by the most wonderful inspiration. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen like that – although you may get an idea. This is what inspiration really is to me, an idea. This idea cannot be fully formed in one single moment like most people think.It needs to be developed, stretched, trimmed and molded into something that makes sense or not, depending on your school of thought.
I spent many years waiting for this great moment only to find that it never really existed and the truth of the matter is if I had just waited I would never have written anything at all. I have a romantic notion about seeing an event or being told something terribly important and that sparks an idea, a novel, a Hollywood blockbuster…but it never happens. What does happen is a tiny seed is planted in my mind, consciously or subconsciously and during its infancy it makes me write notes, do research, seek new places to visit and collect images. Then it grows bit by bit until it is a full-grown flower that blooms. That seed won’t just fly through the air and land on you, sometimes you have to call it to you and that is by sitting down and writing. You can start with notes, you could read lots of books of the same genre you wish to write in, you never know when that seed is ready to be planted but you have to help it along. I think we can probably match this to the “I wish I could win the lottery” grumble only to find out that this moany person never plays the lottery. If you don’t put the wheels in motion you will never know where your creative adventure will take you.
On occasion I have written parts of a story only to come across a new possibility. My character has done something that could change the whole course of the tale – it is a brilliant feeling, at that point I don’t want to leave my desk. Without making myself sit and do the work – that amazing change would never have happened. I don’t want to labour the point here but you need to sit down and write and write and write. If you write something you believe is just rubbish, keep it, it may be useful at some point. Even if you write one paragraph at least you know you have written something.
Never give up on it, no matter what. If your life’s work is to be a writer then you know what to do…write.
I have often looked for inspiration. I now know it doesn’t quite exist as a moment of greatness. In the past I have walked miles to find it, read pages to see if it was hiding in-between the words and I have trawled the World Wide Web in hope of catching a glimpse of my next project. I will force myself to sit and write and sometimes there are great moments or I get sparks of inspiration that light me up like a firework. I have a rush of excitement run through my veins. This was one of these moments when I read Jessie Burton’s debut novel – The Miniaturist.
I am very guilty of living in the past and I will be honest – I don’t care who knows. I have picked up so many bestsellers in my time and have been disappointed beyond chapter two. Some have slipped through the net but they are rare, so when I buy books they generally tend to be from the 1920s-1980’s.
Rewind a few months ago when I picked up a copy of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. The launch of the book and its publicity was all over social media when it was first published back in 2014, I decided to have a look at the plot and then I bought the book. Well, it blew me away and so did she. After reading it I was so enchanted by the world she had created, these characters were rich and wonderful. I would sit at my desk in work waiting for my commute to begin just so I could get back into another chapter. After reading it I went online and happened upon her blog that although not updated very often, is full of amazingly brilliant and honest thoughts. This post right here was especially important in my return to writing. She had (from afar) kicked me up the rear end into starting my novel again. I then had a bit of a book hangover when I finished the last page; I wanted it to go on for longer.
Then I read her second novel The Muse and again, I absolutely fell in love with the characters, the setting and how it was all wrapped up in the world of art. It did worry me that the second novel syndrome might strike but it didn’t. It was never going to be like her first novel because it was a different story and a different time.
It isn’t very often that I find new writers that I can hands down say are brilliant at their art; Jessie is wonderful and I hope you think so too. Please see her interview from the BBC when she first published her debut novel, I love to hear how writers create their art and this is just great.
Image of Jessie from The Independent Newspaper
The book is too good
You want to finish your book because it is so good but you don’t – how does one carry on after such an amazing story?
Hi new friend!
When you buy a brand new book that has just been released and you hug it like an old friend.
When people talk to you and you are obviously reading.
When you would rather buy books than food. Or clothing.
How will I live without you?
Forgetting your book when you have a commute ahead of you can lead to withdrawal symptoms, pining and sometimes tears.
And your point is…?
Having about five books on the go at the same time and still being able to track each plot.
I still have book vouchers to cash in, let’s not be so hasty
When someone asks you what book is your favourite and realise you would know that answer if you died in 30 seconds from now but you also realise you have the rest of your life to read more books and who knows how amazing they can be.
I’m sorry? It’s not written on paper?
Kindles or PDF’s of books. Just no!
Just call me the book donkey
Tote bags are a gift to the reader – now you don’t have to wait for that book in paperback to fit into your handbag.
Shelves cost money and I don’t have any room in my book budget
When shelves are actually – desks, tables, the floor…