How to write and where to write to write like Alexander Pope
Posted by Luke Neima on Fri, 06 Jun 2014
I’ve had my knuckles down and writing all week this week – and while making some progress on the novel I’ve also made a parallel effort to optimise my working conditions (mostly as an exercise in procrastination – and a very effective one). I’ve let it get to a slightly obsessive state – everything is considered, from the location of the chair relative to the window (light coming in but no opportunity to look out), to the position of the two large lamps (minimal glare, optimal luminescence), the spacing of books relative to pens and paper, all the way to the timing and location of any associated beverages (coffees, waters, infusions, chocolates, wines, whiskeys – anything in any way stimulating or inhibition-releasing).
There are, I like to think, a few things which actually help – working solely with pen and paper, for instance. Computers are devices designed to destroy time - inferior black holes. At least when I open mine, a half hour disappears immediately. If I try writing on one ten minutes of work somehow equates to 1-2 hours of real time. So I've taken to leaving mine in the bedroom, along with my phone, unless I desperately need to look something up (always a gamble).
The other thing I’ve been depending on is a very large table to strew my notes across. I have a couple hundred pages of printed-off fragments to organise, and the table, luckily, is large enough to accommodate. Eight separate piles, arranged according to an intuitive (read: useless) sorting method that tries to incorporate usability, intensity of fragmentation, need of repair, and that old chestnut chronological incidence. Somehow, though, having everything in paper in front of me is satisfying and cohesive in a way that I never get from the computer.
I was happy to find out, via The Paris Review, that I’m not the only writer who’s ever been obsessed with space. Alexander Pope, coiner of aphorisms like “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” (which makes a cameo in not one but two great Elvis tunes) and “What reason weaves, by passion is undone”. He suffered from Pott’s disease, which left him a hunched four foot six, and he was further ostracised from society due to his Catholicism.
Pope's Palladian villa at Twickenham became a kind of refuge, and was embellished with what he called a “Homeric grotto” - filled with ores, spars, mundic, stalactites, crystals, Bristol and Cornish diamonds, marbles, alabaster, snakestones and spongestone. Not a bad array. Dr Johnson wasn’t so taken with it – he noted that “a grotto is not often the wish or pleasure of an Englishman, who has more frequent need to solicit rather than exclude the sun.” It’s underground passages are still hidden underneath the modern buildings of Radnor House School – you can get an idea of their extent from this drawing:
Sketch of the grotto by Samuel Lewis, 1785
There’s also been some very strong writing about reclusive on ABC over the past few weeks – our pick of the week is Stolen a series by LisaH detailing a young woman’s retreat to a tiny, privately owned Shetland Island. What starts out as a way to find herself – and recover from a very traumatic year – turns into something terrifying. On top of some of the best plotting I’ve read in ages is a descriptive eye – for nature and for the isolated mind – which reads like a modern-day Defoe. The latest instalment is about as tense as things get, but start from the beginning if you’re new to the series – it’s the perfect kind of a reading for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Our poem of the week is Kilb50’s ‘Unknown Mountain’ - a verse that captures that near-deification with which a climber approaches a mountain, the magnitude in mind that matches that of stone, and stretches the conceit till it fits over all the trappings of a character – psyche, childhood and self.