So, as some of you may know by now, a lot of my poetry is heavily influenced by mental spaces and human consciousness. I’ve been exploring what I’ve been referring to as a “three-dimensional consciousness” which is, the closest holistic view of yours or another’s mind works. I’ve been unpacking this idea lately with a lot more fervor, as my desire to paint a holistic image of certain people has been at a great height. When I say ‘certain people’ I mean that, I’ve come to realize as a writer that the people or events that are hardest for me to write about are lacking substance or gaps of time due to my own mental illness, and memory’s general lapses and unreliability. I’ve been focusing more on SPECIFIC details about these people, which, for family members can be easy (when I am around them and can record specific body movements, engage in conversations with them). However, for me, I’ve been more focused on forging this three-dimensional consciousness for those that we don’t have the luxury of being in the presence of. My motivation in doing this is twofold. 1) I recognize the power of poetry to be a self-preserving act, that I have full control & agency over, and recognize the power of this in healing from traumatic events. Part of this may be painting a holistic image of someone no longer in my life, or deceased, in order to come to terms with losing them, and fossilize their presence in my art. and 2) my passion for psychology & gender issues has led me to be very angry over the years at the portrayal of mentally ill female writers. one of my favorite writers, Virginia Woolf, was victim of a false or not wholesome picture of her character, and more famous example of this would be Sylvia Plath. I want to achieve this three-dimensional consciousness for figures like these to prove the irony of how we used to view women, and to hopefully alter the way biographies are written and recorded in the future. & raise appreciation for writers such as Virginia.
That being said, the purpose of this post is to explore a specific person, Virginia Woolf, as a source for my poetic writing and also a key inspiration to developing consciousness as a source as well. As some of you may know, I’ve got quite the passion for Virginia Woolf & her life. She is, for lack of a more conventional phrase, my trans-generational soulmate.
Lately I’ve been really into biographies, and interviews, and other kind of secondary source material. There’s a more wholesome and raw quality to transcribed interviews, and biographies are very comforting because they give agency to the whole of someone’s life, rather than focusing on their big period of success at the end of the life, or, in the case of female writers, focusing on their mental illness & suicide.
I am not going to be using this post to list off reasons for my kinship with Woolf, and I will refrain from ranting and raving about her work. But I will try to sum up, to some degree, that Woolf represents to me the penultimate model of the benefits of creative expression as self-preservation, and the resiliency of someone trying to balance the light with the dark, and is only remembered for the dark thereafter.
Of course, simply because I admire her, and she is my favorite author, does not make Virginia Woolf a source to my poetic writing. And, as much as I may want her to be, she doesn’t have to be a source to my writing. But she is. In more ways than one.
I’ve found myself enamored with the fact that mentally ill female writers are written off for being hysterical and not capable enough to take in life in all its multitudes. What is most ridiculous about this, to me, is that the mentally ill definitely have a sixth sense, and I would argue that women have that too. The fact that these women lived as long as they did, while also producing an immense amount of work, is admirable. I think this frustration is what propelled me to dig deeper to uncover the characteristics or stories of these people that are not popularized. I’ve been obsessively reading biographies about her, reading her personal volumes of letters, diaries, and essays. I’ve begun coming across very minute details that offer an entirely new perspective on Virginia Woolf. For example, I just finished a book that is entirely recollections & interviews from Woolf’s closest friends, family members, and coworkers. It is divided into sections, such as Woolf at Hogarth Press, her with friends, Traveling with Woolf, and the letters of condolence that were passed between these people when they heard about her death. It gives you a feel for the kind of person she was in various settings.
While reading these recollections, I kept coming across specific phrases that were used to describe Woolf, that struck me as entirely different from the phrases I was used to encountering while reading scholarly essays about her novels, and even in a majority of biographies about her. You can guess that the latter were phrases such as “madwoman,” “hysterical,” “loss of sanity” etc. The phrases that I collected from these recollections (ha pun unintended) were SO diverse and really calculated to what each individual thought of her. It made me realize that the way in which people are portrayed, across any medium of writing, can really lead to biases in the way we reflect on famous writers. I will copy down my list of phrases describing Adeline Virginia Woolf by her close friends, family, and contemporaries, and leave it here:
“Like a great bird”
“Like a frozen falcon”
“Beauty of bone”
“Very enchanting, faithful friend”
“A great storyteller”
“Tough, uncouth, out-of-Bellows Bohemian”
“A lunar remoteness”
“A beauty that increased with age”
“Possessed an ability to weave magic into life”
I will continue to give agency back to those who have inspired me in my writing pursuit, and in my living philosophies. I can definitely count Woolf as a source for my poetic writing, and hope to explore this more on these blog posts and in workshop. I’m curious if you guys have any specific people, dead/alive, famous/non-famous, whom you consider a source for your writing, or are not yet sure if they are a source?
Hope everyone is staying warm!