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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Learning to Write VIII

Mario, the postman in the film Il Postino, in an effort to win the heart of Beatrice Russo, steals some poems from Pablo Neruda. Later he justifies his action by telling the poet:


Poems don’t belong to those who write them. They belong to those who need them.

This begs the question of the text with a life of its own, which has vexed writers, readers and critics for as long as words have been written down. The question of whether the writer writes the words or the words continually erase and re-write the writer.

Most writers will recognise this scenario, the realization that the act of writing, simply putting one word after another, brings about a kind of active memory in the writer. It allows the writer to ‘remember’ phenomena that he didn’t know before he sat down to write.

Ultimately there is only one question to be asked about any piece of writing. Is it alive or is it dead? That is the question that each reader asks, consciously or unconsciously. Can I interact with this work no matter how far away it is in time and space from its writer?

Neruda realizes that Mario’s stealing of his poems is in fact a compliment. It means that they are alive, that the texts are still growing and changing, quivering with life.

4 Responses to “Learning to Write VIII”

  1. Lee says:

    I’ve just finished Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake, which deals wonderfully with this very issue, in which – maybe – the novelist’s creation comes alive as a sort of golem.

    jb says: Hi Lee, I don’t know the Carey book, I’ll look out for a copy.  But there are many examples. Perhaps the best known is Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello. It’s a play script but easy (and rewarding) to read. Even easier and even more rewarding to watch a good production.

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks for the suggestion, which I will certainly chase down.

  3. Bhaswati says:

    Any work of fiction certainly takes a life of its own after it leaves the author’s hands. Then it belongs to the world and can assume as many dimensions as its readers create out of it.

    Thanks for bringing back memories of Il Postino. What a beautiful film–a great work of art.

    jb says: Good to hear from you, Bhashwati.  The film, in turn, took me back to Neruda’s verse. One good thing after another after another . . .

  4. Bob says:

    Hi, Isn’t there also a parallel with Yogic teaching – that if you are ready to learn yoga, then a teacher (like Mario’s poems) will become available. Rather in the same way that my serious decision (today) to write, has resulted in me finding this web site (today). Bob

    jb says: Hi Bob. Don’t know much about Yogic teaching, I’m afraid. But I’ll take your word for it.