Writing On One’s Feet

I often read, and listen to, authors’ interviews. Sometime ago, I came across on YouTube such a literary conversation of a renowned American author famous for works like The New York Trilogy (1987), and the novel 4 3 2 1 (2017): Paul Benjamin Auster.

Midway through the interview titled ‘How I became a writer’, as I watched the interview with rapt attention, his remark about the process of writing hooked me and I started transcribing his words. “I get up from my chair a lot”, said Paul Auster, “during the day and I walk around the room and I find that moving helps generate thoughts and words, because there is this kind of music inside the body that’s language and by just moving around new things come to me that don’t come to me when I’m sitting.”

Auster continued: “There’s that beautiful essay by the Russian poet Mandelstam called ‘Conversation about Dante’. He (Mandelstam) talks about Dante’s poetry, and the rhythms of it being very close to what it feels like to walk, the human gait. Then he (Mandelstam) asks the most beautiful question which only a poet can ask ‘I wonder how many pairs of sandals Dante wore out from writing The Divine Comedy’. Well, I’m wearing out lots of shoes too, walking around, trying to find the rhythm of the work I’m hoping to do.”

A great writer, imagine, engrossed with his craft, wears out sandal after sandal walking, the way an athlete worth his salt wears out the soles of his shoes, or a musician toils away with his hand to master a musical instrument.

The rhythm of language and the rhythm of walking, says the brilliant essayist and poet Osip Mandelstam, go hand in hand. When you write sitting on a chair, you actually take dictation from your head. But when you frame the skeleton of your work, the blueprint of whatever you intend to write, you must be up on your feet, your gait moving, because only then the organelle that generates creative thoughts comes into motion.

You will find vocalists, while they do taans (a rapid melodic vocal technique in classical raga singing), invariably move their hands drawing an imaginary line in the air that suggests the pattern of the notations to follow.

It’s well known that William Blake, V S Naipaul, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens. to name just a few writers, were all staunch votaries of the necessity to constantly perambulate while figuring out the rhythm and details of a work of art in progress.

The gifted poet and novelist Prof. Shiv K Kumar (1921— 2017) had once tfold me in an interview when I met him at his Hyderabad home in the year 2007: “When I go for the morning walk, my writing session begins. I do most of my creative writing on my feet. I walk and hear my characters talk to themselves. Then I come home and say: I must catch the stuff.”

First published in The Statesman

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