Thursday, November 3, 2011

Counting on your fingers

This week I've been immersed in the world of writing. I've gone to two readings, one of creative nonfiction and one of poetry, and naturally I've knit my way through both.

As I listened to the writers read their work and talk about their craft, I thought about Gwyneth Lewis's "How To Knit A Poem," which I've read aloud on several occasions, which brings the two crafts together in an interesting analogy.  But when the poet reading tonight talked about being the queen of writer's block, I realized the difference.

Knitters might get blocked when finishing or starting a piece; they might lose their motivation or drive; but knitting itself can't be blocked.  The stitches sit there on the needle waiting.  All you have to do is put the needle in and pull the yarn through.

Writing is simple in a way.  It's just language.  We compose every day in our speech.  But in another way, in the terror-of-the-blank-page way, it's so difficult.  You have to choose.

Knitting is simple in a different way.  There are choices about what texture and shape to create.  But each stitch is almost automatic.  There's no hesitation.  You just work it.  A second, a few gestures, a swoop and lift that looks almost magical from without, and it is done.  The next second, the next stitch.  Easy.

Today fifty or so knitters sat outside in the chilly west wind and went stitch by stitch.  They built for one hour, row on row, second by second, passerby by passerby.

Imagine a write-in where poets sat on those same steps and wrote poetry.  They could force themselves to never stop writing for the whole hour, producing pieces that mapped the time by words -- I've done exercises like that.  They can be wonderful and illuminating to those who participate and witness.

But when knitters do it, it's not an exercise. It's just knitters knitting. En masse and outside and for a specified period of time, but otherwise no different from what we do. There's something about it that makes the whole thing mathematical.  I knit for an hour outside.  Multiply me by fifty.  That's how much knitting happened.  That's what people saw when they walked past.

It was that simple.  That ordinary.  But multiply ordinary by fifty and put it in the middle of campus and just keep going, and maybe it becomes profound.  A poem that writes itself every second.

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