My writing regime has changed as I grow older. So has the substance. Are these changes voluntary choices or a natural result of aging?
Below, I try to analyse the changes that I’ve noticed. (Like Doris Carnevali, I’m my own lab rat.) Interestingly, I tell myself that all these changes except the first (in formats or genres) are changes that I’ve chosen, not changes that happen in spite of me. But how would I ever know? Fact: they are all entangled with each other and they all feel authentic and good and appropriate for my needs.
Short or modular formats for my old-age writing
No more novels. No more plays, unless a one-hour one-hander. No more books about writers or digital writing. I have no incentive for long-haul big-scale writing.
One new book is waiting in the wings, but the structure will be modular and almost linear. Enough of industrial-strength plotting and structuring! In my 80s I would need a mighty motive to start on a long and complex work, the sort that demands to be front of mind morning, noon and night. Even then, could I handle it? If not, how frustrating.
Seems I’ve found a solution in poetry. Right back where I started.
Poems were the perfect format when I was mothering four young children. And they’re perfect for me now that my time is limited in other ways (including life expectancy). Apparently I also enjoy blogging, because here I am again! I thank you for the pleasure, oh readers. Without you, why would I blog?
Obvious changes in topic
If you follow this blog it’s pretty obvious that I’m very interested in the process of aging. That’s been my main topic for the last 6 years or more. Like most young poets, I once wrote about my life as a young person extremely interested in my personal life: that’s the legitimate work of young poets.
As an old poet, I can choose from a much wider range of topics. My choice is to explore the experience of growing old in the 21st century. It’s been hugely satisfying, because many readers are hungry for information and insights into this big event—
because this is our first attempt at being old and we're wondering how to do it not just for us but for you (From "Templates" in How To Be Old)
Has my style changed in old age?
I have been saying that my style as a poet has changed considerably in old age. But has it? I’ve just looked again at my first book of poems (Lament for Ariadne, published 1975).
I can hear my distinctive voice in that very first book of poems and every book since then.
The early poems were pretty direct and sometimes confrontational. They were described as lyrical and witty and “acerbic”. I think they were heavier on metaphor and Rachelisms.
This is the difference:
I could be arcane, I could be smart I could crochet the strings of your heart I could be subtle, I could be wise sprinkle my lines with splendid lies but now that I'm staring at my own demise I don't have time. So here's the deal. I'll stop talking to myself and talk to you. (From "Foreword" in How To Be Old)
Any style changes (like a hint of song-shapes and a stronger emphasis on rhyme and rhythm) spring from that. Same with other changes that make the poems very easy to read aloud. Friendly humour rather than smarty-pants wit. Now it’s you and me together in the same boat: “It’s all about you.”
Am I still capable of writing fancy, mysterious or aggressive poems? I’ll never know, because I’m not trying.
My purpose in writing has changed in recent decades
There’s a reason and it’s not neurological, in my opinion. I used to love writing poems that travelled far from the original impulse, like Apirana’s seagull. I wrote to explore, wander, to discover what I wanted to “say” at the moment. Which might well change the following week.
Now to my surprise I’ve got opinions and even a sort of agenda when I write. That’s quite new to me, as a poet. For most of my life, I’ve written poems for sheer pleasure and to discover what I might think, or could think. I was a Napoleon-to-seagull sort of poet.
Now I write because I want to share my ideas, to bring pleasure, recognition and perhaps clarity to readers. To express what you as a reader might have been thinking. Or to trigger your own thoughts on the same topic and stretch them. In old age, my writing has grown a community limb! Readers are in my life now, you matter to me whenever I start tapping the keys. Readers used to be a delightful bonus for my solitary writing; now you’re more than half the reason why I write.
Never in a million years would I have imagined such a change. Until now, I’ve known theoretically that different writers have different goals—but never imagined the magnitude of this particular change in my writing practice and output.
Bring it on! I am enjoying it.
And (it follows like night follows day) I’m interested in the way your own writing may have altered as you grow older.
Are you looking for a PhD topic?
How about: The effect of age-related-changes in body, mind and spirit on the practice and output of poems by writers in their 80s? (Look around: we are legion.)Follow Write Into Life