Peeking out over an inescapable mask, I see once more, Women draped over ornate couches, Done with the world and its confinement, And its clothes. I see once more, Disembodied faces meeting unhinged shapes, Unsure, they attempt to devour one another. I see once more, Unlikely creatures emerging, As if willed by the vacuum of imagination. I see once more, Ambiguous structures, Soaring while more solid words explain little, Of what, perhaps, Should not be explained. I see once more, The collective embrace merge, With joint resistance, Forever twinned in a fleeting, nonchalant glance. Feeling nill, I wonder if I am measuring effort wrongly.
I wrote this sonnet in 2014 as part of a Year 9 class assignment. 7 years onwards, I still enjoy what I wrote – and in a way, this connects our February and March themes! I think it's healthy to let yourself be moved by your own work, and to appreciate the unique and personal memories of the process... I remember how I was inspired by the rhythm of Alexander Pope's Eloisa to Abelard, after watching the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Lovesong for Spring
For season that gives bless’ed days in light, Your comely looks will ever leave the shore; For you a snowdrop land out for delight, I wait and yearn for honeyed sound: amour. Oh budding youth and binding honest smells, No bird nor figure did evoke my mind; Your sweet, your caprice tale in spring we tell, Your dream of slumber wrote for me designed. For you bloom lily, iris, rose with charm, That dance, that laugh and soothe red eyes so sore; So arrows cushion frays within your arms! Complete devotion of my heart to yours. By you my lonely heart shall be adored, Go onwards, so our journey upwards soars.
Whispered words of stripped timber, Chanted like a spell under hot breaths, Like a song hurried through and felt. Quiet storm, do I want thee? Do I want to be, To be degraded as if in acid rain, To be a reduced solution, Part of it finally, My affects wiped away, Like paint chips journeying down the drain, Accompanied only by a swelling of circumstance.
Perhaps it is good to be reduced, Be forced towards childishness, To have to inhabit a time, When dreams were boundless, And outside of reason, A time before the weight of the appropriate and the likely. Perhaps it is a needed antidote, To the certainty and uncertainty of creeping adulthood, Perhaps we should not grow up all at once, But only in the useful branches, And stay young and budding in a few varieties of ourselves.
And then I spy a hole, Between here and my vibrancy. For just a moment, I can be excited, passionate, loud, And I can see why and how, I can be all those things and more. I have found that place, Where I do not worry or weep, For things I believe I am missing, I do not get stuck in notions of futures, Of missteps and inaction, I am living in action, And am free of the weight, That before I let crush me on this side of the wall.
The old cliché of a writer produces a visual of beauty and torment, or beautiful torment, a tormented genius, writing as the source of all fulfillment. Anyone who writes today knows that the reality is a little less idyllic, and a lot more of meeting deadlines, refilling coffees and half-baked thoughts.
Perhaps this is one key reason why I’d steer clear of an all-encompassing defence of writing for free. It concocts this image of writing as something one simply has to do, strokes of genius rather than scraps of neo-teenage angst written as half-formed moon metaphors (trust me I know, I’ve written my fair share). Writing as fuel in and of itself makes it seem removed from practical constraints, and from writing as a self-critical process.
So where does this leave writing for free? Should we all just stop writing unless we can find a paid publication? No, of course not. Precisely because the industries are hard to access, and labour so exploited, we need to carve out spaces that support and allow writers to express opinions that are silenced, rejected, or undervalued. Writing for unpaid publications helps you practice writing regularly, build confidence, and form your own style.
Sidelined groups can use unpaid publications as communities, spaces that work as forms of resistance. The Black Lives Matter protests this year showed how discrimination leaks into every industry, at every level, and when voices are silenced, often the only solution is to write louder. Publications that promote the voices of people marginalised on the basis of gender, race, class, or disability bring groups out from the margins, and into the centre.
If in exchange for writing, the publications promote the authors extensively, give them a space of support and recognition, and help them in their careers, then they are shifting existing power structures that divide. These publications can let writers dabble in different genres, develop digital and graphic design skills, and form content not limited to baring souls for profit, or occupying an incubated space of a newspaper. As Black journalist Niellah Arboine argues, Black people can’t just be presented with performative diversity schemes, but need to be given positions of leadership. Unpaid magazines can be spaces that provide this power shift, with the strength of support, you can more easily tackle the bigger industry problems. It’s not an end in itself, but a way towards creating more hopeful spaces.
Furthermore, writing for profit can have a big impact on mental health. Whilst the phrase goes ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, spending five minutes in the writing world shows how fraught it is with the tension of being the first to come up with new terms, new trends, new angles. This notion of linear progression makes it hard to keep up, and makes me question if I want to, rather than stopping to think about what I am actually writing and what it means.
In lockdown-stricken times, time seemed endless and yet oddly characterized by the need too create, produce, better yourself. The pressure to perform in quieter spaces is deafening, endless options present a continuous stream of thought not mediated by quotidian tasks. As Zadie Smith stresses in Intimations, periods of lockdown make us interrogate our reason for writing as ‘something to do’ as we divide our time. The lack of pretense in this statement helps us to admit that writing is a comforting and enjoyable way to pass the time. Writing for hierarchical industries, rather than for yourself or for supportive publications, dissolves the satisfaction in less formalized writing forms, torn diary pages, five minute poems, articles born out of thoughts trying to escape idleness.
Whilst I want to stray away from any gleaming platitudes about writers, writing for free can be a happy middle that tethers the tremendous gap between those in power and those without a voice. Writing is perhaps the greatest form of a voice, and from my own experience, I know that writing for yourself is a cathartic stepping stone to writing for others.