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Passion for the Creative Process, Part II

More stanzas from Billy Collins' Tuesday, June 4, 1991

If I look up, I see out the window the white stars

of clematis climbing a ladder of strings, a woodpile,

a stack of faded bricks, a small green garden of herbs,

things you would expect to find outside a window,


all written down now and placed in the setting

of a stanza as unalterably as they are seated

in their chairs in the ontological rooms of the world,

Yes, this is the kind of job I could succeed in,


an unpaid but contented amanuensis whose hands

are two birds fluttering on the lettered keys,

whose eyes see sunlight splashing through the leaves,

and the bright pink asterisks of honeysuckle


and the piano at the other end of this room with

its small vase of faded flowers and its empty bench.


Don’t for a minute think that the poem just ran from the poet's fingers to the poet’s page like water from the tap. No!

Like the Actor’s demanding technical work of mastering a challenging impediment, Collins' poem is meticulously, even perhaps punishingly crafted. A great creative work deceives with its simplicity, its economy, its seemingly effortless act of being. 

Like the Actor’s art, the art of the poet is subject to the grace of the creative gods, to the magic of inspiration. But don't be fooled! The gods rightly demand their due: the actor’s thoughtful preparation, willing perspiration, and loving dedication.

The price of Inspiration, to the layman, the non-artist, the anti-artist, seems high, maybe absurd.  But to the artist, the actor, it’s gladly, joyfully paid.  Why?

Because to her, to him, the poem, the performance, the artwork, is result, product, consequential effect of a noble impulse, a first cause if you will: the creative idea and act of the artist. Such act is a giving birth to. 

Akin to birth, the process of creation is in some balance both joy and suffering. It is, must be, a passion, in the New Testament sense. The passion of the actor! What’s a little suffering when we’re having such a good time? Suffering, schmuffering. No matter. 

The artist is foremost a worker.  She embraces her task and all facets of her Passion. He labors at his work because effort is the essential, inescapable, and funnily-enough most satisfying element  of the job. 

What’s more, it is inherent to the whole: conception, gestation, labor, birth.  As the mother loves her baby, even from (mental) conception, so too does the actor love the performance. And, like the burgeoning mother-to-be, grows to love it ever more, ffrom the original impulse, the moment of design, through the more or less hard work of development and labor and – with the grace of the gods, the angels – the joy of birth.

Now, dear colleagues, go make lots of babies.

Passion and the Creative Process, Part III

Poet Louise Gluck won the Nobel Prize in literature this week.

From her poem, The Untrustworthy Speaker:

Don’t listen to me; my heart’s been broken.

I don’t see anything objectively.


I know myself; I’ve learned to hear like a psychiatrist.

When I speak passionately,

that’s when I’m least to be trusted.


It’s very sad, really: all my life, I’ve been praised

for my intelligence, my powers of language, of insight.

In the end, they’re wasted—


I never see myself,

standing on the front steps, holding my sister’s hand.

That’s why I can’t account

for the bruises on her arm, where the sleeve ends.


In my own mind, I’m invisible: that’s why I’m dangerous.

People like me, who seem selfless,

we’re the cripples, the liars;

we’re the ones who should be factored out

in the interest of truth.


When I’m quiet, that’s when the truth emerges.

A clear sky, the clouds like white fibers.

Underneath, a little gray house, the azaleas

red and bright pink.


If you want the truth, you have to close yourself

to the older daughter, block her out:

when a living thing is hurt like that,

in its deepest workings,

all function is altered.


That’s why I’m not to be trusted.

Because a wound to the heart

is also a wound to the mind.   

In Part I of this series of posts, I suggested 7 reading tips for actors. Here are 4 additional questions.

1. Who is the protagonist?

2. To whom is she speaking?

3. Where is she coming from?

4. What does she want?

The Untrustworthy Speaker

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