A friend of mine once pointed out that as poets we are indefinitely not like everyone else.
Perhaps others don’t stick their heads into things as we do, they don’t get caught up in their emotions – and suddenly in the middle of a busy bar feeling something close to what Stendhal felt in Florence seeing a Caravaggio painting for the first time I let the clouds ricochet on the ceiling and collapsed to sit over this sudden realisation – is this why when it comes to love and desire poets prefer to fuse together?
When it comes to relationships are we afraid of not relating well to lovers with different career paths, different constants, different dreams, is that we are afraid of not being otherwise properly understood? The shared love of language, inevitable catharsis and brooding amongst writers makes us compatible, love and self-love folds in on each other and I agree, the attraction is too irresistible to ignore.
There is a selfishness of the artistic temperament that is rarely understood outside of the circle. I love poets and I thrive on getting to know them through their work first, and by getting to know them I light up like phosphorous on the wick of a firework and often fall in love with them.
I am a writer that structures relationships around writing; I understand what Plath felt in waves after reading Hughes’ crashing poems on the page for the first time, or what Virginia Woolf experienced after reading about Vita’s journey across Persia:
‘I have picked up a good many things that I have missed in private life. What are they, I wonder, the very intimate things, one says in print?’
Woolf believed that the proof of a true writer was one that could only express secrets in print (why yes it all makes sense now) and how the heart’s greasy machinery sets at accelerated pace to snigger in the dark of the pages. Do literary couples work well together, or do they reap chaotic consequences from such intense affairs?
Writing for me is a preferred solitary act (like most self-pleasures) and the idea of dating a poet and sitting up in bed together to write of an evening would never work, simply because the ticking of a similar mindset beside me would over-intoxicate, throwing me off the scent from my ideas. Surely it is not all roses and sweet talk.
But. Poets love poetry and they love other poets. There are many synergies between poetic pairs who share a world in print as well as in private life. Interestingly out of nine examples of literary couples in history I’ve been documenting, five relationships were homosexual, four spiralled out from the 1920’s and three were French. History has definitely pointed out a pattern: all these literary couples either wrote to each other or about each other; they fictionalized each other into character, or exposed the truth with confessional poetry, they addressed love-letters to one another and discovered more about each other through print and used writing to build relationships.
The type of love these writer couplings spent always endured some kind of suffering, a tragedy to overcome, an addiction to keep in check, and it is no wonder that so much of their writing is tortured and fully-charged with affairs, alcohol and debauched pleasures. Our greatest wound can be the gateway to revealing our greatest talents. I believe that the towering and pronounced writers in literary history often emerge together, very rarely does a notorious writer emanate alone, especially the iconic figures, movements are made up from masses of synced minds, whether it is seen a natural process or a radical break, there is much to be said of the sheer energy behind the coupling of writers.
“Nobody has ever measured not even poets, how much the heart can hold”
Zelda Fitzgerald, ‘Save Me The Waltz‘
Interestingly this quote came from The Fitzgerald’s scandalous love-story, when Zelda wrote a semi-autobiographical piece about her affair with Scott in the 1920’s after he stole passages from her journal and translated them into his novels. He was furious about the exposure and in response wrote Tender Is The Night, a bleak account of all that was detrimental to their marriage. Here we have two writers with celebrity pin-up status publicly battling out their marital disruptions with the anguish of pursuing synchronous literary paths, but competition is healthy, plagiarism is the heartbreak. Zelda’s success with Save the Waltz came as small commiseration to her as she sat in the mental institution waiting for her shock therapy accurately thinking she could smell smoke.
I think poets can measure how much the heart can tolerate. Poets are persistent; they push for publication, they push for the surrender of their lovers and they push for the truth. They do not give up until they have measured every angle of the heart, chased every possibility, rattled every cage- everyone knows that if you want to understand love more, you turn to poetry.
Poets in particular see the world above its parade of flank idiosyncrasies and remind each other of the hidden beauty, one that must often be internalized first, before it is unveiled. When writers work together as a couple they have similar accelerated minds now with a stronger charge, they counterbalance the same humble doses of narcissism and ego along the way convincing each other that perspective is key to most things, and the idea of dating themselves wouldn’t be such a bad thing at all. In such a parallel communion love-letter writing can be seen as a type of journal writing as you are half writing to the Self, and half to the Other that is the object of affection and the inspirational Muse. But surely lovers are muses for writers whether they come leaden with words or not- but of course, inexplicably all the more potent, if they do.
When writers date other writers we encourage each other to filter out the best of our writing, taking time to sit in separate rooms sieving out one another’s gold lines from the rubble of white space, and the heaviest treasure of words often come from writing as seduction within the relationships in the first place. E.M Forster said all good writing is about connecting, and what do we need to do in order to connect, we need to share secrets. Writers work well with one other because what we don’t discuss in conversation we flesh out in print. Sexuality has been so culturally safeguarded that it was often taboo to write beyond the customary bounds of embarrassment and depict personal experiences, but when writers are lovers there is no holds barred to what they expose about or to each other, driven by the simple force of being affected and afflicted in love, the synergies they share makes their writing very powerful, and it makes their writing stand out above the rest. Love and literature has an alchemical reaction, it is quick to transform despite mutable properties, but it all looks very pretty deliberately spilled across the page.