Words For The Meanwhile

A commonplace blog

commonplace blog


  1. Sort of a diary. Something of an external memory device. 

  2. Akin to a scrapbook, a cork board, a junk drawer—a place where one keeps potentially useful things, just in case. 

  3. A compilation A mashup of notes and quotes; facts, opinions, anecdotes; things read and said, witnessed, experienced, overheard, and/or imagined; fragments of thought, figments of narrative; questions posed and (not necessarily) answered.

  4. A post-modern take on a bygone practice. See commonplace book.


Took the title of this “blog” from a poem by Jack Gilbert, fragment below:

I called the tree a butternut (which I don't think it is) so I could talk about how different the trees are around me here in the rain. It remains me how mutable language is. Keats would leave blank places in his drafts to hold on to his passion, spaces for the rights words to come. We use them sideways. The way we automatically add bits of shape to hold on to the dissolving dreams. So many of the words are for the meanwhile.

#Poetry #WritersWritingAboutWriting #Miscellany


T.S. Elliot said of poets:

The best steal; the wannabes merely imitate

(or something like that).

Now I assume his pithy summation applies to any consummate amateur of little consequence—this one in particular, provided he does dare and that daring is loud enough to drown the laughter of his demons.

#Poetry #WritersWritingAboutWriting

Because if you can't measure its value in dollars, it must be worthless...

According to Robert Townsend, co-director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators Project:

”...from 2012 to 2020 the number of graduated humanities majors at Ohio State’s main campus fell by forty-six per cent. Tufts lost nearly fifty per cent of its humanities majors, and Boston University lost forty-two. Notre Dame ended up with half as many as it started with, while SUNY Albany lost almost three-quarters. Vassar and Bates—standard-bearing liberal-arts colleges—saw their numbers of humanities majors fall by nearly half. In 2018, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point briefly considered eliminating thirteen majors, including English, history, and philosophy, for want of pupils. During the past decade, the study of English and history at the collegiate level has fallen by a full third. Humanities enrollment in the United States has declined over all by seventeen per cent... The trend mirrors a global one; four-fifths of countries in the Organization for Economic Coöperation reported falling humanities enrollments in the past decade.”

Source: The New Yorker, “The End of the English Major” by Nathan Heller

This gem from Kerouac...

A poet is a blind optimist.
 The world is against him for 
 many reasons. But the 
poet persists. He believes 
 that he is on the right track,
 no matter what any of his 
fellow men say. In his
 eternal search for truth, the 
poet is alone.
 He tries to be timeless in a 
society built on time.

...comes from Atop An Underwood: Early Stories And Other Writings, an anthology of his early work (we’re talking high school here, some thirty years after Kerouac died—would he have approved? I wonder.)

#Poetry #WritersWritingAboutWriting #Miscellany

I'm inclined to seek and destroy  any and all traces of juvenilia, with extreme prejudice.

There's no gold there to be panned from that turbid trickle of ditch water.

Posterity surely will not benefit from my lack of early promise.

Teenage Kerouac may have been was onto something.

The habitual pessimist, the self-doubting self-defeating serial arsonist his own grand ambition,

this too-late bloomer is now somehow concerned about a literacy legacy he has yet to build, let alone claim.

From this odd angle, in this particularly unflattering light, a distorted likeness in a fragment of a broken mirror.

And now that I see it, I can't unsee it:

There’s more than one optimist named Jack.

I was blind because my eyes were closed. And now I’m blinking in the unfiltered light—

light still traveling, long after its brilliant source burned itself out.


In the introduction a collection of his short stories, J.G. Ballard writes:

Short stories are the loose change in the treasury of fiction, easily ignored beside the wealth of novels available, an over-valued currency that often turns out to be counterfeit. At its best ... the short story is coined from precious metal, a glint of gold that will glow forever in the deep purse of your imagination.

...there are many perfect short stories, but no perfect novels.

#WritersWritingAboutWriting #Miscellany

Agreed, Mr. Ballard.

No such thing as a perfect novel. Of course that depends on what you mean by “perfect”. You never do explain.

I think you assume—as many most all(?) writers do—a archetypal reader. A sympathetic second-person who inhabits enough of the same wavering reality, who speaks the same difficult language, well enough that no direct translation or explanatory aside is needed.

So what do I think it is you meant?

Perfect, in that it is finished—in a cosmic, redemptive sense. The creator feels he can now rest, step back. And perhaps see something of himself in his creation. Something worthy of the sacrifice. Some hard-won, hard-to-get-at Truth.

A short story—perhaps because it is short—can achieve this, from time to time, maybe.

But to sustain that kind of perfection for hundreds of pages? To hold an entire world and all of its inhabits in your head for that long...

The signal is too weak. There is too much static. And you only ever have so much time.

Is the novel ever finished? I wonder.

I suspect the writer could keep writing one more final draft, and another, and another after that.

As long as the near certainty of the impossibility of the task can be safely ignored, as long as the writer remains committed faithful...

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Source: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke




  1. A creator of worlds.

  2. “An artisan-like figure responsible for fashioning and maintaining the physical universe”, this according to Wikipedia.

  3. Not quite a creator god. Because this “artisan”, and the materials he works with, may in fact be created by something of a higher divine order.

  4. Basically we are talking about a god-ish figure, typically embodied, who is imbued with the power to create—pretty much everything.

In a sentence:

A writer is a poor god's demiurge, a toiling wordsmith fabricating entire worlds out of nothing but the common substance of experience, lived or imagined.


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