Sunday, January 30th, 2011

The heading comes from a book by poet and teacher Richard Hugo. One of many useful things he writes is the idea of a "triggering subject" which,

...starts the (poem), or "causes" the (poem) to be written. The real or "generated" subject, which the (poem) comes to say or mean, is generated, or "discovered" in the process of writing.

He goes on to say,

...for me, a useful triggering subject is a small town that has seen better days.

This is Hugo's Triggering Town:

...with a strange town, you can assume that all unknowns are relative, that facts have equal value. I know almost nothing of substance about the places that trigger my (poems). Knowing can be a limiting thing. Guessing leaves you more options. If the population of a town is nineteen, but the (poem) needs the sound seventeen, seventeen is easier to say if you don't know the true population. By locating a (poem) in overly familiar territory, too much memory remains to interfere with the imagination, and the imagination has no chance in the face of facts.

Once the triggering subject is located the question becomes: how to get off the triggering subject in the hope of "discovering" the real subject. One way of getting off the triggering subject- of freeing yourself from memory, is to use words for the sake of their sounds:

One way to get into the world of the imagination is to focus on the play rather than the value of words. It is easier to write and far more rewarding when you can ignore the facts, and go with the flow and thrust of the language. To do this, somehow you must switch your allegiance from the triggering subject to the words.

...so you are after those words you can own, and ways of putting them in phrases and lines. You are trying to find and develop a way of writing that is yours. Your triggering subjects are those that ignite your need for words. When you are honest with your feelings, then the generated subject chooses you.

And turning common advice on writing completely upside down, he says,

When you are writing you must assume that the next thing you put down belongs not for reasons of logic, good sense, or narrative development, but because you put it there. The adhesive force is your way of writing, not sensible connection. Your words used your way will generate your meanings. The relation of you to your language gains power, while the relation of you to your triggering subject weakens.

And in the end,

Your obsessions lead you to your vocabulary, and your way of writing locates, even creates, your inner life.

How many of us have faith enough in our talent to trust the outcome of a (song) to our obsession with language- our words used our ways generating our meanings? Are we willing to set aside our egos (this song is about...) and allow the subject to choose us? Are we confident enough to attempt to speak with individual voices in a world of conformity, where sameness is rewarded and authenticity is discouraged?

Hugo in Triggering Town poses this challenge, and offers a method to those of us who would try.

Songs from my Triggering Town:

Why I Never Will

Closer To Home

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