When my poem “The Moving Walkway Is Ending” appeared in AGNI Online, I knew there was a sense in which it was true. It’s the last piece in my most recent book, and I had no idea what might be coming next. I’ve bridged the gap with a visual poetry project, but as far as text-based work is concerned, I can’t see past the threshold.
My last book incorporated into the poems the interruptions so many of us have learned to contend with. Social media, smartphones, telecommuting, etc., have all come into common use primarily since I was writing my first book. My only defense was to address it and absorb it into the work. It functioned almost the way a form would: a constraint I was challenged to work within. I never (purposely) wrote a 140-character poem, but many people use the Tweet in this or a similar way—wringing much feeling out of this miserly ration. I count among these Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Last week, my family and I saw Hamilton in Chicago, an event we were all looking forward to for months. Most people know by now that it’s a miraculous convergence of great…everything. What I keep coming back to, however, is the writing. I’m an admirer of Miranda, and I felt sure, from the first time I heard the song “Non-Stop,” that he relates to the uncontrollable need to write he attributes to Hamilton. Many writers have brief bursts of energy like that—when you can’t sleep for your mind working, when things are writing themselves in your dreams, when every innocuous observation is like kindling. But they are necessarily brief. We might crave that level of engagement, but being “on” enough to make really good work is not a sustainable state for most of us.
In the play, Aaron Burr’s caution, his waiting “to see which way the wind blows” before acting, is mostly posited as a flaw that keeps him from greatness—like a poet flipping through literary magazines to figure out what’s current so they can imitate it. Hamilton, on the other hand, “writes his way out” of seemingly unsolvable situations. Sometimes writers try to “write their way out” of not writing. There is a moment in the performance of the play, however, that acknowledges the fact that it’s more complicated than it seems, and it resonated with me because I’m in the throes of a fallow time.
The quiet power exerted by the play’s ensemble is subtle and so fitting for the story of our country’s origins. The staging revealed things—delightfully—that listening to the album could not—like some of the best poetry readings I’ve been to, when something in the poet’s reading illuminated the work. A single word or a phrase sung gently by the ensemble were among the most powerful moments in the play.
Most startling was the tone of the ensemble’s directive to “wait for it” that occurs in the last moments of “Hurricane,” the suggestion that there are times when patience might be a better plan than intuitive impulsiveness. “Wait for it” occurs throughout the play, mostly as a criticism of indecisive, noncommittal weakness. In “Hurricane,” on mere hearing, I’d read it as “look out for what’s coming next,” as Hamilton convinces himself that writing The Reynolds Pamphlet is a good idea. But this was a moment when the “villain” of the story actually had the right idea. Some things should be written, some maybe shouldn’t. Let it unfold organically without trying to exert control.
A sequence of tragedy unfolds as a result of this compulsion to publish. The stakes are happily lower for an obscure poet such as myself, but I’ve thrown out roughly seven times the work I’ve kept, and I can attest that all of that work would qualify as tragic. We have all the power over the voices whispering in our minds, but there are times when we should heed them and wait.
I’m anxious to be working on something new, and I’m anxiously, impatiently, excitedly awaiting whatever Miranda produces next. But I also feel sure he won’t make the same mistake Hamilton did as he frantically wrote The Reynolds Pamphlet. I’m willing to wait for not only whatever will follow Hamilton, but, on my own scale, whatever the next project will be.
Carolyn Guinzio is the author of six poetry collections, most recently How Much of What Falls Will Be Left When It Gets to the Ground? (Tolsun Books, 2018) and Ozark Crows (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018). Among her previous books are Spine (Parlor Press, 2016) and Spoke & Dark (Red Hen Press, 2012), winner of the To The Lighthouse Prize given by the A Room Of Her Own Foundation. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, BOMB, Harvard Review, AGNI, Entropy, Boston Review, and elsewhere. Her website is carolynguinzio.tumblr.com. (updated 11/2018)