I’ve been reading a wonderful book of … what, exactly? Aphorisms? Maybe. Brief, concentrated meditations, some a sentence long, some a page or more, by the great French poet Henri Michaux, as translated by Lynn Hoggard. The book is Tent Posts, and was one of the books published by Green Integer in its first year of existence. What a gift this book is! For writers especially. Here, for example, is Michaux on style—or what the writing programs often call “voice.” You know, that quality every writer is supposed to sell his or her soul to “discover.”
Is style—that convenience of settling oneself in and pinpointing the world—really the man? That questionable achievement bringing praise to the reveling author? His assumed gift is going to stick to him, slowly turning him sclerotic.* Style: sign (a bad one) of an unchanged distance (but that could have, should have, changed), a distance where he mistakenly stays and one he maintains regarding his being, things, and individuals. Blocked! He threw himself into his style (or laboriously sought it out). For a life on loan, he let go of his wholeness, his possibility for change, mutation.** Nothing to be proud of. Style that will become lack of courage, lack of openness, or renewal: in sum, an infirmity.
Try to get out of it. Go far enough into yourself that your style can’t follow.
*Think late Stevens, late Creeley, late Ashbery. As opposed to late Williams, say, or late Lowell.
**Is there a great writer who does not keep actualizing a desire for change?