Victor Wildman, instructor of Frequency’s Reading for Writers: Reading Susan Howe, our course starting June 1. He answers some questions about the course, tells us why reading is so important for writing, and expounds on his admiration for poet/essayist/genre eradicator Susan Howe.
Read more below, and register for the course here!
Why is reading necessary to the practice of writing?
Reading is especially important if you want to write. For one thing, reading widely and diversely allows you to recognize not only what’s been done (how stories have been written, poems have been composed) but also what is possible. Paraphrasing Wittgenstein, our language is the limit of our world and the more we read the more ways we have of making sense of things, the more language we have at our disposal to construct our little stutters when we write. And we are talking about stutters here, something we are struggling to shape, somehow get out in ink or graphite or in paint. And when we read people who have done it well we see that. Reading great writers (think Woolf or Howe or Gaddis) is necessarily humbling, but to see that it’s been done and to read them with an eye to how they did it (always a mystery, always rewarding nonetheless) strengthens us, inspires us, and helps to make us the writers that we are, or someday might be.
How has reading Susan Howe influenced your own writing?
I’m not sure if she has influenced my own writing so much as inspired me in the ways I write. The way her writing not merely ignores but eradicates genre distinctions – I mean her essays are often like poems, her poems like essays – the way that her immersion in the words of others gives her her voice:
“You open your mind and textual space to many voices, to an interplay and contradiction and complexity of voices”
and, of course, there is the way she uses space and fragmentation and erasure, there is the contrapuntal music of her writing, and always there’s this rootedness to the past – a materially resonant indebtedness, the textually obscure and long repressed voices of history finally allowed to speak as if for themselves and for the first time. I guess, in short, I’m swept away by the modernist ambition of the writing and its necessary self-effacement. Her work makes room for voices.
How much reading is involved in the class? Will there be writing assignments?
Given that it’s a reading for writing class, it should come as no surprise that there will be a significant amount of reading week to week, but unlike a regular writing class, we will have the advantage of being able to spend the necessary time each week to read passages together closely and discuss. And everyone will be required to keep a reading journal, something to write in after each encounter with the readings, bringing the processes of reading and writing closer to one another. The hope is that by the end of our six weeks something will begin to gel, that the reading will begin to lead to something different in the writing.
What excites you most about teaching the class?
Aside from my boundless fascination with Howe’s writing in itself, I think it’s the collaborative aspect, the way that when we read together and discuss, we all come away enriched. I find that reading the same book with different groups of people is like reading a different book every time. It’s that sense of being discoverers together that I am most looking forward to I think.