Look, a Pen!
“It’s just a pen on the sidewalk, leave it.”
“But what if it’s a magic pen?”
“Really, you are too much.”
But I picked it up anyway. It hadn’t been much of a date, and I guess that exchange sort of put the noose around its neck. I was up for a few laughs but she thought I was childish.
That night I decided to write out a to do list. In my pocket was the pen I’d picked up earlier and when I held it, poised over the paper, it felt slightly tingly. Suddenly the pen started to write something. It looked a lot like poetry, and before I could stop it I had a couple of good stanzas, complete with rhyme. It looked the like end of a poem.
I looked at my hand. I looked at the page.
I recognized something.
It took me a while, because I kept thinking this was all crazy. But what I had was two more stanzas of Keats’ Ode to Autumn. There was no doubt about it. More verses, notice. Extras. Not pastiche. Not repeats. New verses.
I went to bed to try and shut this all out. I don’t write poetry.
The next morning the pen was still in the same place I’d left it.
I picked it up and felt the energy stir. And then it was moving my hand, moving my brain for godssakes, as I found myself writing. I knew exactly what it was, too. Unmistakable. Extra verses for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I’d studied it for a whole year with Mrs. McDougall’s ninth grade English class, so I should know.
I hadn’t had breakfast yet. The verses were pretty good, actually. They were a sort of philosophical coda to the poem, as the wedding guest walks away. Fascinating.
So I did what any sensible person would do. I researched Google to see if Coleridge and Keats had written and deleted any verses of this kind, particularly these ones that I seemed to be channeling. I spent most of the day on the computer, and called my academic friends when my bum got tired and I could walk around and yack.
Connie, an expert in this field, listened carefully and said she’d get back to me. I told her I’d discovered some ancient manuscripts, because it was too weird to tell her I’d picked up a magic pen. She called back that night. The poems certainly sounded genuine enough, she said. The word patterns and meter were right. But there was no record of them ever having been seen before. She was ready to drive over to see the pages but I put her off as best I could.
The next day was very weird. I mean, having a Hopkins poem jump out of the pen you’re holding – an ordinary black bic pen – that’s a bit intense.
Kind of cool, though.
I wondered if there could be any money in it. But here’s the point – writing something in someone else’s style is like being an Elvis impersonator rather than being Elvis. There’d be money in it, but not much. Here was this miraculous pen and yet it was producing stuff that most people would say wasn’t genuine. Except it was. I know enough about brain imprinting to be well aware that we can recall stuff we don’t even know we’ve seen, but this was way different. I was channeling these dead poets. Who would believe me except a bunch of New-Age nuts? Since most New-Age nuts are more into health foods and yoga that would narrow my potential audience even more.
So I had a talk to the pen.
I need, I said, to have poems that are every bit as good as these, but modern. Poems that look like they could have been written by me. But really really good poems, please.
The pen lay on the desk, still. So I picked it up and said what I’d said again, to be a bit more intimate. If you see what I mean.
I could feel it quiver and I was a bit frightened for a moment. Then it let me know it wanted to write.
It was a pretty good poem, modern though, so I didn’t understand it. And believe me I tried.
I did this a couple of times a day for a week. Then I typed it all up and sent it to a well known poetry magazine. I needed to see what someone else thought about all this.
About a week later I got a very excited phone call. They loved the poems. Did I have any more?
And that was how it started, you see. My meteoric rise.
Suddenly I was famous. Actually it wasn’t sudden, it took a couple of years, but I was still in my old job and so life seemed to be just as useless and empty as always. So when I look back and ask myself what I was doing during those years I was doing nothing, and so it seems like it went by fast. It just slipped by. Except I was taking dictation once a day from the pen.
So – I’d sign books for enthusiastic readers. I’d give readings and answer questions. At first it was bookshops with just a few people. Then it was at small libraries, then a college or two. Eventually it was in pretty large auditoriums and being introduced by famous people. It was fun. I got questions, lost of questions, mostly from women.
“Would you please say something about your poem on the New York Stock exchange? I love that poem so much.”
“Um, yeah. It came to me one night. All my poems come to me from a place I don’t even know what it is. I just sort of take dictation.” Stuff like that. I got a reputation for being a bit evasive and rather mystical. It turned out that was exactly what people wanted. I wasn’t even a good reader. It turned out that was what people wanted even more. A poet who didn’t read his own stuff well was exactly their idea of a truth teller.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. I began to get anxious about losing the pen. I kept it with me at all times. Then I found myself getting anxious about the ink. Wouldn’t it run out at some point?
When it did I went into a panic. I TRIED TO KEEP CALM. I had a very difficult 20 minutes, I can tell you. Actually I did keep calm. I went out and bought another pen and transferred the guts to the old pen.
The poems continued to pour out, one a day, for years.
But whose are they? Are they mine? And what does it all mean?
Famous people came to interview me and I couldn’t say much. I became famous for not being able to say much about poems that were greeted as “brilliant” and “life changing”. I was compared to the Buddha because of my supposedly inscrutable ways.
Beautiful women also wanted to meet me. Most of them seemed to want to go to bed with me, too, so I didn’t object. But then they wanted to talk about literature and poetry and I really had nothing to say. I wanted to talk about the garden or the house I was building in the Hamptons. So they tended to leave after a while, looking sad, and saying I was remote, hard to connect with, and unfeeling. I’m not any of those things. I just don’t know anything about poetry.
I began to wonder about all this stuff. If I’d continued to produce those Keats poems, for example, would that have been a massively important gift to civilization? Had I cheated the world by not doing that? Would it have changed the history of poetry? And what if I’d started to channel Shakespeare? That really would have been weird as I can hardly understand what wrote, let alone if new stuff were to start flowing.
The thing is, I love this life. I spend about an hour each day with the pen, type it up and send it to my agent. And the money rolls in. I have the whole day free to take walks, hang out in cafes, pop into clothing stores, and buy stuff. I have no worries, except for the occasional tense moment if my dog gets sick. A lab. Called George.
I have a perfect life. I am a purveyor of sublime poems to the general public. I am therefore useful.
What did I learn? Not much, although I did formulate a few sentences for interviews. I learned that I’m not in control of anything much, and that wisdom or poetry or art comes through us – if it comes at all. I learned that we all get in our own way. I saw that we don’t accept what comes to us but feel we have to justify it, earn it, deserve it, and then change it.
I learned that when you have a good pen, one that truly feels good in your hands, hang onto it at all costs.
He is a full professor of Literature at Curry College, a counselor, and his doctoral degree in literature is from Oxford University. British by birth, he traveled extensively in Europe, India, Africa, and India before settling in Boston, Massachusetts.
Three of his books seek to show readers how to use writing as a therapeutic and life-enhancing tool. They are all based in workshops he has taught for over thirty years (The Sanity Manual, Life Passages, and Write Your Memoir). In each case the emphasis is on using writing and story to reach a place a deeper understanding and peace. His other books have explored the way six specific archetypes recur in the 3000 years of the western world’s great literature; Stories We Need to Know, The Six Archetypes of Love, and Princes, Frogs and Ugly Sisters: The Grimm Brothers’ Healing Tales. He concludes that these archetypes are ways for us to contact the deep structures of the psyche.
His tenth book, The Path of Synchronicity, asks us to consider what it is the universe seems to nudge us to do, rather than what we think will make us famous or wealthy. As such times we move into the flow of synchronicity.
He followed this with Spiritual Hunger in which he asks us to consider how we can feed our inner need for relevance in a mass culture, and how we can choose healthy possibilities rather than those sold to us by large corporations.
His most recent work is Gratitude and Beyond – an exploration of how gratitude is just the beginning to the journey of self-discovery. Following a brush with death I describe how I learned, the hard way, lessons I needed to know so that I could live more harmoniously in the world.