Writing for your friends

I remember a translation exchange that was put together by Iowa’s International Writing Program some years ago, in which several French poets and several American poets got together and exchanged their work, the French translating the Americans into French, and the Americans translating the French into English. One of the Americans, David St. John, on being asked how he imagined the audience for this work, said he didn’t — he wrote “to the language,” not to any imagined people. I thought this was a fascinating position to take for a poet, but a questionable one for a translator. I’ll probably write more about this another time because it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. I wrote it down here because each time I’ve thought about the audience for this blog, I’ve run into a similar strangeness. I sort of don’t know and I sort of don’t care who the audience might. Why is that?

I have a deep suspicion that the idea for this blog sprang from leaving friends behind when we moved. My friend David said he left good friends behind when he moved to Iowa from Michigan, where he’d been in grad school, and he never quite made the same kind of friends again. This makes perfect sense. You’re a student in one place, a worker in another, a lover or a spouse or a parent or child, and so on, and so your friendships are shaped differently depending on your own shape, your time, commitments, engagements.

My understanding was of a superficial, intellectual sort at the time. I see it differently now. It’s not just that you make different kinds of friends in different places; it’s that some friendships are unique and authentic and you can never replace them no matter how you shape yourself somewhere else. These need to be cherished.

A blog is a sorry replacement for friends, but missing your friends is not a bad motivation for a blog. While I am not writing to them, I am writing for them. But for them, I would not be writing.

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