30.12.2020
by Justina Dobush
Short profile

Writer, translator, literary critic, member of the Ukrainian PEN Club.

What does it mean to you to write by hand? And how important is it for writing poetry?

Yes, these are not only metaphors, poetry is good to write by hand. I'm sticking with this old-school habit. When you write with your hand, you visualize and translate the word into a physically material dimension. Then you see many more opportunities where you can develop the thought, or in which direction to go. Of course, in the computer version, you can turn on the function of visible changes and see all the edits, but it's more common to do this by hand. You don't need to keep everything in your imagination. And most importantly, while the hand is drawing letters and words, the head has time to think over words that are close in sound, but distant in meaning; and rhymes, and rhetorical figures. And most importantly, it happens so automatically that I am not distracted by it. I also type quickly with both hands, almost blindly (when I learned that), but this is not the level of automatism that would not distract me.

For me, writing by hand is somewhat like dancing: for both, coordination of movements is important. Everything happens practically without your participation — without your focusing on the process. Well, this is, of course, if you can dance well, and not count the steps. By the way, they say that while writing with the hand, the same part of the brain works as during meditation.

I also like to write in such a way that I can add something in the side margins, and electronic files are helpless with this, as well as electronic books.

Yes, I feel it too. When I need to formulate a thought, I take a piece of paper and a pen (or even more often — a simple soft pencil). Recently I read that this is recommended, because during the writing with the hand, "reticular formation" is activated in the brain, which coordinates everything — sense organs, motor centers, memory and emotions, activating the cerebral cortex, from where thoughts actually "come". And these hand movements actually "take" the thought out of the head — bring it out.

By writing by hand, you can take out of your head memories, words or language constructions that are rarely used in everyday speech. This is very important for a writer. It is easier to make a selection by using handwriting, to sort information: this is important, this is secondary, and this does not stick anywhere. Or build a logical sequence of what follows what.

Sometimes I just write out all the thoughts first, and then I structure them.

There is such a thing; I recently realized that there is structuring even in poetry. And I would say — especially in vers libre, where everything is based on a certain structure, it is a kind of crystal lattice. In traditional syllabotonics, this function is performed by rhyme and repetitive rhythm, and in vers libre by logical structures, rhetorical formulas and associative sequences.

I remember that even at school or at the university, in order to master some new material or topic, I had to draw myself a diagram: what, where and to what all these vertical and horizontal lines were connecting. Of course, in a literary text, all this is different. Not all structures are logical; more precisely — there we are dealing with open systems. This theme of open systems was used by Michael Crichton in "Jurassic Park". I was once captured by the idea that each new bone or fossil fragment radically changes our idea of ​​what this dinosaur was. Roughly the same thing happens in the process of writing a poem: each fragment found in the head — a word or construction, forms what will then become whole in verse. But the logic of the combination of all these elements in a literary text is the author's. Such poetry is loved for the fact that you can observe how the author reveals his/her thinking process. If you remember, the poet Yaroslav Dovgan wrote “When I read poetry, I undress” (I do not guarantee the accuracy of the quote). This is about something like that.

For me, by the way, it is also more and more important before writing the text to paint its structure by hand somewhere in a notebook.

Yes, it’s all about the non-fictional text. I suffer a lot when I see material that is not logically structured. That is, when I notice that at least some kind of presentation logic is missing, or the presentation logic is simply too bizarre, or it simply isn't there. Or classifications like: "there are three types of something: internal, external and violet" (and this has recently happened even in scientific works). I think this arises due to the fact that a modern person is trying to remember too much, and human core memory cannot withstand this load. And if you write down such a clumsy structure on a piece of paper, then its lameness is immediately visible.

Such texts are much more difficult to edit.

Yes, editing is very difficult, because some components drop out and everything falls out. And it is very difficult to translate such structures because the translator must understand the logic of the presentation and construction of the text. I remember that about 20 years ago I was writing my dissertation, and I just could not sit down to its final version until the general structure was settled in my head. And when I already imagined the structure, starting from it, I could finally write, because working with separate fragments is not an option for me. By the way, at literary courses, I also recommend, before sitting down to write stories or a novel, to think over in detail and write a structure for yourself so as not to go 30-50 pages later in some unnecessary direction from where you will then have to return, correct, replay some of the events, ruin your time or kill ill-conceived characters. But my poetry is completely different; in poetry I love spontaneity.

I think that is precisely the essence of it, because is it possible to plan poetry at all?

It seems that ancient textbooks of poetry also recommended in a poem to think and plan everything, for that I do not like classicism, where the writer had very little creative freedom. In fact, I love that in poetry, when you can go in any direction from any point because when you choose a direction, it’s a really cool feeling. And this freedom in poetry really gives me a rush. The Baroque tolerated such freedom, even recommended combining the incongruous — for the sake of a spark of new thought or observation. I don’t remember who said that poetry is born in the place where two words meet for the first time because before you no one even thought of connecting them.

And when you choose the direction where you are going, what exactly do you rely on? Will it be better later to develop in terms of language, or in terms of sensual, or in terms of content in general?

You know, it’s very different, and I have different books, and they’re all mine, but they also have stylistic differences. I’m changing because what I see changes, and the way I see it, what I want to share is important to me. In fact, this stylistic moment is different for me in every book, and I deliberately choose a different layout.

If we go back to old books, then in the 90’s vers libre was closer to me. I remember then I discovered the poetry of Tarnavsky, Rubchak, Boychuk. Subsequently, I was led a little in the direction of syllabotonics. It was easy to write and read to the public because in the minds of the public then vers libre was perceived as a kind of inadequacy — as an inability to draw a horse so that it would look like a horse. For one of these syllabotonic books I was awarded the Granoslov Prize. But then I already deliberately tried to get rid of syllabotonics and the dictatorship of rhyme, which forces the thought to be subordinated to the word that ends the line. Since the rhyme came to my head automatically, I tried to shift it into the line, not give it power over me, subordinate it to other elements of the verse. That is why this book contains a lot of rhythmic vers libre, which is built on the repetition of certain structures. After all, it was a period of oral performances in front of an audience. The rhythmized poems were well read aloud and perceived by ear. Many people told me later that they were very surprised that free verse could have such a clear rhythm. It's like with jazz: it also has a rhythm, just its own, not regular. And their own layout rules.

Probably, this is something like a professional deformation, but when I understand how a certain author constructs a phrase, the poems become too predictable. It can be a good author and beautiful rhymes, but there is no feeling of surprise because after reading the first word, you already know how the line ends. Therefore, I prefer to change from book to book and try and discover something new for myself. Although, I realize that non-professional readers rarely pay attention to such experiments, and even less often — they understand and do not think about them.

And they cannot understand what the essence of the experiment is?

Yes, and accordingly I always wanted my poems to also contain readings of a professional literary critic, who can notice such things and understand what you were looking for there — why did you do it. This is how something new is introduced into literature. And this “new” is not always immediately perceived by readers. It takes some time until they get used to it and begin to perceive. Nowadays rhythmic vers libre is already a fairly widespread phenomenon in Ukrainian poetry, so you have to look for some new forms of self-expression for yourself. But I am always very sorry when these ideas and experiments are not readable — when poetry is judged only for its content, for what it is about, but that formal “how” is no less important.

In principle, form and content in literature should be of equal value.

Of course, with all the experiments, there are still some author's signs of the style by which the author is recognized, and it seems to me that despite all the conscious changes, I am still quite recognizable. But I am not interested in being the same. This is probably something internal.

So, I remember, even at school I did not have a single handwriting style. Teachers often had complaints: one person wrote this half a page, but that half — someone else. So until now — there are several different handwritings, each with its own slope of the text, completeness or consistency of writing letters. I do not control these changes in handwriting; they are unconscious. For example, with a change in mood, there is some kind of internal switching.

I have the same thing, by the way. I also write with both hands and each hand has several of its own handwriting styles. And at the same time, depending on what period in my life or what I am writing about, the other hand dominates.

Oh, I'm ambidextrous too. Since childhood, I was taught to write with my right hand (for that was what they demanded from everyone), but when I happened to break my right hand and stay in a cast for almost a month, and I had to write my university notes somehow, I discovered that I can write quite well with my left hand. Well, the handwriting with the left hand is not as calligraphic as the right one — there is less practice — but when I want to switch somehow, I change my hand, and it seems that the perspective of looking at everything around changes.

I will also add that in writing by hand I began to like this very contemplation of my handwriting, as if you have some kind of power over your thought, you feel that it is yours, because texts in electronic format are all very similar because of the fonts.

Well yes. And I also really love — because it is important for me what I write — ink and capillary pens, where writing depends on the pressure. That is, in order to write with a ballpoint pen, you need to make the same pressure all the time, but in an ink or capillary pen, especially in an ink pen, when you press harder, you can see it in during writing. This is also additional material for thought. And I really like these moments. There are several such good ink pens — a lot of colored ink, and I had a period when I even bought a quill for myself, because I wanted to draw, but I still don't have time to use it.

I also recently realized that I want to buy myself an ink pen because ballpoint ones actually run out very quickly and are lost constantly. And it happens that you are sitting at home, you want to write something down urgently, but as a result there is not a single pen.

Yes, and also a separate problem: all those memorable pens with a beautiful body, which also remind you of something, of some kind of conference or festival, but now the core is over and you keep thinking, “sorry to throw it away — I will buy the refill”. Then always you forget to do it, and the result is a whole collection of these empty non-writing pens that are neither here nor there. And ink pens are also a very sustainable thing. But from everything that we say, one might get the impression to not let me eat or drink, but let me write with a pen. And this is not at all true: most of all I do not like to rewrite something from somewhere. I'd rather take a photo of it on my phone or make a copy. For me, handwriting is a creative process, and rewriting is a boring routine. So it is a real happiness that the current technique allows you to avoid unnecessary routine — to simplify your life.

When I studied at the university, it was the beginning of the 2010s, at first we also wrote a lot by hand, rewrote lectures, since at the seminars we were not allowed to answer from printouts. But I really liked it because at the same time everything was better remembered.

Well, when you take notes yourself and do it with high quality, it is really better. A lot remains in your head. But I had such a problem that for me the handwritten text was still unreliable for learning, that is, I could make a summary for myself, but I remembered a visual picture — a printed text. And when I had to answer, I was like this, “yeah, this is the second or third paragraph, there is this and that”. All this was visually remembered in printed form, but for some reason I could not remember visually from the notebook. I just thought that truly handwritten text is difficult to visually reproduce in the head. I think the whole point is that we perceive handwritten text by a different center of the brain than printed. This is a different kind of information — and it has its own way of reading.

Graphologists read much more information from handwritten text than the average person. For them, handwriting sometimes says more about the author than the biography. Well, we should not forget that for several tens of centuries literature was predominantly man-made — an intellectual type of hand-made. But this is a separate interesting topic that requires a separate discussion. In general, language is a very conventional reality, and when we try to translate it into the material-physical dimension, a number of related problems and interesting observations arise.

One of these that intrigues me very much as a writer is the ways and possibilities of transmitting inner speech that reflects our thought processes. At one time, stream of consciousness literature (which less advanced readers perceive as delusion) was a huge breakthrough in the direction of transmitting inner speech. Therefore, it is not easy to teach yourself to disable the built-in function of logical and stylistic formatting of information. And inner speech is wrong, with broken sentences, with illogical transitions, with bizarre associative lines. I suspect that if someday we suddenly invent a device that can record nonexpressed thoughts, then so much new and unknown about us will finally be revealed to us that we will be shocked.

Until then, there remains a wonderful way: to allow the hand to output its thoughts to people.

 

Short profile

Writer, translator, literary critic, member of the Ukrainian PEN Club.