Jan-Henry Gray

“I borrow often and widely. I recommend borrowing ideas from Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series to see the relationship various kinds of artists have with process and material. As someone who has spent more of my life cooking food than writing poems, I have an intimate relationship to material; how things feel in my hand and in my mouth. Faced with an empty page, sometimes I need to leave words, get up, go outside, and get my hands dirty. But if words help, here are some the poet Dean Young wrote to his nephew Seth Pollins. I return to the entire letter often, but I carry these three ideas with me all the time, letting them knock around in my head, in hopes that they clear the obstacles away:

1. ‘The people who become writers are the ones who keep writing through the yards of silence and the years of discouragement.’

2. ‘You can’t sustain inspiration, you can only court it, and here’s the thing: it happens WHILE you work. It’s not something to wait around for. You have to sweep the temple steps a lot in hopes that the god appears.’

3. ‘I must get back to working on a poem I have no hope for because it is important to keep writing even when you aren’t writing worth shit. There’s a lot of luck involved in being struck by lightning, so you want to make sure you’re holding a pen when it happens.’”

—Jan-Henry Gray, author of Documents (BOA Editions, 2019)


Writer Photo: 
Writer Photo Credit: 
Philip Dembinski
  • If you’re an artist, up to a creative challenge, and love this story, enter your email here. Click here for more info.

  • May 23, 2019