Writing it down

“A poet never takes notes,” said Robert Frost. “You never take notes in a love affair.”

Frost knew something about writing poetry, but I think he was being a touch precious about the question of notes.

Isn’t it the rare writer who can create totally from memory? Perhaps I betray my journalistic roots, but I know that I find myself scribbling notes to myself all time—observations, phrases, something overhead, a particularly good argument I’ve made to myself. They come in handy, because of my all-too-faulty memory.


In fact, I regret the times when I didn’t stop to write down some particularly apt or telling idea or sentence or description. Too often it would be lost forever (floating somewhere in my subconciousness, I suppose).

Now I would agree that Frost’s image of the lover obsessively chronicling the love affair—making notes instead of making love—isn’t an appealing one. But has all great love poetry been created from by noteless poets? I would think not. What are journals, diaries, letters, writer’s notebooks for?

I remember reading once that William Carlos Williams, a doctor and marvelous poet, would scrawl lines on his prescription pads; Wallace Stevens, insurance executive and poet, kept his “poetry notes” in the lower right hand drawer of his desk where he could quickly add ideas or words when the Muse moved him.

Yes, I have deliberately taken Frost’s comment too literally—he was, I think, contrasting the need to live without self-consciously observing that life while in the moment—but it got me thinking about “writing it down.”

Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
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