Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Friendship, defined - Colette, Emerson, Franklin, Thoreau...

"Histories are more full of examples of fidelity of dogs than of friends." --Alexander Pope

"What a delight it is to make friends with someone you have despised!" -- Colette (1873-1954)

"There are very few honest friends--the demand is not particularly great." -- Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

"The only way to have a friend is to be one." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

"'Tis great Confidence in a Friend to tell him your Faults, greater to tell him his." -- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

"A Friend is one who incessantly pays us the compliment of expecting from us all the virtues, and who can appreciate them in us." -- Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862).

"Your friend is the man who knows all about you, and still likes you." -- Elbert Hubbard (1859-1915)

"It is not enough that you succeed. It's equally important that your friends fail." --From the dark corridors of L.A.


Introduction - Writers' Friendship / Writers' Enmity

A Web Del Sol series compiled and edited by Robert Sward.

[photo: Left to Right, Mike Neff, Joan Houlihan, Robert Sward - AWP Conference, Palm Springs, CA]

As visitors to Web Del Sol / Perihelion will see, we've transferred essays and poems from that website, our home for many years, to this new venue, which remains open to contributors on the theme: Writers' Friendship. Our thanks to Joan Houlihan for generously hosting us at Perihelion. Our thanks, too, to Mike Neff, a friend, colleague and founder of Web Del Sol. Mike Neff has been absolutely tireless in writing, editing and publishing quality work on the Web since 1995. He has done more for the small press and what we used to call "the little magazine scene" than anyone I know. He's a man of boundless energy and inexhaustible enthusiasm and, for me, one of the most generous people I've encountered, on or off the Net. Who more than Mike has applied his skills and knowledge of html and computer programming in this amazing way? And done so, steadily, for over twenty years? When I think of Writers' Friendship I think, what else? Mike Neff.

For those who haven't yet visited, "Web Del Sol is an online resource for writers featuring contemporary literature and poetry. Contains chapbook, photography, small presses, art, reviews, interviews... and is among the most content-rich literary websites on the Internet... it's a directory and host site, and..."

For more, see http://webdelsol.com

Queries and comments welcome!


"Humility is not a virtue propitious to the artist. It is often pride,
emulation, avarice, malice—all the odious qualities—which drive a man
to compete, elaborate, refine, destroy, renew his work until he has
made something that gratifies his pride and envy and greed. And in
doing so he enriches the world more than the generous and good, though
he may lose his own soul in the process. That is the paradox of
artistic achievement." So says novelist Evelyn Waugh.

If Waugh is right, then what is it like for one writer driven by
pride, emulation, avarice and malice, to sustain a friendship with

Writer and editor Ted Solotaroff claimed aggression is a writer's main
source of energy, "the fuel for all those stories and poems about
betrayal and bad luck relationships... plus anything else a person
wants to write about."

Years ago at the University of Illinois one of my professors observed
that a recurring theme in Shakespeare's plays was that of betrayal.
Much of the fuel for Shakespeare's poems and plays came, he said, from
the poet's own experience of betrayal and/or friendship gone awry.

Betrayal is one element. Another is jealousy.

In Some Instructions on the Writing Life, Anne Lamott speaks of

"...If you continue to write," Lamott observes, "you are probably
going to have to deal with [jealousy] because some wonderful, dazzling
successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry,
undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you.

"It can wreak just the tiniest bit of havoc with your self-esteem to
find that you are hoping for small bad things to happen to this friend—
for, say, her head to blow up... You get all caught up in such [a]
fantasy because you feel, once again, like the kid outside the candy-
store window, and you believe that this friend, this friend whom you
now hate, has all the candy. You believe that success is bringing this
friend inordinate joy and serenity and security and that her days are

"Just remember," Lamott suggests, "some of the loneliest, most
miserable, neurotic, despicable people we know have been the most
successful in the world."

But that raises the question: Do the good guys have to finish last?

As writers, can we take the jealousy and aggression we might feel and
use them to spur us on? Or do we let them frustrate and block us?

"How do writers and poets stand writers and poets?” This is
the place to check out Raymond Carver, James Houston, William Minor,
Lola Haskins, Laurence Lieberman, and others in our Writers’ Friendship, Writers’ Enmity

Yes, one can erupt both into and out of friendship. I think of Julia
Cameron who, on a positive note, speaks of "before, during and after
friends... Those rare and wonderful people who love and accept us no
matter what our current creative shape or size...”

On the other hand, Lola Haskins, author of The Rim Benders, speaks of
Writers' Friendships in academia:

"I've heard stories... where certain writers seem to have peed on
their four corners, to make sure interlopers are aware that only they,
the purveyors of urine, and their students are welcome within their
borders. And if someone tries to cross that line, he or she finds out
what that odd odor means...

[Of friends and fellow writers]:

"...We buy each others' books and tell people about each others' work.
To be fair, we've often become friends in the first place because we
did like each other’s work. If you think about it, how much more
deeply can you know someone than by living with his/her poetry?"

The following has to do with aging, friendship and Strunk & White,
where one writer-teacher chose to turn for solace:


The first 40 years of life give us the text; the next 30 supply the
commentary on it.
.. --Schopenhauer


...Seeking solace in a review of grammar, I turned to Strunk & White's
Elements of Style. Standing at attention,
opening to the section on usage, I chanted and sang—
uniting my voice with the voices of others, the vast chorus
of the lovers of English.

We sing of verb tense, past, present and future.
We sing the harmony of simple tenses.
We lift our voice in praise of action words,
and the function of verb tense.

We sing of grammar which is our compass
providing, as it does, clues as to how
we might navigate the future,
at the same time it
illuminates the past.

As a teacher, I talk. That's present.
For thirty years as a teacher, I talked. That's past.
It may only be part time, but I will talk. That's future.


I will have invoked the muse.

I will have remembered to give thanks, knowing our origins
are in the invisible, and that we once possessed boundless energy,
but were formless, and that we are here to know 'the things of the
heart through touching.'

I will have remembered, too, that there is only one thing
we all possess equally and that is our loneliness.

I will have loved.
You will have loved.
We will have loved.


"Turning 60" reprinted from The Collected Poems, Black Moss Press, 2006 (second printing).


Robert Sward has taught at Cornell University, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and UC Santa Cruz. A Fulbright scholar and Guggenheim Fellow, he was chosen by Lucille Clifton to receive a Villa Montalvo Literary Arts Award. His 30 books include Four Incarnations (Coffee House Press) and Heavenly Sex. His most recent books, The CollectedPoems and God is in the Cracks, are now in their second printing. Sward’s New & Selected, will be published by Red Hen Press.