What Authorship Is Like Let us note here for the record the death-of-the-author authors put their names on the writings they author. Authorship is like that: “I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name.” So wrote Walt Whitman, who put his name inside his song, lodged his portrait as a working man on his volume’s frontispiece, and said he would dissolve, but let a cast of his right, writing, hand by Truman Bartlett to be cast for once and future time in bronze.
How Authors Work Some write stuff down and try to understand it later, some claim from the start they know just where it ends and what it means, and some take recourse to the schools of chance or cool machinery. Some live off their advance and never work at anything at all. With varying results I’ve steered my craft through straits and bays and open waters of the art and tried to heed what’s on the charts but found that waves and swells and tides and winds have more to say than I could ever get in writing, which just makes me one of those whose authorship defers to sun and moon and gravity but owns a swatch of sky.
What Authorship Is Don’t ask the authors. They would be the last to know. You’d do as well to ask a cow how it gives milk, said Pete De Vries. So cast your line in any other stream. Allow for species, shadows, depth, and temperature, and feel the tug and thrash of authorships of every size and taste and hue that stir beneath the surface. Wade up to your hips if you’re equipped for stepping off the bank, as one would hope you are. But quell the wish to fry your catch in butter. Say your thank- you, slip your hook out, and release the fish. What authorship is is best left to swim among the reeds and freshets and at whim.
Dan Campion is the author of A Playbill for Sunset (2022) and Peter De Vries and Surrealism (1995) and co-editor of Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song (1981, 2nd ed. 1998, 3rd ed. 2019). Dan’s poetry has appeared previously in Grand Little Things and in Able Muse, Light, Poetry, Rolling Stone, Think, and many other magazines. A selection of his poems titled The Mirror Test will be published by MadHat Press in 2022.