Automatic Writing

I found out about "automatic writing" this week while reading the Richard Elmann biography of the poet W. B. Yeats.

"Automatic writing" means writing without conscious control. Say you are watching TV or talking to a friend and your hand is moving across the page. It’s a tad more sophisticated than doodling.

Apparently Yeats’s wife could do this and he’d put her at it a few hours a day, asking her questions and letting her demon out on paper. This was of considerable help to him on many of his poems, particularly his most famous poem "The Second Coming."

   Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I want to write like Yeats so I sat down at Starbucks Tuesday morning and stared out the window at the traffic and put my penned hand to paper and tried to open up to automatic writing. Nothing happened. So I let my handle just want over the page and all it produced was squibbles. I’m terribly disappointed. I will have to return to my carefully thought out screeds of pure reason (tempered by divine revelation).

Jeff emails: There is an equivalent in the Jewish tradition going way back to Abulafia, which is keeping a dream journal. Not one in which you recall your dreams in the morning, since by that point there

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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