Of course, the de rigueur answer is ‘because I must,’ but that’s always smelled a bit off, a bit undercooked, a bit two-days past its due date to me. I could live without writing; I might even be able to find a happy rhythm to fall into (though, see! -- even in this non-writing future I need rhythm!). Yes, I could live without writing, but I would not be me, I would be someone else...or rather I would be someone else pretending to be me.
So, why do I write, if not because ‘I must’. It’s all wrapped up in words...the world and touch and surface of words, the pluck and smash and love and ‘fuck off’ of words. I am in love with language, with individual words, with words that rhyme, that call to each other, that remind each other of their roots, that sing, that fart. How words are paired, as a delicate white wine is selected, tasted and poured to go with flounder or halibut. Or, sometimes, on the contrary, how words are paired like colors that wonderfully clash, like a chalky pink and neon plum paired to make the eye dizzy on purpose.
So, as it was in the Beginning, a word sets it all into motion. I hear the word ‘sawbuck’ used as slang at the local liquor store and run home to look it up. Or I read the word copse in a poem and find it suddenly the most interesting word in the language. Or an aunt uses 'anvil' instead of 'amble' in a missive on the back of a birthday card and I think I've stumbled upon genius.
But words are only at the root of my need to write. I write because a poem is a puzzle, words the pieces. (More and more I think not just a poem, but all writing is a puzzle.) And I write because I am in love with puttering over a table, the words splayed about like jagged pieces, putting this one next to that to see if it somehow fits, flipping it around and shoving it in between two other pieces where it clearly doesn’t belong to see if it sings there in its awkwardness.
This may make me sound like my poems are more language-based than anything else, but that's not the case. Because my love for words is tempered by a need I have. That is I am desperately seeking to understand myself, every moment of every day, to understand why I’m here, why I love the people I love, why I fight for the things I fight for, why I am me and not someone who doesn’t need to write. And my relation with the words I play with, the ones I find beautiful and the ones I find boring, and everything in between, well, that is my way of learning about myself. What I create tells me more about myself that a shrink or a god or a well-meaning friend ever could. The words I love create the stories I tell. And the puzzle set out before me when I come to a blank computer screen is the puzzle of me.