The Writer’s Passage is based on a yearlong part-time course I devised and taught in Perth, Western Australia. In this course I told the literary biography of the world from the beginning of time to the present. My aim was not to provide information, but to stimulate the imagination into creative response. To this end I focused on the story that creativity herself wishes to tell: the biography of the poetic.
Working with this biography helped me to see that poets and their work are the expressions of a living being, whose life and destiny we have come to know as the history of literature. To engage with this destiny is an act of integration, an artistic initiation into the vitality of literature and the manifold ways of being human. For the attempt to write is inseparable from our attempt to be more thoroughly human, since what makes us most human is also what makes us most creative. In this way the work also serves as a course in personal development, undertaken through the medium of writing.
Every exercise in this book is an invocation of the poetic, a ritual to connect with what was most creative in the past. The shift of perspective demanded by such exercises is in itself deeply liberating. The scope of the soul is enlarged merely by trying on the soul-skin of a different time, culture and personality — to serenely reformulate the eightfold path of the Buddha or passionately hurl oneself into the battle fury of the Viking; to tangle with the verbal eroticism of Sappho or the righteous passion of the prophets. To become the pure Parzival of the medieval epics and then the devil in Goethe’s Faust is an unmatched gymnastic for the creative soul.
In my book The Power of Stories I describe how many great myths contain at their heart a ‘tale within the tale’, in which the hero or heroine encounters their own story. In every case this meeting signifies the turning point: hearing their own story and telling the rest of it completes their quest. The same applies to writers. They too are on a quest. No matter if their grail is the completion of a poem, or a novel waiting to be written, they adventure between possibility and realisation, resistance and resolve. They look towards the completion of their project with the same intensity as Odysseus to his homecoming. They may be as haunted by their muses as Orestes by the furies or as desperate as Parzival in his long search for redemption. Like these heroes they are in need of a story: their story as a writer in the context of the greater tale — the tale that literature herself has told, and will keep on telling, by means of her poets and writers.
This book was created to provide an imaginative framework for this greater tale. Through it writers meet the poets of the past where they can still be met: in the act of creation, where abstract knowledge becomes personal experience; where the history of literature turns into the writer’s own tale. This greater memory is the ‘body of story’ we need in order to be complete as writers and human beings.