Notes on “the Vault”

“Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.”

–Thomas Tranströmer, Romanesque Arches

For this week’s studio, we’ll be thinking about “the vault,” i.e. the space of enclosure that allows for opening.

That enclosure can be composed of time, as in, I’m going to dedicate this ten minutes to writing, etc. Or space – having a designated, uncontested space for writing.  It might be somehow held in the company of a friend with whom you share a commitment. Or in the regard of someone who cares for you and your work.



Here’s Tomas Tranströmer‘s poem, “Romanesque Arches”
~translated by Robert Bly

Romanesque Arches

Tourists have crowded into the half-dark of the enormous Romanesque church.
Vault opening behind vault and no perspective.
A few candle flames flickered.

An angel whose face I couldn’t see embraced me
and his whisper went all through my body:
Don’t be ashamed to be a human beingbe proud!
Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.
You’ll never be complete, and that’s as it should be.

Tears blinded me
as we were herded out into the fiercely sunlit piazza,
together with Mr and Mrs Jones, Herr Tanaka and Signora Sabatini—
within each of them vault after vault opened endlessly.


And here is Naomi Shihab Nye, on how poems create “a certain kind of “High Line” within yourself” that you keep wanting to return to, “a sudden savoriness of experience”

And here’s Stevie Nicks, backstage, in that kind of vault that comes from free play

And here is John Cleese  on creativity and the vault.

There are remedial vaults, as in those programs such as Anti-Social or Freedom, which keep you from venturing out into the Internet every fourth minute for a dopamine flush. You would think we wouldn’t need to have some kind of program when we could just turn it off ourselves.  But I think these things are helpful because they add another level of interaction. We’re not just turning it off alone. We’re turning it off with all the other people who have noticed that they’d like to follow through on a thought. The testimonials on these sites at first feel triumphant: “Worked for 60 minutes with! Writing session complete, so no matter what else I do today, I’ve already been productive” What happened that now we think if we just manage to work for 1 hour, that’s all we can hope for? But I do think we’re at a stage that has become highly remedial. If something helps, we need it! In Provincetown summers I sometimes brought a sewing project to the beach. It’s very difficult to sew in whipping winds. The internet feels this way now. My desk is a low chair at the beach and whatever I’m trying to work on keeps blowing out of my hand.

* thank you to Joyce Brady for bringing this Tomas Transtrømer poem to my attention


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