Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 14, 2009

The Impulse to Boogie (Or to Write… Whatever Comes Naturally)

“I heard papa tell mama, let that boy boogie-woogie,
it’s in him, and it got to come out
And I felt so good,
went on boogie’n just the same”
— John Lee Hooker, Boogie Chillun

“I wonder what an intention means! One wants to get something off one’s chest. One doesn’t know quite what it is that one wants to get off the chest until one’s got it off. But I couldn’t apply the word intention positively to any of my poems. Or to any poem.” — T.S. Eliot, The Paris Review interview, Issue 21, 1959

I think it’s a safe bet that I’m the first person to ever mention John Lee Hooker and T. S. Eliot in the same breath. Okay, maybe John Lee’s pal Van Morrison might have said it once in passing, but not likely.

But the two quotes above clearly have something in common. They’re both about the irresistable inner drive to express oneself. It’s good for the soul to boogie. It’s good for any person –whether or not they consider themselves writers– to get something off his or her chest. To wrestle with words or music, trying to capture something real, maybe even divine, is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

I especially like the Eliot quote because he makes his poetry sound so divinely accidental.

It’s like he’s a Buddhist, or a Trappist monk, or his own therapist: all he tries to do is stay out of the way of his True Self, of that “beginner’s mind”, that clear voice within him. Conversely, the more he *aims* at something (the intention), the less likely he is to hit the mark with his words. That’s what separates great art from didactic ideology.

But if he just feels what he feels, observing it and making a note of it, he comes much closer to tapping into something life-giving and universal… whether that’s something that brings joy, or pain.

So sit down and write something! A love note to your deepest self, a few lines about the curve of your daughter’s neck against her pillow, or the last time you had the blues.

Like John Lee says:

It’s in you, and it’s GOT to come out!



  1. ‘It’s in you, and it’s GOT to come out!’


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