The Atlantic

How Solitude Feeds the Brain

The novelist Jami Attenberg shares a poem that helped her understand her own relationship to isolation.
Source: Doug McLean

By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature. See entries from Jonathan Franzen, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, and more.

Writers, says the novelist Jami Attenberg, often like to be alone. But few take solitude as far as the Cuban poet Dulce María Loynaz. For decades, Loynaz lived alone in a mansion at the center of Havana, writing enigmatic, evocative poems—many of them just one line—that could be both deeply confessional and stubbornly withholding. In a conversation for this series, Attenberg, the author of All This Could Be Yours, explained how the poems collected in Absolute Solitude, an English translation of Loynaz’s work, helped her create her characters and understand her own relationship to isolation. We talked about the difference between solitude and loneliness, why long walks are central to her creative practice, and how one’s brain can be one’s best companion.

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