A Writer Writes a Writer’s Life

A Writer Writes a Writer’s Life


—After hearing Colm Tóibín speak about his book The Magician, which explores the life of the German Nobel Prize-winning author Thomas Mann1


How does a writer write a writer’s life?

He travels to his mother’s motherland,

a foreign nation to the very Mann,

and scanning slow the broad Brazilian skies,

the stars unfold the story to his eyes. 


And so, the writer writes the writer’s life.

The man reuses what was used by Mann. 

He tours his houses, reads his diaries—

“I must find drama, must find impetus,

for you shall live his life the way he did.”


For you shall live the life of he who said,

“The language, German language, is true home.”

Can one be born in language? Live in it?

A language married to no homeland realm,

divorced from its betraying nation state.


For you shall live the life of he who lived

beneath thick layers of enticing skin,

a trapping mask of hidden truths, unseen

until the real was questioned on his death—

The Mann they thought they knew, long gone, long gone. 


The writer digs, discards, and reinvents,

his written words rewriting far-off life—

Is language truly capable of all?

Destroying, killing, poisoning the mind,

and building worlds to soothe the living soul?

  1. The quotations in the poem are imagined. The first is inspired by Colm Tóibín’s words on his process of research for The Magician, and the second is based on Colm Tóibín’s recollection of Mann’s stance on language as being undivided despite being shared by both East and West Germany.
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