Or do something else entirely with it?
I don’t know why I can’t get this query out of my head at the moment.
Or do something else entirely with it?
I don’t know why I can’t get this query out of my head at the moment.
the sky is not pluming charcoal
the air does not quiver
with hot yellow grief
it is April centuries later yet
bending dark occupies
his soul, his eyes
are empty brown rooms
he lives the day tuned
to an old oboe
follows it winding
down hours of ancient pain
in younger days I pulled
on him: Grandfather
remember I am flying
this kite and you
are helping me
now I only sit with him
or touch his cheek or bring him
something to drink
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.”
I agree with the commenter who said (in so many words) that we need to stop trying to pretend that poetry is a commercially viable proposition. It just isn’t. But that inaccurate paradigm dictates so much of the discussion about poetry publication and poetry promotion.
cremating vs burying your dead child
morbid that I have thought of this extensively, but I have
and I have thought that I could not bear to think of my dead child alone out there in his grave on nights that are storming and winter, and cold, and dark
I blame Frost
although maybe I should not
Or just plain horrid?
The whole shebang – original article and all the reactions – seems to be operating on some terrifyingly primal level.
Why do we do these things?
There is this Rilke quote that you can find all over the internet (although sorry I can’t find where he actually said it):
What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us.
I did find this in Letters to a Young Poet, though (letter No. 7):
Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it […]. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.
Mere assertions, really, that stand or fall less on the strength of the evidence presented than on whether the assertions happen to resonate with the audience.
Well, they resonate with me. I’m a fan of Difficult, mostly. Yes, we all deal (must deal) in one way or another with Difficult when we come upon it, or it upon us. And, yes, what is my difficult is not necessarily yours. Everyone’s difficult is different.
But we all know what our difficult is, immediately, when we see it. And then there are Questions about it.
On the tactical level: When I am faced with Difficult, do I a) run from it or b) face it? On the strategic (more important?) level – when I do face Difficult, is it because I have a) stumbled upon it or b) sought it out?
There was recently an exchange on Difficult on the New Poetry list. Poet X posted in outrage about some incomprehensible work by some famous difficult poet (Peter Manson, as it happens). (You know how it goes: This means nothing to me. How can it mean anything to anyone!? Do this artist and his/her supporters take me for a fool? Anyone could do this! Watch me do it right here! Etc.)
And someone nice responded: Poet X, The piece you quote has been taken out of context. Yes, the whole work is difficult, but worth the effort, trust me. “Difficulty,” said the responder, “is usually the entry fee for anything new (or new in one’s experience), in the arts and elsewhere. Complaining about it makes no more sense than arriving on an unknown island and being offended by the lack of maps.”
To which my hero of the moment, Bob Grumman, responded (his response reproduced here with permission):
I commend [Poet X] for at least complaining about it, the standard reaction to such stuff of mainstreamers being to ignore it. I also think he SHOULD complain about there being no maps. That is one of my on-going complaints: no critical attention paid to people doing work like Manson’s or like other poets in schools of poetry totally or almost totally unknown to academia like, yes, mathematical poetry.
Why not, I just thinkz: a college class devoted to Literary Incomprehensibilty. Start with an overview of all the great writers whose work was first thought incomprehenisible, then do Stein’s Tender Buttons, excerpts from Finnegans Wake (neither of which I yet find comprehensible, except for a few lines here and there, myself) and “The Wasteland” and maybe something else from back then). Then present students with a list of incomprehensible contemporary texts by people like Manson, Jim Leftwich, P. Inman, Clark Coolidge, John M. Bennett, Scott Helmes, and require each student to choose one text no one else will be working on and require a thousand-word appreciation due at the close of the course. Devote each class after that to discussions of the poems. The teacher should guide but not give any help of substance–for instance, he might suggest where criticism of some of the authors or writers like them may be found, and maybe ask a clarifying question or two, but leave the students on their own. Group efforts allowed, perhaps encouraged.
Goals: forcing each student to confront the incomprehensible and find ways of dealing with it; astonishing a lucky few into a capacity for appreciation they wouldn’t have believed they could have (like me, when a friend said something that suddenly made me at 18 see what the impressionist painters were doing, and caused me on my own within weeks to appreciate the abstract expressionists and all kinds of other non-representational painters I had hitherto had contempt for). But also forcing those not able to appreciate whatever texts they had to try to appreciate to say what those texts lacked, what they did wrong, what it was about them that prevented appreciation–all of which would have to improve their critical sense. Intelligent negativity counting as much as intelligent positiveness.
The Chinese word “Pu” is often translated as “the uncarved block,” and refers to a state of pure potential which is the primordial condition of the mind before the arising of experience.
In what universe have I been living? It’s only about three days ago I realized it’s April and therefore NaPoWriMo. What a loser.
There are fifteen hundred non-profit calls on every dollar in everyone’s purse, and a donor’s problem is often simply deciding where to bestow every ear-marked dollar. When it comes to general charitable giving, I annually set aside a specific portion of my income for specific charities that focus on areas of interest to me and have a demonstrated record of responsibly using donations.
Sites like the Combined Federal Campaign, which collect and provide standardized information on hundreds of charities, are useful on this latter point. CFC, for example, “calculates and publishes participating charities’ percentage of administrative and fundraising expenses (AFR) and advises donors that an AFR in excess of 35% is considered high by many in the philanthropic community” (I see that the charity I am supporting this year has a 2.1% AFR). There are also sites like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator. But none of these sites seem to have poetry-press-specific searches.
I’m afraid I’m demonstrating terrifying ignorance by even asking, but are there comparable sites with such information about poetry presses? Or does one have to seek such information directly from the press? I am all for supporting poetry presses – particularly in these very difficult times – and I’d like to contribute regularly to at least one or two, but I admit a bias in favor of presses that can demonstrate to my earnest control-freaky self effective and responsible use of donor funds. Any pointers in this regard greatly appreciated.
“.. what we need in poetry are more people who don’t have a stake in it, more people who don’t know the people, the real people behind the words to care about poetry enough to write about it. This is true in every other field, it seems, but us. This is a problem because there is hardly any “demand” for poetry beyond practicing poets.”
Victoria Chang making an excellent point. When was the last time you read a review of someone’s poetry by a practicing poet that said: I consider this work weak, for the following reasons…?
Either people (and that includes me) say stuff is great, or they say nothing. I’ve been on a recent roll of ordering and reading chapbooks and collections by poetry blogosphere poets. Some of it is really good stuff and I have been and will continue to write enthusiastically about it.
Some of it, though, makes me go WTF?! and wonder what the publishing world and standards in general are coming to. I could defend my WTF reactions meaningfully and respectfully in reviews, I think, but I’m choosing not to. Choosing not to even begin to go there.
For snivelingly cowardly reasons, mostly related to my self-interest as an aspiring poet myself.
Woe is me. And us. Where are we going to get the critical feedback we really need, if we’re all so busy scratching each other’s backs…?
Related post here.
In everything but poetry?
And at least this UK discussion board has a forum for US (& other) poetry. I’m not aware of any US discussion board which gives a specific reciprocal place to UK (& other) poetry.
The US and UK poetry seem, from here, to be two separate universes, two distinct planets, with only the occasional pond-straddling pioneer (Rob Mackenzie and just a handful of others come to mind) at the ‘working’ level, where most of us operate. (At the mega-poet level - where there are mega-poets - all things become much more equal, don’t they?)
Is this an accurate picture? If so, is such working-level separateness good or bad for Poetry?
And that’s just the US-UK divide. There’s also the huge and important rest of the English-speaking poetry blogosphere. Is there more or less connectedness there?
Should people who care about Poetry be trying to do anything about any of this?
Or should we just be all Candide and il faut cultiver son jardin?
a) Nic Sebastian hasn’t written a poem in more than two months
b) There is no room in Nic Sebastian’s junk-yard/creepy-attic/stale-leftovers -packed head for poetry at the moment
c) Nic Sebastian is no longer a poet
d) The angels are weeping for Nic Sebastian
I have to write something but don’t know what it is, or how to unlock it. Usually reading works but hurling them across the room is all I seem to want to do to books today.
Scavella - who writes the best sevenlings – has been busy.
And is making me think about what I’m doing.
I got more or less serious about studying and writing poetry just about two and a half years ago. My first publication - submitted on a monumental dare to myself - came in November 2006 (thanks, Shit Creek Review!) Subsequent submissions were made cautiously, in great trepidation and greater angst. Fourteen months later, I have a total of 22 pieces either published or accepted for publication. (Full list here.) I’ve tried to submit only to places I will always be happy to claim as a publication credit, and I think I’ve succeeded.
Rejections were never any surprise. Acceptances always were. Which remains true today. But the paradigm has shifted over the last year or so, and so therefore has the quality of the surprise. At the beginning, the rejection of a piece signaled to me a flaw in the piece, and it was dashing for that reason. Now – after having a number of pieces rejected several times before going on to find good homes – I find I am dashed by rejection more as evidence of failure to connect, than as evidence of a flawed piece. And, conversely, delighted by acceptance as evidence of successful connection, rather than of a perfect piece.
And, now, confused about just what a “flawed” piece is. Or a “perfect” one.
I don’t think either is what I used to think it is.
Julie has some unhappy thoughts.
I sympathize. What can you do? Poetry is a changeling kid with burning eyes. You can’t treat it like the other kids. If you put it on your to-do list, it will sit right up with its straight straight back and laugh at you. Between the eyes. With a laugh you think sounds like a spoon stuck in the sink garbage disposal until you realize it sounds like jasmine rice spilling over a glass table.
And it’s moved in to stay.
How do you live with something like that?
A real diehard, indestructible, irresolvable obsession in a poet is nothing less than a blessing. The poet with an obsession never has to search for subject matter. It is always right there, welling up like an Artesian spring on a piece of property with bad drainage.
- Tony Hoagland, Real Sofistikashun
One of the things I did this summer was to look at all the poetry I have written as a body of work, rather than as disparate, random poems. Put it in piles, sort it by themes. I ended up with five main piles — poems of human dysfunction; relationship poems; motherhood poems; God-shaped poems and existential/human condition poems.
I was certainly surprised by the first and the fourth categories. But I wouldn’t call any one of them an “obsession.”
Sometimes I convince myself that all this time I’ve only been picking at the edges of a scab with this poetry lark and that somewhere there is indeed an obsession lurking. And that I should just bite the bullet and rip it off.
The scab, I mean. To get the Artesian spring of obsession going.
Me being a property with generally bad drainage and quite suitable, I think.
Don’t know, don’t know. I’m a paper book lover, but often think I am just because it’s what I know. Something to be said for being able to carry 80-plus books in the palm of your hand…
My relationship with punctuation in poetry grows ever more strained. I now feel, when I punctuate a piece in standard fashion, that I am stringing pink neon bulbs or polystyrene sandwich boards onto it that say STOP HERE or TAKE A BREATH HERE or THIS IS A QUESTION HERE.
Update: Gravitating (naturally) towards what supports my position, I lose no time in pointing out this interesting essay which says, among other things:
What this all really comes down to is that punctuation is up to the poet. Moreover, do not let punctuation get between you and the art of writing poetry. Unlike in writing prose, punctuation in poetry exists as a secondary function and sometimes is not even incorporated into the body of work until the poem has been completed. And always remember when it comes to poetry punctuation, less is better.
Then there’s this agreeable site which says:
Every poem you write has the possibility of being a new poem with the addition (or deletion) of just a few punctuation marks.
And finally, this lesson plan, which lets you know that students will:
..experiment with line breaks and how they affect rhythm, sound, meaning, and appearance, and can substitute for punctuation in poetry.
And so on. (Hat tip: Those links were provided by a very cool moderator at a workshop site in response to a critiquer who said in so many words that a piece submitted to the workshop was fatally flawed because it was not ”properly” punctuated.)
On a more general note, there is this brief essay (look in the comments) on punctuation graciously added to this blog by C.E. Chaffin.
You know what this means, right? Yep.