Thursday, January 19, 2006

the human condition

dear ashraf,

am i disappointed with humanity? perhaps just a little. but i've spent some time really thinking about it now and that's not what i was trying to get at in my email. what i do, or what i try to do, with robots is to dissect the human experience. emotions like depression, love, curiosity and so many others are far too complicated to comprehend, if you really think about it. we know these things so closely only because we have felt them. someone who has not felt love, then, cannot contemplate the foolish actions of someone in love. someone who has never felt so depressed as to be pushed on the edge of life cannot understand the radical urges of a person wanting to overdose or slit his/her wrists. these are so extreme, how does one understand them without feeling them at the moment they are writing or reading? with dissection; either of a moment or of the emotion itself. with a robot you can draw in whatever motion or movement of thought you think might express the emotion. a robot tries to feel sad, and that's really the sad part. by forcing a reader to acknowledge the emotion they then feel it, at least in part. when the robot feels depressed it's like, for me, how can a robot be depressed? something horrific must have happened, to drive a robot over the edge? wow. to me that's wow.

does that answer the question a bit better?

as far as poetry being the same for everyone, i know you're speaking from the poet's perspective, and i think that there are only a few reasons why a poet writes, and so many poets, that there are bound to be so many people who feel the way you do about your art and feel the same way i do about mine. one thing we do share about poetry is that i too feel i am too impatient for any other art. i am too scared to fail at something so much bigger (ryan writes novels and i've seen him lose interest in too many projects), and i am also humbly under funded for anything that costs more than $8 ever four months that i dedicate to Jubilat. though i really love the kinetic and mind-erasing effects of stained glass cutting... where would i ever get a diamond edged sander?

what i wrote in PoemTree was more a reflection of how i thought the audience should feel, i've never really considered the complexities of poets as the audience. though, as i said before, that is my desired audience type. there are always more elements to contemplate.

how did i study poetry? hmmn. well, when i went to school i didn't know i would. my poetry was a secret. it was a composition notebook covered in stickers and tape and all sorts, and inside were diary entries, poems, mantras, nothing i wouldn't share if someone asked, but nothing i produced for any audience other than myself. and then i began reading poetry. that's when things changed. i actually started to read poetry and began to see and feel that what i was doing was somehow worthy of some attention. what, or i should say who, really turned me was Leonard Cohen. so then i decided my path was that of "English Major" which meant a lot of crappy classes about shakespeare and beowulf and keats and american literature (which acutally turned out alright because most of it was translated immigrant literature), but it also meant that i ended up in this course called "Experimental Poetry" and oh my did that turn everything i thought i knew on its head.

i used what i had of a gift, if you will, to understand, imitate and capture the effects of other poets. like that poem Tower and Gentleman, it is merely a copy of a great poet's work, yet it is my own words. that is how poetry develops for me. i, essentially, through school, through exposure to poetry through live readings, through laborious evenings trying to read through a collection of extremely-experimental work of a ridiculously complex analysis on something as mundane as hyphen usage in poetry, of writing so much bad poetry that you wouldn't even recognize it as poetry and so many papers dissecting the meaning and sound of other people's work, and through constant contact with other poets, either online or in person, was able to emerge from the college experience with what i feel is a strong grasp on poetry. that's what i did, but what did it do for me? well, this is how one person put it to me; every experiment, every trick, every rule, is like a tool. if you learn how to use these tools in a poem then you will be able to write that poem again. so here goes my analogy of poetry to architecture, just for you ashraf; you have an idea, a concept, for a beautiful building meant to inspire, perhaps a spa or something just as romantic and cliche, you haven't built it but you can feel it, what's the only way to bring this building out of your mind and plop it down in front of you right there on the ground? tools. you build it, you design it with care and caution, avoiding the mistakes you've made on past drawings. and the more of this you do, the better you get at using autocad and the more you learn which materials work better on different buildings. you start from the ground up too. so now you have an idea for a poem, but you're not sure exactly how it should present itself, so you avoid the mistakes you've made in the past and you use the tool you're most comfortable with, for you it's repetition, it's the beat of your heart as a measure for each line. for me it's maybe binary, or robots.

for my own poetry, i feel, quiet often, i am driven by sound more than anything else. i will let the syntax and meaning crumble for the sake of an amazing roll of the tongue... "the pull down at the corner of a bed spread" is just sounds. so my poems always start as sounds... then the story evolves from them. sometimes it's an idea, like that poem i wrote for you and two others, that started out with the idea of someone writing something really seductive on a batman napkin (because it's just so odd, and i guess so me, to mix adult pleasures with those of childhood). and this happens to the robots too. read Robots Tomorrow and you'll get what i mean i think.

i understand the fear of editing. just recently i had a bit of a breakdown over a poem i was trying to "fix" in response to some critique on the poetry forum i frequent. it can be a painful experience. but you'll also notice that i do a lot of experimentation with poetry. part of what i love about poetry is it's malability. i love that one poem can be written twice or three or even four times. and each version holds something in it that is sacred and separate from all the other versions. part of my affection towards this art form is it's flexibility.

i shouldn't let this get too long. though, so you know, i'm having the best time with these emails, with receiving them and with being given countless opportunities to digest my thoughts into words. i owe you.

and finally, i'm so glad that you like your poem. i hope you don't mind that i borrowed some of your imagery about autumn. i'm a bit overwhelmed actually, by your response to it, or should i say your lack of ability to respond, which is even more telling. thank you so very very much.

all the best,


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