Friday, May 05, 2006

Buffalo & Jackals

k: this is in response to the article i sent you earlier, the one about poets being buffalo—showcase animals of the literary universe. (this article is getting around… and it seems my new friend mr william f devault has quiet a bit to say, in contrast, i must admit, to what i have just written. he’s already offered me advice on capbooks and publication and is sending me a copy of his book. i call him batman.)

let me start by saying that i think it is an amazingly coherent, well written and enjoyable article. i am going to buy his book of poetry-related essays and possibly a collection of his poetry. if i ever go to california, i am going to make it a point to go meet him. i think he’s very clever, very smart, and poetry needs him. and if i ever teach a poetry course, this is the first assigned reading.

i’d written quite a bit last night about the article, taking bits and pieces from it to then talk about, doing sections and stuff, but i’ve just deleted that because i’ve just finished the article and think it’s a better idea to address the whole issue. there is so much to talk about. i’m almost not sure where to begin…

the main idea, the main force, behind the article is that poets have, over time, separated themselves from the other arts (theatre, music (specifically jazz, in dana’s examples)) and from the intelligentsia of modern america. we have done this by grouping together in such a tight-nit family info-structure that we (as a mass) have carried the weaker poets on our shoulders. what would have been considered a poor and unacceptable poem 50 years ago is now published, awarded and praised because the poet is friends with this person, has published this much, has done this that and the other thing for the editor, compilers, reviews, etc. this is foetry, right? except dana does it with more finesse and colorful analogies.

i like the idea of poets merging with other arts. as much as i adore the “club” feeling that i’m starting to get off our little web of poetry-blogs (billy is the metaphorical bouncer, is he not?), i have always liked being the poet among the group of culturally and academically diverse individuals. this is what i was at university. dina painted, jonah played music, i wrote poetry, bunny was our scientist, rachel our politician, hortensja our model, audrey our ballerina, reid our cartoonist, keith our extravagant modern-anthropologist… we crossed all the lines. sure, there was more than one of most of these in the extended network, but generally, we had everything except a math major in our group (bunny was in the minor, so i guess she’s sort of the science/math brains all over).

and thinking back, i did talk about poetry with them, with dina at least. i did read them some of my poems, i even wrote poems for each of them. i was acting out as a poet, drawing my audience in. i think that poetry needs to go back to that format on a national, if not global, level. i’d very much like to consider that doing things like the word verification contest, draws in the non-poet. my two best friends from high school and my sister all wrote poems for that contest. people that don’t write poetry. lauren wrote a bit in middle school, but that was a therapy exercise, not a literary endeavor.

forums like are fantastic for poets, but does it exclude and intimidate the non-poet? i imagine it would. perhaps i ought to check out the web designer’s other sites. i get the impression they are bit broader in topic. even as a poet, i enjoy those blogs that include drawings or photographs to accompany or at least break up the monotony of poem after poem. then on the other hand, i find the purity of a poetry-only blog rather comforting. the pure, clean… just poetry; those that let the poems paint the pictures. i don’t think blogging is the forum for which poetry will blossom back into the popular culture. i think it needs to happen on a real-life plane. i think that niches like billy’s lists are part of what dana sees as the problem. are poets too cosy with one another?

poetship is part of the solution. aren’t we spectacular? we are critics, ashraf, you and i. we disagree, we don’t pamper, we speak our hearts and minds about what we encounter. i think i might even start doing more reviews like the one i did for lilla that time. though perhaps not all as glowing? and not just poems of my friends. are poets afraid of telling the truth about other poets? i am a little bit. i don’t want to be the breaker—i don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. on the other hand. a bad poem is a bad poem and there isn’t anything i can do about it other than let the world know that i think it is a bad poem. right?

i think that that is all that poetry needs. for other poets to speak up about what they like and what they dislike and speak less of who their friends are. silliman doesn’t write very many negative reviews for the poetry he reads. perhaps if we start to speak up, non-poets will give us back our potency and our seat in the parliament of literature.

a: That is one amazing article you sent my way! It is so well-written: smart, consistent, coherent, well-researched and argued... I just haven't read an article this good and well-informed in ages! Thank you. And I am very glad it is catching on in the bloggosphere, as it deserves to. But I think the question you raised is a very good one: isn't this just another form of the very closed clique that the article is criticizing? Well, yes and no. On the one hand it is a band of poets; on the other I think it is a more diverse band of poets than you can find in creative writing programs. Just look at the two of us, an "insider" (you) and an "outsider" (moi) ;) And I think that's what makes our correspondence so good (amongst other things). That article was so right about attributing the decline in poetry to its inbreeding (amongst other things). And I applauded the fact that it had those 6 concrete steps at the end to make a difference: it took it upon itself not only to criticize but also to suggest a way out.
On the other hand, I revert to the argument above to suggest that other art forms have emerged that have taken on parts of what poetry used to do: satire, epic, politics, science, myth, religion, etc. And that is not a bad thing! I would never wish "Wings of Desire" away! Ever. It is a poem in a different form. I would so much prefer watching "Wings of Desire" over and over again than reading "Paradise Lost" once. So, we cannot expect poetry to be all that it used to be. It took new forms, new forms took some of its functions. I think we should accept its new diminished status and embrace those other forms, too. And that is why I agree with the article that we need to be more exacting, that there is a lot of crap passed out there for all the wrong reasons, and that maybe the market of creative writing programs, while beneficial to poets, might already be over-saturated. I believe in the "market", and that is why I was rejoicing when he made that Marx reference. And I think in a way what we are bemoaning is simply the natural result of over-abundance.

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