Tuesday, June 27, 2006

short walk back to inspiration

k: maybe more like take 2 instead of part 2, as this is going to right back to the word inspiration and … well, i want to talk more about love.

the reason i think “love” poems and “heart” poems have such a hard time in today’s poetic market and is rarely touched by poets themselves is because… answer me dear, what is love?

is it love for a brother living half-way around the world, love for a little grey cat, a tall dancing polish boy, a diva, a specific scent of hand-cream? all these loves are soooooo different. we feel something for each of them, but the love one has for a well-bound book is different to the love someone might have of a particular taste or of a person. love of a person is so complex that one, as a poet, needs to choke it down into the details.

i think poetry is the art of specification, the art of making your reader feel the same thing as you in that moment. on the other hand

this is a little bit back to inspiration.

i would go on about what is love, ah, but dinner is ready ^_^

a: Aha, dear! Right on! I won't even attempt to answer, What is love? But I can't agree more that poetry is the art of specification (even though I can certainly think of example of poetry as the art of generalization, those insights about life)...

a (again, later): I think you covered an important point about inspiration: motivation. And I think we are making value judgment here, saying that we value emotional motivation to material ones. But I think the important thing to realize is that inspiration is a form of motivation in and of itself: to earn the love of someone, the admiration of someone, the acceptance of someone... Even if that someone is absent (no longer there, or is imaginary). And that is not to reduce creativity by reducing it to its emotional/psychological motivators; rather it is an acknowledgement of its roots. One (valuable) thing I learnt from therapy is how little we grow up, how more fragile we (or the child in us) become as we grow older, how base even our haughtiest motivations are... And similarly, that is not to say that humans are base, but it is too love the human for being so imperfect and fragile. So, I might write for you, or the idea of you, or Roland, or Obeida, or Ahmad, or some imaginary editor in an imaginary journal, or me (and that isn't any more noble). I guess that brings us back to the question of audience you raised in that great Whitman quote, and my Existentialism professor... I think we write not because we love, but because we want to be loved. Isn't that why we do everything that we do after all? Even love? I think even the most evil acts are born out of the need for love, in its one form or another. (That is not to ignore other forms of motivation, though: anger, power, lust, revenge... From the list I guess you can see that I don't think of humanity that highly...).

And for some reason, I cannot separate your prism metaphor from that iconic image of the prism on the cover of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon"? Is it related in any way? (Pink Floyd have some kick-ass poems in their songs!)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

heart interlude

k: heart heart heart hearts! love heart heart loveheart poetry!

do you like my heart-poem? okay, i'm just playing around, but i suppose i am also making a point.

like any art form, poetry is not worth a dime unless it's hard to do. if every mama and papa on every block around the world could write it, we wouldn't have blogs about it. okay, one wiseass would, but that's a topic on blogs, not poetry.
almost everyone can walk. we don't give out awards to people for their ability to walk (though some people do it better than others).

batman's hallmark brand of love poems wouldn't fly in the hey-days of poetry, just like they don't now. but he's so popular, you think? maybe he is, but not for his poetry. he is a great self-publisizer; a bull who kicks doors down instead of knocking.

the story about that poet whose poem was rejected on the bias of one man against one word. that's extreme i think, but also sounds completely plausible. that's the way modern publishers play. they must get hit with so much poetry that they employee a monkey to read them and throw out the ones with specific words in them.

the new yorker's selection of poems has always and will always bug me. while i love martin espada and peter gizzi (partially due to them both teaching at umass and having encountered them as people, not poets) but the poems are so predictable and so ... straight.

we're slowly stepping away from inspiration/uninspired towards expectations and qualifications and talent etc etc... but they are all so closely tucked into one another, it's sometimes impossible to distinguish. at least i think so.

i'm sure that there are poets who aspire (inspire, aspire, inspire, aspire) to get published in particular journals, who then write in that style and hope to appeal to the board.

a: Ah, the problem of "difficulty"... In all honesty, and even though my mother and some friends think my poetry difficult, I have never been a fan of difficulty as a standard. I know you probably mean standard or measure, but I always thought ease is in a sense more difficult to achieve (how many paradoxes can you pack into one sentence). I do not find anything redeeming about a means of communication that makes it difficult to communicate. Now, I am certainly now advising that we all go talking in bullet points, but I do think difficulty is overrated. The origin of that might be that rebellious child in me who hated difficult texts and was arrogant enough to dismiss the text as failed rather than himself, and then realized that their is a very rigorous logic and substance to that egotistical laziness of his. Now, art standards have become infinitely more problematic I think in modern times. The necessity for skill versus self-promotion is certainly debatable post-Duchamp. But yes, even so, one can't deny the existence of standards (though I would constantly argue that other complicating factors such as connections have perhaps become more obvious due to the opening up of standards).

And I hope I didn't come across as being too antagonistic in my earlier e-mail, but I guess that I always hope that when I err I err on the side of "heart", whatever that means. I hope I never become so jaded as I forget what I cared about in the first place. Another one of those silly restrictions placed on contemporary poetry I read in that Poets Market (granted, it is not exactly academic material). It was an interview with one of the jurors on the T.S.Eliot prize (which I think by most standards is considered reputable). And one of his "rules of thumb" for judging a manuscript was to count the number of poems of the first ten, say, that have I or me or any form of first person in the first few lines of a poem; and if it's above a certain number, he dismisses the manuscript... Now I understand that this is simply the futile exercise of making objective rules for the very subjective aesthetics, but the first poem that came to my mind is Neruda's "Everybody", that great one that starts with "I, Perhaps I never will be"... Now these may seems like cosmetic problems, but I think they are fundamental: the elimination of the heart (or passion or whatever) and that of ego. I just can't imagine a poetry deprived of these, and in many ways poetry has been deprived of them. I don't know if that's what you mean by poetry being "too straight".

But back to inspiration, right? I am not really sure, dear, where to go with this topic. I am certainly not versed enough or read enough in any of these topics to conduct a well-maintained debate. But I can at least consider myself a well-educated audience member, and as such I feel entitled to my knee-jerk opinions. Maybe I'll revisit this later.

Monday, June 19, 2006

- the legacy of the world's biggest apple -

k: hello dear,
how are you?

i just ate the words biggest apple. it took me a very long time. it was too big around for me to open my mouth around comfortably to get a big bite, so i took lots of little bites. i would never buy an apple that big for myself, but kerry and richard had left it behind, and i can't bare to see an apple go to waste (especially when it's a variety i am fond of).

in other news, ryan says that katamari has not made me stupid. this is good news. this means when i get home today i am going to play it some more, until either ryan or danielle arrives.

now for today's top story: inspiration! yay!!

it's not something we've talked about in depth before (not that we have to), but i was trying to think of a topic to discuss (something related to poetry). as a means of laughing off, i set out to read a bit of ron silliman's recent posts. however, after reading three or four posts i was still feeling "uninspired". that's the exact word that came to mind.

i dwelled on the word "uninspired" for a little while and then it hit me... aha! inspiration = topic

for most, for you, for me, for every poet and every writer, inspiration comes from life. for some though, inspiration comes in dreams too. and for me, inspiration comes from imagination. one might argue, though, that imagination comes from life. if you wanted to go that way, then, i'm sure a stand could be made that dreams come from life as well. so... what's life?

life = over sized apples
life = new cell phones, orange ones
life = the sound of a boy's heart beat when you press your ear to his chest
life = a 50" high definition rear projection mv (for megavision, instead of television)
life = made up words like megavision
life = memorizing your best friends email address
life = mint
life = your next pay check
life = all of the above

i could go on for days. the point? life is in the details, so is poetry.

but there's a middle man. the poet. right? one doesn't see an apple as a poem. the average person sees... an apple. that's it. whereas you or i might see an apple and think of eve, of the waxy finish, the taste or the smell. that's inspiration. we pick out parts and give them depth and symbolism. that's what poetry is, at the heart. salamander means ashraf, mountain means katy. we pick up on the details and they give us the jolt needed to transform an apple into a monument of love and affection or disappointment or whatever we may be feeling or we may associate with the apple.

now there's a word, associate. that's what inspiration is to me, a series of associations.

enough of the sort of ... intangible talk of inspiration. before i mentioned imagination. i get ideas from imaginary scenarios that i paint in my head. the poem "nice to meet you" was an idea i had as part of a longer story. i guess i think stories through (without beginnings or ends, most often, or with lots of different endings) like a novelist would.

i take pieces of these fantasies and turn them into poems, like excerpts of a non-existent novel or film. i have quite a few poems like that, actually. more than i care to admit ^_^

i also get a lot of inspiration from dreams. they are so easy for me to translate into poetry for some reason. "set up" is as literal a transcription of the dream i had as ever. part of the reason why i think dreams make great poems is because dreams don't happen in prose. they skip around, things don't make perfect sense. our brains work in verse, not prose. isn't that a wonderful idea? that we, poets, are more in tuned to our own conscious by virtue of understanding being able to produce verse. i think it's a wonderful gift.

i know you're writing process. i can't clearly define my own (because it's all sorts of hodge podge and over-developed thinking). this is more to do with that moment though. that instant which a phrase pops into your head.

have you been thinking about something? did you hear the words somewhere else? did you see something and translate it into words. i see, right now, a man in an old grey sweatshirt climbing down a short ladder. is that poetry?

i will go on and on about all this if you'd like, ashraf, but i'd also like to hear some of your reactions and ideas about "inspiration" or what it means, maybe, to be "uninspired"?

a: Katy, that is just a brilliant beginning to an e-mail! I thought it was so distinctive I read it out loud to Wojtek (and that's a bigger thing even that reading it out loud to Snuffy, say, who I think is a much better listener). But yes, on to inspiration, or what I thought was even more inspired (all puns intended) is the title: uninspired. I think it is such a good word, one that I very much identify with these days. Maybe inspiration in its antiquated classical/uber-romantic sense (think Batman) is off-putting to us with our jaded contemporary sensibilities (I am thinking of a comment by Danielle that I read yesterday on your blog, about how it's a poem about love without using the words love, or heart, or any similar taboos). It is interesting that modern poets have reacted so markedly to the image of the poet as the uber-romantic that now such notions are directive--negative ones--in their own accord. One of my favorite poems here on the Philadelphia poetry scene is one by this guy I really like (and can't remember his name, of course) that he wrote in reaction to an editor rejecting one of his poems because it contained "heart". So he wrote this entire poem called "Heart" in reaction to this silent taboo. It became in a way one of those writing exercise/experiments that you are fond of, of writing about something without calling it by name--except it is in permanent enforcement now if you are to be taken at all "seriously" by the "people that matter". And so we end up writing this other, equally extreme, genre of poetry that my mother can wrap her head around. And I am running into this now that I am thinking about writing in Arabic again, specifically writing a song for Majida. So, how is this related to inspiration? Well, I'll try to establish the tie eventually...

To jump off sideways here, all those songs and names I mentioned to you in my e-mail yesterday. They naturally don't mean much to you at the moment, part of the difficulty of translation in its larger sense, as in the translation of life experiences, making them relatable, etc. I have been thinking of this old world of song that I cherish so much and that was really my entry way into the world of poetry. I have been thinking about it obviously because of the project I assigned myself. When I started translating my poems into Arabic I became aware of how heavy and awkward some of the images are in Arabic. Conversely, while translating song lyrics for you from French and Arabic, I realize how overly simple and borderline hokey they are. And yet these are songs that I consider great, and that many others equally revere. So, what is it here? One element I think is song vs. poetry: they are two slightly different animals, I think. Another is language: I think images that work in one language don't in another. I think the very ornate French and the very elaborate Arabic require a simplicity that in English is just dull. Conversely, English, in its almost dull simplicity almost demands the kind of twists and turns that in other languages might simply be uncalled for. So, what does this have to do with inspiration?

See, in my thoroughly uninspired state, and in revisiting old songs, I have been thinking of what made them so inspiring to me at the time. And I do realize that some of those very simple phrases that I loved to much I thought they were genius still hold true... Allow me here to translate impromptu Fairouz's "Ma 2dirt nseet (I Couldn't Forget)" (lyrics by Joseph Harb, audio to follow):
I wish you were here, my love
And the wine and the candles of the night endure
And I'd write to you on a paper so I wouldn't say
I wish you weren't leaving, I wish you'd stay

If I came back one night to my place and found
That you, my love, passed by while I was away
You'd see that they didn't pass, only your eyes, by this house
As if you, my love, and your eyes, have just left
Quite mainstream romantic stuff. I don't know what you think of it, but reading it in English... almost makes me squirm. And then I realize, some of the stuff at heart still is strong: that wistful wish for the night to lengthen, that fragility in prefering to write such a heartfelt desire rather than say it, the way eyes can linger in our memory and haunts us... Yes, it's pretty clichéd stuff by now: wine, and candles, and eyes, and I wish you'd stay... And maybe it's Fairuz that makes it work, the music, the associations that this song has for me and my mother (a big point to come back to, associations)... But is it really better to just spin around the point? Why is it more acceptable now to find the poetry in the more mundane things than in the obvious ones? Because it's more difficult (as is difficult better) or is it because we're jaded? I would hate myself if I wrote something like that now, especially in English; I don't think I could even allow myself to. Censorship before the page, one of those things that I'd abort in my head. And yet, I though Joseph Harb was god because of that (and "Li Bayrout"). Granted, love could be a turn off; especially in song. Heartbreak could be even more of a turn off; it's everywhere. So what do we write about? What do we read about? I haven't been reading. Or actually I read non-fiction and magazines mostly now. They don't even attempt to touch me. Is that the end of literature? Have we become so jaded that we're rarely touched?

So, let's write about the everyday. But what is there about the everyday to write about. Do you really want to read a poem about an apple or pancakes? As you said, is that old man poetry? Maybe he is, maybe he has a story or we can imagine one behind him that makes him that. But... Is it just me? Probably.

So, how is all this related to inspiration? I think it is in that I have lost it. Whatever it was, I am now uninspired, to read or write. Which is sad, very sad. But then, there are way sadder things in life, as I always try to remind Wojtek (and he hates it every time). This wasn't an argument; this was a ramble. Maybe I'm just hungry: I get low when I'm hungry, and I get very emotional then (either angry or depressed), and that usually makes me write. Is hunger inspiration? Oh, this is getting absurd. I'll just cut it short and send it...

Friday, June 02, 2006

outside voices anthology

ashraf and i have both been added to the list of poets to be featured in Outside Voices' own Anthology: