Monday, June 28, 2004

Hi All. I realize this is a writer's blog but I recently saw Farhenheit 9/11 and was wondering what your opinions/perspectives/rants/raves are regarding that documentary. I thought the Saudi/Bush alliance was a little overboard, especially the repetitive nature of certain footage. Overall, I did like it and thought it was well-documented and edited. Am I being too vague? For those of you who dislike Michael Moore, I would say it is worth seeing just for the number of clips which portray Bush as an idiot. So many good clips. Seriously.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Inquiry on the image:

Well, as seems to be part of a natural life cycle, the blog's been dormant for a week or so. Not surprising since I know Joe and Chad have been in transit, and Jorge has been chasing monkeys in the subway and I've been burying my feet corn husks.

Anyhow, here's another topic for us to toss around: the image. The creative writing 101 idea is that the image stands in to replace abstractions, or gives real-seeming detail to emotional situations. Do you believe in a sort of 'objective correlative'? Does this still seem valid to you? What do we want from the image? What does it do for a poem? More importantly, what is the poetic image's relationship to reality itself? Should it be faithful to 'reality'? What type of imitation is implied in it? Is it mimetic of the 'world out there' or is it mimetic to a speaker's emotional frame of mind? Is the image more than mere 'detail,' concrete verbal substance which differs from abstract language only in its reference point? Or is there something more behind it? I ask these questions simply because I've been thinking that the 20th century might be called the age of the image (not merely visual art, cinema, etc., but as a nearly unquestioned source of value in poetry). Sometimes I get the feeling that image, detail, location, are merely dramatic devices and ultimately over-contrived and predictable. Besides, why such hyper-allergic reactions to abstraction? Shakespeare's sonnets aren't exactly 'descriptive'. Then again, anyone who knows my work knows I have a love for what one might call imagery.

Please post yr thoughts and perhaps a poem or two to consider imagistically.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Happy Bloomsday, all.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Thanks, Joe, for chiming in. I think your final statement was possibly the most important thing stated on this 'blog about the subject.

To say that craft without interesting content is okay is foolish, as is elevating the "political" or its denegration.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Evil-doers beware

Politics and poetry, eh?

I don't think you can even be a good political activist without considering your issue in a complex way, because any issue worthy of consideration is quite frankly complex. Unfortunately you mention politics and everyones' brains tend to go out the window. Political poetry is perhaps the most brainless of them all. I'm not sure why. It seems good political poetry should be possible. Still I can't think of any. Everyone keeps throwing around Koumunyaaka, but he's the worst. A word of politics comes out his mouth and it becomes the worst kind of Lahgston Hughes imitation ( and I hate Lamgston Hughes). It's almost as cliche as his poems about jazz. I think Nate's right about the problem with Jorge's craft solution. Jorge is right that the problem with political poems is usually that they don't pay enough attention to craft, but form and style do overlap a great deal and only in theory can they be dealt with separately.

As far as apolitical poems, I suppose whether or not they exist depends on your politics. As far as I am concerned, if politics doesn't take in all aspects of life--even the more trivial ones--it isn't very useful. And once you start dictating which things are more important where do you stop? Is it trivial and meaningless to deal with state politics because there are much more important world politics to deal with? Of course not. The only menaingless thing is this arbitarary distinction between what is important and what is'nt.

Okay, I'm not going to harp on this craft and content thing 'cause when push comes to shove it's not all that important of a question to me, but I will say one last thing: the thing is, a subject not worth one's time treated in a brilliant manner seems like wasted talent (what if Einstein had spent his life working to develop the perfect toaster? yeah, I do like toast, but come on...).

As for the notion that writing poetry is a political act, I have a relatively different take than yr old teacher (& frankly I'm not sure I entirely understand the whole inclusion / exclusion jazz -- sounds like hyper-aware cultural criticism, not politics). The choice to spend one's time and creative energy on such a negligible activity is, as far as I'm concerned, somewhat of a rebellious act, a rejection of not only the productive, practical American work ethic, but also of the linear use-value logic implicit in almost all other professional choices. Of course poems can be productive, practicle and useful, but before that they are sort of like time warps in language--once you go down this chute, the pure functional value of thinking and feeling as dictated by human language goes out the window. In these verbal warps we are explicitly not contributing to systems which promote the lie of 'progress' and common sense. At least I like to think the poetic imagination escapes the trajectory of use-value.

I think I might have more to say on this, but I'm working off a rough morning (compliments of Chad and 2 dollar tall-boy PBRs!), so my practical mechanism ain't firing on all cylinders.

Does any of this make sense?

Komunyaaka has always impressed me for his ability to construct such tight, crushing poems out of what might otherwise be disastrously sappy material (can you imagine Sharon Olds with the same material!), but that example makes me think we're not talking about the same thing. I think that's eminently significant content...

The blog is back . . .

Thank you, Nate, for your kind words about my poems. I haven't seen Chicago Poetry Review yet, but that' because everyone else seems to get journals before I do.

I guess I would never say craft could defend idiotic content, but there's a lot of subject matter and certain, loaded "played-out" words that given the right poem and enough work could fly, even though initially most people would say "You couldn't make a good poem out of that." Like this prisoner abuse stuff. Or that whole Y2K scare (remember that?). Given the right stuff you could write a good poem about it. Although this is not the best exmple, the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial is a pretty daunting place to write about, who, even if they were in Vietnam, could make successful poem out of such a gut-wrenchingly emotional place? And yet someone did: Komunyakaa's "Facing It."

Chad, it seems that part of what you're responding to when you say that writing poetry doesn't make you feel like you've drawn a line in the sand, is that Fulton quote. When I first heard it, I also balked at it and said, "That's not what I'm doing" and felt that she misused the word . . . I don't quite understand it either, but one thing I know she meant is that the writing of poetry involves intentionally putting some things in and leaving other things out, while unknowingly including some things and leaving other out without meaning to. I think that's what she meant: poetry is political because of the decisions the poet makes causes the poem to be a locus of political action since a poem's making, the logic goes, is an act of inclusion and exclusion, whether intentional or not.

Art does complicate things. And I guess craft isn't all redemptive, but there are moments when I read some poems that I think, "Wow, the subject isn't worth my time, but the way it's done knocked my socks off."

Thursday, June 10, 2004

wow, our blogs back, baby! I'm at the end of my workday and so may have more to say tomorrow or this evening but I'd like to say this: Hugo says art's an act of self-acceptance and I'm inclined to agree. I'm not so sure that all art is political or that the choice to engange in any kind of art as a hmmm, vocation? is a political act either. Writing poems dosen't make me feel political or that I've drawn some line in the sand, it makes me feel like me.

something for your poems, eh?

oh and one other thing about the torture poems. perhaps I'm playing the devil's advocate a bit but what about the jarring shifts in tone to point to the fact that these are 18, 19, 20yr olds who have lived completely sheltered lives and found themselves in that situation. I'm not relieving them of blame, but there is something to be said about the fact that those soldiers are "all-american" in a way we need to start takling a hard look at.

Wow, Jorge, that poem "Bunker" is fantastic. The syntax is so wonderfully manipulated, moving like an accordion from short to long sentences, and all the rhythmic comma-laden bumps and jerks along the way. Excellent work...

What's more, you have that killer poem in the new Columbia Poetry Review--I love the 'machine', my man...

Well, I do however, have to disagree a little with your mantra. Craft, in my mind, doesn't save idiotic content, no matter what. It's hard to imagine a poem which functions in such a way (we'd have to suppose anyone who 'mastered' craft would be intelligent enough to not engage in the asinine) but if one did exist, I would not grant it a free pass on account of its merit.

Art as an act is political. There's no doubt about that.

I worry about art with a message, though.

The challenge, I think, is to engage in political questions without becoming preachy or propagandistic.

Art tends to complicate things.

Politics seeks definite answers, answers to act upon.

These contraries might be the source of so much of the stickiness inherent in the marriage of the two.

By the way, I seriously loathe Forche's pretentious horseshit. Rich I can live with, mostly...

But hey, at least the Cubbies just put up a 10-spot on the Redbirds. Nine straight hits!

Wow. That's a big matzoh ball: poetry and the political. I'm not sure what to make of those prose poem-type things. And I think inappropriate might be the best word for them. I don't think they do much for me or for any agenda Kurt Johnson might be promoting. I agree, Nate, that the dramatic monologue should try to explore the psychology of its subject, and they fail to do it. These prose things are just poking fun at a situation that, I don't think, could be made fun of. At least not like this.

About the poetry and politics, Alice Fulton was really insistent in class that "All poetry is political . . . Everything is political," although I don't think she meant it precisely in the way we're talking about it hear. There is political poetry that is very veiled, very separate from the nuts and bolts, explicitly political . . . And then you have some people (Rich, Forché, etc.) who've tackled the political overtly . . . .

It's hard, I've been writing some poems lately (in the last six months or so) that have been very explicitly political, in my opinion, and when I've showed them to other people, they don't necessarily think they are. I think that I have to stand by my mantra: you can say anything and write about anything in a poem as long as it's done artfully and with craft. These not only lack craft but fail to accomplish anything at all.

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Shameless self-promotion: I've got two poems in the new can we have our ball back?. I've submitted a bunch of times and I figured I had no chance with them. Apparently I do.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Well, I don't really know how to respond to those rambles. The title refers to Adorno's comment that lyric poetry was impossible after Auschwitz, a comment I've never really been sure how to respond to. The 'personal' lyric surely seems a little self-indulgent in the context of mass-genocide and, in this case, torture and human rights violations, but frankly what art form really sufficiently responds to anything so brutal and horrifying? One imagines that these events, at least initially, need to be responded to in the most straightforward way possible.

If anything, the capacity of the lyric to increase our ability to connect to human suffering through thinking and feeling shouldn't be over-looked (see Celan).

The prose pieces here strike me as simplistic, cocky, ironic, and just about worthless (not that I support the Americans involved in the mess) -- but seriously, the whole idea behind a dramatic monologue, even when it takes an 'evil' or morally questionable character, is to enter that psychology to explore the complications involved (a little like negative capability, if I understand it correctly). These do nothing of the sort. They're childish, fun-poking, and nearly inappropriate. The only reasonable response to the soldiers' behavior is indignation, which hardly ever makes for a good poem.

I'm curious to know what the rest of you think... this sort of thing essentially engages the question of poetry's (and art's) relationship to political and social realities, sticky terrain well worth an inquiry.

Rather explict, not ineffective, ethical? I'm really not sure what to do with this, maybe others have some idea. I should warn you--the link has the prison pictures which you've probably already seen. They're accompanied by some prose poems, or maybe they're lyrical anecdotes, or biographical snipets.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

thanks for the info nate. Let us know which one's you aren't sending to so that the rest of us have a chance I'll think a bit about the dreamsongs. I've been wanting to write something about them for a while anyway.

Well certianly I overreacted abit about the little political rhymes. On the otherhand, "The Nation" a serious publication can't seem to find any other poetry to publish. This magazine has intelligent and informed editors and an intelligent and informed audience. Why not find some Lorca to publish given the fact that we're living in a fascist state. Why not find contemporary political poetry to publish? the alternative that we're presented with makes a joke out of the possibility of poetry and the current politcal climate.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Here's a listing of upcoming contests some of y'all might be interested in. Some of them, I admit, are quite sketchy...

A few texts I just thought of that might be worth looking at in the context of this discussion-- Berryman's Dream Songs, Hejinian's My Life and Palmer's last collection, The Autobiography of Glass, especially the title series.

Jorge, you are undoubtedly right--the end justifies the means; and furthermore, there's a long tradition of great poetry being intimately linked to the personal. In fact, I would dare say that it would be nearly impossible to find an example of a good poet whose work does not belie a trace of autobiography--Plath is such an obvious example, but also O'Hara, Dickinson, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Keats, even Shakespeare's sonnets. Stevens might be an exception... Pound? Maybe Ashbery is an exception, too? Paging Dr. Bienvenu...

Baudelaire said something interesting regarding the personal or autobiographical in poetry. In the second edition of Fleurs du Mal he added a new section of poems, several of which were inspired by events of his childhood. He wrote a letter to his mom about them that said something to the effect that he was rather uncomfortable whoring elements of his private life.

And I do think there are several dire corrosive sides to this, especially in the 'pop' realm, which I think is what sparked this discussion. For one, it sends the message to young poets that you have to be a lunatic to write good poems. Lunacy can certainly be an ally, but more often than not this notion produces armies of posers full of self-import and programatized 'weird' behavior.

And again, there's something to be said for the artless, the non-self-conscious text which is more a part of life than the boxed up, jewel of a literary text. Heck, that was one of the aims of surrealism--to break down these barriers.

I think ultimately, to get back to the point, poetry is still hardly ever a way to exorcise demons because good poetry cannot be so reductionary. I do believe a good poem leaves too much unsettled to really do away with any haunting aspects of the inner/personal life. But then again, perhaps just getting it on paper is relief in itself.

As for Trillin, you're right (Chad, calme-toi). He knows he's a hack & he seems to have fun with it.

Trillin is just harmless dogerrel (sp?), although the sad thing is I'm sure people out there read his little political poems and say to themselves, "Damn. That's poetry."

And about the draft: luckily I think we're all past draft age or within months of passing it. Unfortunately, Congress could revise the draft age when (and if) they reactivate it. I'm crossing my fingers.

To return to the "Exorcism" thread. I guess my question to you Nate and Joe is this: if somebody is working out their trauma/fears/demons/emotional tragedy/what-have-yous by writing poetry, and ends up writing some good work which is, to all who see it, not the gut-wrenchingly bad stripe of poetry we normally identify as "therapeutic", does it matter? I grant you, if we have a stinkingly bad poem about somebody's personal tragedy losing their pet hamster in a bizarre catapult malfunction, that's no good. But what if somebody has some seriously nasty stuff they're working out, and as they try to work it out in their work they actually make good poetry. Does that disqualify it? Who cares how poets produce their work, as long as it's good? Who cares how a sincere poet produces his or her work if it's artless, sappy pap? The Confessional has wrecked poetry somewhat, but is what Auden writes true: that "no bad writing is undeservedly remembered, but there is good writing that is undeservedly forgotten"?

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

More poetry in the news: if all else fails, force unpalatable rhymes upon your reader, throw in the easiest possible observations, then publish it I heard this guy on Al Franken today and wanted to paint the wall with my brains

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Now we can't even run to Canada! At least this group of chums is gettin' on in age.

This question of poetry exorcising demons is a bothersome one, if only because it seems doomed to be the way a majority of our contemporaries define and understand the craft. That sentence is a mess already since Jorge rightly points out there's hardly a cent of craft in the rambling blather that constitutes therapeutic poetry--the supreme fiction, as Stevens would have it. I say, of course, this notion is an insult to the art, and interestingly, a direct result of the ego-fanatical self- aggrandizing horseshit we've seen in the 150 years of misconstrued romanticism thru the confessional and into our current bastions of pithy me me me hacks which make a bad name for MFA programs and the art in general. The first problem seems to me the utter lack of imaginative ability to allow a poem much if any remove from the poet who's actually writing. Here one might enter a debate about sincerity, but I doubt any serious writer would be bothered by that question since anyone committed to good writing from any point of view has already taken a faithful step beyond that child's-play. I don't wish to denigrate some poor tortured soul who wishes to take comfort in a couplet of Longfellow or a few lines of Collins, but ultimately 'relief thru writing' is not what we're after. "Relief" only tends to reconfirm simple truths and does little for the radical potential of the imagination poetic language can lead us to.