Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"As Necessary as Love"

Three things I've read in the past week about poetry have me thinking about, well, the state of my own poetry.

Thing 1: Marc Bain's "The End of Verse?" (from page two of the online article)
"Today, to call a poem 'accessible' is practically an insult, and promotional events like National Poetry Month are derided by many poetry diehards as the reduction of a complex and often deeply private art form to a public spectacle."
The unwillingness of many poets to shape their language according to an audience's needs and desires is, I believe, essentially uncharitable. As Michaela comments on my first iteration of "Rua: An Elegy in Holes," "I know that poets sometimes revel in obscurity, but you also want to give your reader just enough help that they feel they can keep reading. (This is charitable in a literary sense.)" And she's right: I do want to give my readers enough rhetorical help that they feel they can keep reading what I've written, even (especially) if my language pushes them beyond themselves to greater visions of human potential and experience. Other poets may not entirely agree, but my beliefs about language as a means of and to greater human connection compel me to shape my words such that I'm able to wield the greatest possible influence in the world. Such is the value I'm increasingly striving to embody, anyhow.

Thing 2: Michael Palmer's "A Declaration on the Revision of Poetry." (I read it some time ago, but came back to it again last night.
Dear poets,

Modern poetry is sick. It's dying in its hospice bed and we should walk away from its cranky carcass before the stench of colostomy and muscle rub leaves us brainless. It's not like we're in the will anyway.

From the image of its corpse I propose a new direction for poetry. For the last century we've been tied into a strangulating mode of creating, producing, and promoting poetry. To wit: Artsy poets write impenetrable crap; Artsy journals with tiny circulations publish it (Poetry has a circulation of 30,000 – why do we want our work in it? Not because we want readers), no one reads the publications or the poems in them, and the publication line on a CV gets artsy poets jobs where they teach impressionable others that accessible poetry is evil and their excrement is the only rose worth smelling.

I propose, instead, the following solution:

To change how poetry is made, consumed, and thought of. This means altering the production, distribution, and acceptance of modern poetry.
After pointing out modern poetry's B.O. and slapping it in the proverbial butt with his wit, Palmer goes on to mention that poets should focus on narrative verse as a means of building their readers into more lyric poetry; that we should be using the web as a publication/distribution tool; and that narrative poets should be talking about other poets' work in an effort to get narrative poetry canonized or formally accepted by broad circles of readers.

Palmer's post has bolstered my commitment to sharing experience through lyric-narrative verse and as a poet-blogger who uses his blog as an outlet for sharing and receiving feedback on his work and as a way to build his community of poets by collecting, sharing, and commenting on their work (see my Mormon Poetry Project).

And though Thing 1 and Thing 2 (not the Suess versions that made a mess of the house) are somewhat reactionary, they reflect something of the passion for poetry that's reflected in

Thing 3: These lines from Czeslaw Milosz' poem, "Report":
I gathered books of poets from various countries, now I sit reading them and am astonished.

It is sweet to think that I was a companion in an expedition that never ceases, though centuries pass away.

An expedition not in search of the golden fleece of a perfect form but as necessary as love.

Under the compulsion of the desire for the essence of the oak, of the mountain peak, of the wasp and of the flower of nasturtium.

So that they last, and confirm our hymnic song against death.
Poetry as an expedition as necessary as love---because it reflects the aspects of human love, embodies connection, rhythm, passion, sensuality, the compulsion of desire. And these are the things, I tell myself, that confirm my versifying, that drive me to wrench poems from experience, and then, of course, to blog about it (because what would I be without my blog, besides doing something more productive).

Such is the current state of my poetry---I mean, if you really care to know.