Friday, May 06, 2005

Some Parenthetical Poetics

Jonathan seems to be mellowing, or maybe I’m finally reading him right: “As I read Silliman's blog each morning, I come to distrust more and more my own propensity to invest in rankings and hierarchies.” Not that I’m in the same critical league, but I’ve come to lately mistrust such categorizations also. Coming from the formalist side, I’ve begun to think there’s something about the almost religious dedication to form (and I’m not just talking about Mike Snider), along with the provincial-minded intolerance towards anything free verse (Rhina Espaillat [discussed in this excellent blog post by uber-formalist Timothy Murphy], a true free spirit, excluded) or god forbid postmodern, that is limiting and drives me nuts. Or rather drives the creative side of my mind absolutely loco.

Of course such intolerance is not limited to formalists. The so-called avant garde have their own cultists. And Ron Silliman is its high priest these days. Of course, he may be just seizing his place in history. He was, after all, the first poet on the blogosphere. And now he sits there like Adam (get a fig leaf at least) and begins to name the poetic flora, classifying all into schools of quietude and his own idiomatic one, even informing us which poets falls into what class. Thanks oh blogofather. And when he waxes zenlike while busy dualizing the world, it seems silly at best, and supercilious at worst.

But enough about our Adam, and more about me. And for me, reasonable rankings and hierarchies are good for the reader in me, even good for the craftsman, but bad for the actual poet. The fact that someone is busy doing such ranking (in all definitions of the word), allows me the luxury of finding good new poets to read (of course recognizing the critic’s critical tastes is important also [I wouldn’t expect a Silliman to rightly rank a Collins or even a Kees]) and work on the craft. But when I write, I need to let in everything good, whatever school it comes from, and not allow these divisions, too many of them ego-driven, any consideration at all. For me, every poet’s technique (even a “bad poet” could have uniquely misused an exceptional technique) is just another tool I can borrow (steal) to write the poem my muse wishes to write. The more tools the merrier. The more various the poets, the better.

As Thoreau said in his blog today, "All that a man has to say or do that can possibly concern mankind, is in some shape or other to tell the story of his love,—to sing." And that's all the poet in me wants to do. And the cold-hearted critics can rank on it (or just ignore it) all they like.


ashleycrow said...

Your quotation from Thoreau's blog (who knew, I thought he eschewed technology) reminds me of my favorite Rumi poem, which begins

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Jonathan said...

No mellower than before. I've always said and thought this about Ron. I still want to be the tireless scourge of mediocrity wherever it rears its head.

Dave said...

Ron who?

I'm almost serious. I'm glad he links me, but I've never read his blog - for no better reason than that if someone tells me that some writer or work is important, I run from it as fast as I can. I'm the same way about blogs.

The result: to this day, I'm ashamed to admit I have a degree in comp. lit., because I am so poorly read in the classics. BUT I have discovered any number of poets I consider great simply by browsing in the bookstore or library. (Some have indeed turned out to be the darlings of one clavern of critics or another, but I try not to hold it against them.)

I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiments here. I try to resist the impulse even to come up with my own rankings or categories, because what's the point? (The only more useless and spirit-killing exercise is to submit to poetry contests and little magazines.) There's a real danger in creating and believing in hierarchies, no matter how seemingly harmless. Some book of poems on my shelf that I may not have been too impressed with on first read-through might someday turn out to be a perfect match for my thoughts or mood. And just this morning I had the experience of reading from two poets I happen to admire a lot (Simic and Charles Wright) and muttering, "Geez, you guys seem awfully shallow and full of shit!" But who knows how they would strike me tomorrow.