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Friday, November 7, 2008

For a few years now, I have struggled with the concept that I am not a poet. It's like a weather forecast: all the conditions are right but the storm just isn't happening. I have bipolar disorder, which usually a side effect is the individual being a bit more creative, and has also lead me into situations and experiences that I frankly would rather never have had. I'm fairly intelligent, even bordering into clever. I have a good command of the english language and I typically spell things correctly.

Prose comes to me like music came to Mozart. The best way to describe anything is with a far fetched bizarre analogy, which I even use in my papers for school. In fact, many of my grades on term papers were saved from lousy research by exotically descriptive prose and a good analogy.

But what is poetry? Ryan studied it, and I have not. Sure, I've read books, and discovered that Dickinson is not to my liking, and so forth. Where does one cross the line. It's like traveling in the United States; adjacent states can be so similar that you may not know you've crossed the line except for the sign. I've heard rap called the poetry of the streets, and I've heard rock stars called poets, but I can't usually accept either of those labels. Rap can be very cleverly rhymed, but what does it do? I don't see past the egocentricity and party boasts. Rock lyrics can be so vague. Some of the songs that used to really move me now seem to me to be nothing more than words chosen at random out of a dictionary by a word-sniffing dog. Unfortunately, this kind of writing is what my attempts usually emulate.

go on
favor everyone but myself
to create just to fail,
and thus fail to create
and the world still anticpates.

No one knows what I'm talking about. This wouldn't get any real respect in academia, or from people who are more literate than limericks. Ryan said writing must be practiced, but I can't fix dribble like I fix my intonation or phrasing in music.

Planes Mistaken For Stars wrote a song that really sums up what I'm feeling (at least to me; in true rock fashion I don't know what they intended to mean).


Poet, I'm sick of your pretty lies.
and it was about the song that sang of the shelves I wished you on, now sing along.
and I used to wish my heart as good, my heart as strong.
Don't say it's gone.
I'll pull the truth to you.
And even if it breaks us both down, don't say it's gone.

I like it because of some clever word play and it's unpretentious nature. I think they are singing about not really writing something that may stand the test of time or will be quoted in readings (except for maybe a blog!). I think the style of writing emulates the message: unmetered, unrhymed, unstanza-ed, unsuave. And I think that they (and myself) know the difference.

But they, and I, both know what we really wish for and want. The conditions are favorable. We want a storm.


Mike Morris said...

Hi Dave,

I'm sadly not yet a member of the blog, though Ryan has mentioned it to me a couple of times. But I wanted to make some comments on what seems like a kind of existential yearning for what poetry might be to the writer and reader of poetry. You mentioned Dickinson, and I would say that hers is not the poetry I would recommend to someone searching for poets they identify with. I might first mention that poetry's function, especially in contemporary times, often has little to do with the consideration of "beauty," and to limit its scope in this way inevitably renders it irrelevant to our daily lives. Adorno is often quoted as saying "to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric," and if poetry's only function is the meditation on beauty, then this is true. But I would argue that the majority of poetry written in the modern and post-modern eras has been much more diverse in its subject matter. If your curious for a starting place as far as reading goes, I would recommend the poetry of Charles Bukowski, ("burning in water, drowning in flame" and "what matters most is how well you walk through the fire" are good places to start) Mark Strand, Charles Simic, and C.K. Williams. Each write about moments of beauty, but generally in a way that is mixed with pain, humor, and the ugly sides of humanity. Anyway, this may be a longer comment than you were looking for, but if you're interested in pursuing poetry, I'd recommend a look at these poets.

Dave V said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave V said...

I am far from academic, and I don't read very much, yet I have always enjoyed writing - poetry and everything else. So far no one has come right out to tell me I completely suck at it, but maybe thats yet to come.
Its good to consider what it is you are trying to accomplish through writing poetry, or anything for that matter. Sometimes I write to express my thoughts and emotions, and even when it means very little to others or others can't make much sense of it, I still feel as though I have expressed myself. I think this is because a lot of times when I feel the urge to write, my thoughts and emotions are a tangled nonsensical mystery to myself, and ultimately I want the reader to get a glimpse of that mess. Other times I write with the hope of deeply impacting others, or moving others to a specific action or reaction, and that is trickier, and definitely takes practice.
If one thousand people all read the same poem, it is very possible that each and every one of them could find a different meaning from it, and still none of them may come close to grasping the author's idea. Some may say its because the poem was poorly written, others would say its because the poem was superbly written.
Anyways, I am sure anyone's writing would greatly benefit from a bit more reading.

And here's something I wrote about 5 years ago...your piece reminded me of it.

It's all in my head
Whirlwind spinning
tossing throwing swirling
in my head, in my head
drug-free daze
focus free gaze
so tense it relaxes
relaxed to the point of being tense
what to do with myself
lay still as my mind runs several hundred miles per hour
Or run as my mind lays still
what to do, what to do
ambition wandered off to a less challenging site
I wave good-bye, wish it luck
As i lay and gaze, stuck
In my head, In my head

Mike said...

I kind of fall between everyone else here. I am very academic, but not at all in any liberal arts sense. I've really tried in recent years to broaden my academic nature (filled with math and electrical engineering) with art and writing, including poetry. Though I don't write poetry often, I often think of it and wish I were writing more. I am very happy with the pieces I have posted to my blog (check the Poetry tag at Unknowing Mind), and I love working with language, though again I find myself not doing so often.

One of the best tips I ever received, which was in a poetry writing class, was about writing physical reality. What I mean by that is incorporate concrete reality into your writing as often as possible. It's easy to make poetry sound flowery. It's a whole other thing altogether to use concrete language and metaphor. Bringing the reader to physical sensation through writing using physical sensation is probably the most successful technique I've learned.

I would NOT consider myself a great poet by any means, so take my advice with however many grains of salt you want. :)

Dave's point about asking yourself why you want to write is some excellent advice as well. For example, my poetry tends to be descriptive or analytic - how can I bring the reader into my physical reality through language? I tend to describe scenes, or look more deeply into situations through language.

I read a lot of poetry that encompasses emotional pain and trauma, difficult situations, both of the author and others, mental straining, etc. And I literally have no concept whatsoever about how those poets write what they write. I cannot relate because my emotional life is very very different. Something "bad" happens, I feel sad, then I move on. The emotional depth that some poets write about, I truly cannot understand how their emotion lingers for so long. I know that I feel things very deeply, and they touch my heart. But then they go away as I am mindful of them, and I go about business.

For example, my poem Into the Dorms is probably the only one I've written that I would place into the category above. Though I honestly had to think hard and long to reclaim the emotional impact of that event. Really, it was more describing how I recalled an old trauma than actually having any ability to reclaim the emotional response I felt at that time (honestly, that trauma lasted one night; the next day, I needed to start my college career, so I went about my business making friends and meeting people).

Some poets write while WITHIN the throes of their trauma, and use that as their material. While I see the benefit in terms of having everything at your disposal to work from, I also can't do it -- during the trauma, I'm busy being mindful of it [classic Buddhist training], experiencing it. To attempt to poeticize it, to me, gets in the way of the experience, and inhibits my ability to deal with it. So I don't write during those events.

So this all goes to show that your purpose for writing is very important, and is very likely different from others'. You have to figure out what works for you, and what doesn't. And like Ryan said, practice. Practice some more. And when you think your writing sounds like cr@p, make your work LESS abstract; bring it back with concrete terms, associations, and descriptions. I guarantee that will make it better.

Good luck on your journey!

ldamoff said...

Sometimes i feel the same way. For the last few months i've actually felt exactly like this: the conditions seem perfect but no thunder. I think it is important not to underestimate the value of being still and alert. Cultivating time to watch and listen has been invaluable for my study of poetry. Observing things things and trying to see them for what they are and as they are. It turns out the world is intensely beautiful. My best poetry comes out of that realization and awareness.

Also, we don't write poetry because its intelligent or witty or because the academy will laud us for it. To quote a movie, we write it "to woo women".