Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

on living the tactile life

"The poet knows himself only on the condition that things resound in him, and that in him, at a single awakening, they and he come forth together out of sleep".--Jacques Maritain

Sometimes things resonate inside.



I sometimes say that I'm someone who writes poetry but does not truly believe in it. As with all would-be pithy statements, this catchphrase really only has meaning in the context in which I use it. I don't mean that poetry is meaningless--I find as time goes on that I read poetry for enjoyment and enlightenment with some frequency. I mean that the mythos which has arisen about Poets (with a capital "P") and Poetry (also capitalized) does not work for me at all.

I have read a fair bit of vaguely new age-y material which speak of poetry (or the arts in general) as a way of solving some essential life's passage. There's no question that the writing of poetry is among many forms of emotional outlets that can help one surface feelings through the liberation from "making sense" or "fitting in". I often find that the poetry that results from these efforts, while grand therapy,
prove to be imperfect poetry. At the same time, I favor writing (and often reading) epigrammatic work which often does not reach at all into the inner sanctums of experience.

I discussed at length elsewhere in this journal my "theory of bad poetry", that is, the idea that the shared experience of writer and reader is far more important than the "critical mass" of the work. In my vision, not at all unique to me, the very small-scale, "unimportant" nature of poetry publications is a virtue, not a sign of a failed society.

I use the phrase sometimes "I'd rather have ten readers who understand than thousands who don't", but this sounds as though I write and admire things hard for folks to understand. I don't mean that at all. I mean that I see poetry as little more than one medium to seek an interconnection of people. I've never, for instance,thought of myself as a "writer", if by writer, one must mean that one will sell books and turn away career choices and do all manners of abstruse, artistic things.

I like that left brain/right brain metaphor for creative thinkers v. deductive thinkers. I don't keep up with the science of the thing, so I have no idea if this is still a biological theory. I'm always intrigued, though, that most people who discuss this notion that one side of the brain is creative, and the other side deductive, usually do so in the context of explaining that they (the speaker) is dominated by the creative side. I suppose, though, that if I am to elect this metaphor for self-description, I must "own up" that I am probably much more balanced than fully creative.
I tend to have a pragmatic way of reasoning things out that suggests to me that, despite flashes of intuition, I am really not a "creative" person at all.

I do not attend many poetry readings these days, which is curious, because I have enjoyed every poetry reading I have ever attended in my life. Of course, simple enjoyment is not much of a recommendation--once, in London, I attended a meeting of Spartacists debating the then-Soviet war in Afghanistan, for a school assignment, and found I enjoyed it, too. But part of my enjoyment in that instance was in seeing so much earnest analysis devoted to a complete misunderstanding of what history teaches.

Poetry intrigues me because the craft of poetry incorporates so many different aesthetics. Among poets, one often finds a sort of absolutism about a craft that is remarkably relative.
Poets can be like that stereotype of a certain sort of Mennonite, starting little groups which have found the one true way, and then breaking into schisms over minute sub-issues of transubstantiation.

I have not written many poems I consider very readable. To construct a spare, workable image I find quite challenging.
Yet, in many ways, I think that writing a poem is much easier than writing a novel, and certainly much easier than litigating a complex fraud case.

I also find intriguing the idea that the world is unfair in some large sense because it does not find ways for more poets to earn a living at their poetry. I must say that this view--that a solid number of poets should be kind of like rock stars, and paid to write to enlighten us all--does not appeal to me at all. First of all, I'm not saying that I begrudge anyone the opportunity to make their living from any worthwhile thing. I'd love to see more folks sell more poetry books, and if they can make a living at it (even in huge dollar proportions), I'd be more than perfectly happy with this arrangement.

I mean instead that I do not agree with the view that our society must be astray merely because people want to buy other things than poetry. In other words, I'm not sure that society "owes" creative people like poets a living. Instead, poets, like bakers and candle-stick makers, either find a market, or they do not.

That's not to say that schools should not teach poetry. My personal view is that many are cured of poetry by the weak way in which poetry is in general taught to kids. If a love for poetry were taught in the way that a love for the novel is taught, I have no doubt that more poetry would sell.
That's also not to say that poetry should be free. Of course, people should try to make money off an art or a craft, if they can and have the inclination.

I'm intrigued, though, with the idea that what I value in poetry is someting I don't need the imprimatur of major corporate publishing houses to enjoy. I don't even need the
admirable but ultimately quite limited "serious literary magazines" to tell me "what is good and what is not". If poetry is to become one more bit of wine-tasting, exclusive and oh-so-dry, then I'd rather read comic books.

To me, poetry is so important that it has no real priority of place at all. It's not high-dollar. There's no "one true way". Writing poetry often requires one to un-learn everything one has ever been taught about poetry.

But when one reads a poem that matters, or when someone else "gets" something one has written--that's a resonance.
That's a form of religious experience. That's "Mr. Watson--come here. I want to see you".

So I return to my thesis--I am not interested in finding superheroes among the poets. I do not believe that a "poet's way of seeing" somehow transforms society. I instead believe that poetry is something one or a few people do, which, at best, usually resonates only with one or a few people. But I do think that society tends to judge things only by how much money they make, or whether the "right" literary magazines publish them, or the "right" institutions admire them. Yet to me, that's missing the point altogether. It's for that reason that although I've published a verse or two, I rarely will term myself a "poet" without appending the word "bad" in front of it. I also listen to, but don't get disheartened by, well-intentioned folks that imagine their notion of the craft of poetry is somehow intrinsically superior to mine or another's.

I don't believe in poems as something apart from life. I view them as something one does during life, to share parts of that life with others. It's the sharing, not the poems, that matter.

It's a reaching out--a grasping. Sometimes it's an effort to clasp a hand that isn't there. It's that sensation of touch, and connection, and warmth. It's a tactile experience. That's what poetry is--not a Cadillac, nor a learned art--at best it's a touching--and often, a glancing touch.
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