editorial scapels/”is that all there is?”
I wanted to take a minute and comment on my last poem. This one is kind of a departure for me, brought on by a dream that was inspired by the best thing I’ve read in a long time, Bohemian Paris; Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse, and the Birth Of Modern Art. I’ve been feeling so frustrated/overly saturated by poetics and poetry that I even considered that the only TRUE poetry might be the statement of refusing to write any at all. But even that’s been done before, as real thing AND as a parody (see the cafe scene in Cocteau’s “Orpheus”), and both far before “my time.”
I guess, after a few years of being stupid-productive, even if I didn’t finish grad school, I feel like the thrill is gone. I mean, it’s great to have a good handful of practical tricks so you can edit a poem without tearing your hair out over the course of several hours, wondering why it won’t come out JUST RIGHT. But too much critical and mechanical theory destroys the *magic.*
A pragmatic approach is great for mechanics, since cars don’t run on magic. But I think poems do, or else they should, at least 1/2 way. So, in my husband’s words, I’ve been trying to “unbrain” and just get back to scribbling things down as they come/letting them be what they are. See if any of those sparkling weirdo surprises that makes poems *magical* can creep out without fear of getting dissected to death. Get back to enjoying poetry without taking it apart to see how it works/how it could be PERFECT.
That was actually the biggest criticism of my last chapbok offered by one of the celebrity/guest teachers at Naropa. She was probably the only poet there that I actually thought was way cool, as opposed to people who were supposed to be great but were grating in real life (Anne Waldman, I am talking about you especially) or simply touched in the head (Cecilia Vicuna).
But back to me…
so the upshot is that this poet that I respected/looked up to suggested that my poems were “too perfect,” which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. She said she had a hard time identifying with the poems because it was hard to “find a way in.” Apparently my writing had become a perfectly-defended ice-palace; it might glitter coldly from postcards, but you would want to go somewhere friendlier on vacation.
This evolved, at least in part, as a defense against being a lady (snort) writer reading her poems at open mikes. No matter how many girls across the world have secret poem-journals that they scribble into furtively, poetry and the performance of it seems to remain a boy’s game. And just like every woman-in-a-man’s-world scenario you’ve ever heard of, the few women who have come into their own before you are more than willing to step on your head to make sure you don’t even THINK about usurping their position at the top of the ladder. (Ridiculous, but true: the cruelest and most dismissive ladies I ever knew were tenured professors to my college freshman, or senior editors to my unpaid-part time intern status).
So, as a natural consequence to putting yourself out there and dealing with rude crowds, editors with barrels of rejection letters, and the judgments of your peers who are all waiting to see how well you can play this Boy’s Game, you become pretty bulletproof. And so do your poems.
I can’t tell you how many hours went into editing my poems to make sure they didn’t reek even faintly of sentimentality because it would be like blood in the water to a tank of hungry sharks to say “heart” “love” or “flower” and thus brand myself as just another girl reading from her secret poem-journal.
I still probably spend twice as much time editing/splicing things together a la Lynn Heigenian or Tristan Tzara w/ his hat trick than I do actually writing a poem. So yeah, defensible. What’s wrong with that? Then I thought about all the music-theory kids I knew who got together and made super smarty-smart songs that were so technically amazing, so perfect, so infallible and unsentimental that no one could really care.
The moral is: perfection=boring. This is true of art as well as people.
In the spirit of avoiding boredom, I’m gonna try to get back to writing like I did before I became hyper-aware of impressing my inner scalpel-happy editor. Maybe get into automatic writing, like the Surrealists but hopefully without all the brawls. We have the reading at Tony’s Tavern for that kind of thing.