The fourth post in my poetry mini interview is up.
In this week’s musical episode, Hal Holbrook — fresh off his Tony award-winning run as the Mysterious Stranger — joins the cast to sing about adjectives. Performed and broadcast live!
(This reply was part of a conversation on Micro.blog in January 2019. I’m re-posting it here as a matter of storing it on my own server. See also this post, from October 2020. And also this interview.)
The drive to write can be due to the need to express oneself, but I’ve found that over-reliance on “expression” as a motivator plays into the mystical idea that poets are supposed to be “inspired,” which all too often leads to stasis and frustration.
If you wait to be inspired, you’ll be waiting a long time. And when you finally are inspired, you’ll have had no practice, and the product will fall far short of the ideal in your head. No one thinks they can simply be inspired to write a song and, never having played before, just pick up a guitar and boom: a song. So why would writing be any different? Well, I believe it’s because we think we’re practicing all the time, by virtue of using language to, well, talk.
That is, many of us think that writing is the same as talking — and, even more so, that writing is the same as communicating. But poetry isn’t exclusively about communication or expression. (Of course, neither is speech, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
A poem is an event made out of sounds — sounds which just happen to be human language. A writer makes words do things beyond their usual scope, and this takes practice. It also takes a lot of research — that is, reading — to see what other writers have managed to do with words.
If you learn to work the raw materials, you’ll be better prepared for when you are inspired. And you may eventually discover that the joy of working the raw materials is enough.
Joseph Brodsky (via):
Pushkin called translators “the post-horses of enlightenment.” If we take this metaphor to its logical conclusion (which is always dangerous), we should note that horses run as hard as they can only when a whip is whistling over them.
Or when they’re free.
Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit — all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.
And here is the third post in my ongoing poetry mini interview.
In this week’s “very special” episode, I wonder how I know when a poem is finished. Grace Paley guest-stars.
Aase Berg (via):
Shit on your readers, shit on acknowledgment. Poetry is not about making connections. You don’t need to be understood, you don’t even need to understand yourself. Poetry is only research into the unfathomable.
I’m restarting my “Finished” project, but I’ll be reporting monthly instead of weekly. I’ve been tracking my reading since I stopped posting last September, and have made new posts and antedated them. They are here: October, November, December, January, February, and March.
The second post in my five-part “poetry mini interview” is live.
In this week’s exciting episode, I dial back the rhetorical snark and answer the question, What poets changed the way you thought about writing?
Check it out here.
Alison Gopnik (via):
But here’s Hume’s really great idea: Ultimately, the metaphysical foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. What do you lose when you give up God or “reality” or even “I”? The moon is still just as bright; you can still predict that a falling glass will break, and you can still act to catch it; you can still feel compassion for the suffering of others. Science and work and morality remain intact. Go back to your backgammon game after your skeptical crisis, Hume wrote, and it will be exactly the same game.
In fact, if you let yourself think this way, your life might actually get better. Give up the prospect of life after death, and you will finally really appreciate life before it. Give up metaphysics, and you can concentrate on physics. Give up the idea of your precious, unique, irreplaceable self, and you might actually be more sympathetic to other people.