June 15, 2012
Meeting people who think like we do reaffirms our own feeling that we are normal or at least that we have our own tribe.
What I notice about American Composers Forum LA events is that the composers and music people like to be together. They like to talk about music, compare notes. They drink all the wine.
At readings, the poets and writers always seem pleased to see each other, to be recognized.
I choose poetry to publish mostly for one very good reason. I like it and I think it’s good. Every editorial mistake I’ve made, (and I’ve made plenty) came when I compromised that intention.
When I read C.D. Wright, Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson, or Jamaica Kincaid, I feel I am reading someone who speaks my language, but says very well, but I think but maybe haven’t said yet. I’m reading Cooling Time by C.D. Wright.
She says, “Every year the poem I most want to write… changes shapes, changes directions.” I like that. I want to write a certain poem, a certain story, but it is always up ahead of me.
“We come from a country that has made a fetish if not a virtue out of believing it can live without art.” Yes, I think about that too. When I go into someone’s house, this is what I look for:
1. The books. This tells me how they think.
2. The music. This tells me what their heart listens to.
3. The art. This tells me how they see the world.
Most Americans have none of these, so they exist in a kind of functional vacuum. They can function and function we Americans do, but without the slow loveliness that comes with living in the presence of beauty.
“I appreciate the fray. I am neither too old for it nor too finished off. I am not sure of where it is I am going.”
“My purpose is neither to hack away at the canon or to contrive a trend.”
I like this very much. There is always a roar in the poetry world. A jumble of mixed feelings about who? What? Where? Why a MacArthur? Why this prize or that? Why publication. One of my colleagues at the MFA program says to me, “I’d never recommend these students read Stephen Dunn, and Mary Oliver?” He rolled his eyes. He’s urban and hip and wants his students to be as well.
Wright says the last war is between urban and rural in America, and you see that in politics. The line between Republicans and Democrats is often blurry, but the line between red state and blue state is often drawn right outside the city lines. Poetry has its own camps. I too appreciate the battle of it, and poetry is embattled, but I don’t care enough to take sides. I like good poetry, and I’m aware that certain poetry appeals to me because of my own peculiarities. I’ll admit, I’m not a John Ashberry fan. He doesn’t speak my language. I thought I wasn’t a Susan Howe fan, but one summer, I was given one of her books, Souls of the Labadie Tract, and maybe I was old enough or wise enough or quiet enough, but the book entered me and I was in love.
“I am mostly a spectator at the Friday-night fights of poetics. I return to the preserve of the white page hungover. I wake up almost ready. I make myself ready. I seek to be pulled up by my hair roots. Isn’t it so with all who work with this dug in art?”
I also am not as interested in camps, in war, as I am in great poetry. I want to write and read poetry. I want to think about it. I want to think in it. I want to eat it. But I understand that people like a struggle. Humans like to camp out and to defend their camp. Even if the foes of their camp are other poets, staggering home from the bar, singing Dylan Thomas lines.
I like that you don’t have to love it all. Some of it might not be your taste, but I’m not sure your taste or mine is worth fighting for.
I like quieting down enough to think about this.