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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Farewell for Now

I've been negligent lately on all of my blogs, and I may sign off on two more of them shortly, but this is the one that's probably the most redundant at the moment, in that I have another "writerly" blog that I plan to start updating more frequently.
It won't be quite the same as it is over here, where I have a greater degree of anonymity (kind of nice) but a girl only needs so many blogs (I have more blogs than shoes, although that's not saying an awful lot. Still...)
So, to sum up, it's been real; it's been fun; it's been real fun, even, but, yes, regardless, at least for now, fare thee well.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Brodsky, from "A Part of Speech."

... and when “the future” is uttered, swarms of mice
rush out of the Russian language and gnaw a piece
of ripened memory which is twice
as hole-ridden as real cheese.
After all these years it hardly matters who
or what stands in the corner, hidden by heavy drapes,
and your mind resounds not with a seraphic “doh,”
only their rustle. Life, that no one dares
to appraise, like that gift horse’s mouth,
bares its teeth in a grin at each
encounter. What gets left of a man amounts
to a part. To his spoken part. To a part of speech.

--Joseph Brodsky, from “A Part of Speech”

Friday, January 9, 2009

from John Ashbery

The extreme austerity of an almost empty mind
Colliding with the lush, Rousseau-like foliage of its desire to communicate
Something between breaths, if only for the sake
Of others and their desire to understand you and desert you
For other centers of communication, so that understanding
May begin, and in doing so be undone.

from "And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name"

Monday, November 17, 2008

What to Take and What to Leave

After having poems rejected from a journal that apparently prefers to publish more experimental work, I've started to ponder the progression of my style, now that I'm essentially finished with the M.A. program and about to turn in the final draft of my thesis.
Is my style "traditional" now? Well, not really. It's certainly not formalist, but then it's certainly not experimental, either.

I don't feel that my content was ever compromised in the program, but in a way my style has been molded as a sort of compromise between adherence to forms that don't feel natural to me and a more freewheeling style that is usually frowned on in the program.
So what I tend to write now are free verse poems in couplets, slightly musical, with lines that end on strong words, with regular punctuation. The musicality is something intrinsic to my style, I think; it's the "meter" I hear in my head, and I can't seem to shake it, and I guess that's okay. I love couplets, and they'll probably always be my favorite stanza pattern, but I think I have come to overuse them as a fallback pattern, an old stand-by. The program has taught me never to use irregular stanza lengths, although many published poets do this, sometimes to decent effect. This is something I may start to reconsider.
Dashes are strongly discouraged, and I've reluctantly dropped them for commas, semi-colons, and periods. Sure, too many dashes can be distracting and annoying, but once in a while they're just the thing. So I'm going to probably bring them back, too, little by little.
Ending lines on only strong words (never an article, rarely a pronoun, and reluctantly an unevocative word) is something I hadn't given much thought to before the program, and it's really helped my poems, I think. However, doing it without exception may not always be the best thing for a particular poem.

In the end, though, if I had to go back and choose between a program that was geared toward formalism and one geared toward experimentalism, I'd choose the former. It's easier to teach oneself to break the rules than to follow them. If I wasn't dragged kicking and screaming to sit down, scan a line, and count the feet, I doubt I ever would have. No regrets. It's been a good education. But I think the time's coming to let myself off the leash again, maybe double-indent a couple lines. Nothing too crazy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Revise

Just found this line scribbled last March, and it seems apropos for thesis season:

The better the poems are, the more they will feel like art rather than raw grief, which is no doubt what they are, dressed up and taught to talk nice.
Nobody wants to see raw grief, but if it can hold a fork right, tell a few jokes, possibly...

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Forest for the Trees

Writing. Why do I do it?

This semester, for the thesis course, we've been discussing something I'd already assumed but was nevertheless discouraged to hear confirmed: the world of "serious" literature these days, especially poetry, is all about who you know. "Incestuous" was the word used.

It's about where you get your degree, what writer's conferences you frequent, who you schmooze with, who takes a liking to you. In short, an introvert's nightmare.

Sure, when it was all theoretical, the idea of doing readings and interviews and meeting a few people seemed par for the course, but is that really all it's about?

Can you truly not get published without knowing the right people and pulling the right strings? That notion is intolerable to me. It's just not who I am. My thoughts stray to Emily Dickinson, until I remember, She was never published in her lifetime. I want to be published in my lifetime. (There's still debate in some circles as to whether an online venue "counts," even if it involves wider readership.) But, that question aside, I'm no Emily Dickinson, either, and don't hope to be.

I read something this week that certainly did nothing to boost my confidence as a fledgling in the poetry world. A former instructor from the program I'm finishing this semester (very former, and very eager to kiss-and-tell, so to speak) wrote a piece in a respected literary journal about her experience in our program, and spoke very unflatteringly of what I pieced together was almost certainly the class I had taken with her.

It was a sardonic piece in which the author took the ax she had to grind and used it to bludgeon, in my opinion, the trust and confidence of her former students. I would say it verges closely on libel, with the program in question thinly veiled and easily Google-researched. She referred to the program as "ghetto" because it happens to be part-time and classes (in one of the two locations) are not held on the main campus. Sure, I've used the term jokingly myself, but here there was a mean-spirited, derisive air that discredited the whole existence of part-time programs, as if people who can't quit their jobs and take a teacher's assistant salary for a year just shouldn't bother, that we did it merely for vanity and were only trying to add another line to our pedestrian resumes in search of a teaching job, and that the other instructors in the program (people I profoundly respect) are simply humoring us and wasting their/our time.

I was not amused. In fact, I was pissed. Reading that article, after beginning with a genuine smile to see a familiar name on the byline, I felt slapped in the face, almost as if someone who might have lent a hand into the club (if that's the way it must be done) -- the tight little circle of the contemporary poetry scene -- was instead slamming a door in my face, saying I wasn't worthy. It felt a bit like being told, in the second grade, that I wasn't allowed on the jungle gym. Funny, since my precious feelings survived the course in question fairly well, and I even counted it a good class, all in all. I can take constructive criticism, and I'm sure it improved my poetry. But this was different. This was personal, and petty. I just hope, if I am ever in the position that the author finds herself in, (where she's quickly made herself cozy, as if she was never one of us) I will have a bit more grace.

So, back to that question: Why do I do it?
To be part of some scene? Hell, no.
To win the best prizes? Ditto.

For a while the other day, I was thinking, well, why, then, other than some delusion of grandeur or dislike for honest work?

Fortunately, I remembered why. It's that girl who wasn't welcome on the jungle gym at seven, now struggling through puberty, leafing through her eighth-grade lit textbook and, for an hour or so, forgetting herself, meeting people from other times and places and feeling that sort of human sympathy and kinship with them that neither death nor schoolyard disgrace can diminish.
Sitting at my desk then, in gratitude to those people I would never meet, I decided that one day I wanted to be the one extending a hand forward through the years and the continents, and I still want that.

So fuck the rest of it. I'll write, and if it all ends up in a desk drawer, and even if the house burns down, desk and all, it's been its own reward to me.
Because that's the other thing. It's just fun.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

One Thing at a Time

Well, I've finally accepted the fact that it won't be possible to submit a manuscript this fall contest season at the same time as I'm completing my thesis collection. I'd wanted to do both simultaneously, just because of the fact that so many good contests do have fall deadlines and I didn't want to wait another year to submit the manuscript, but I'm just not enough of a multi-tasker to work on two different collections, one with 32 poems and one with the required 45-50 pages, and with different poems chosen for different reasons (I need to dig up every formal poem I have for the thesis, even if they're not my best or as fitting with the theme, and with the would-be book, I have to keep in mind that it will -- hopefully -- be "out there" in the world, to some small extent, and that at least my mom will be probably reading it :)
So I'll just focus on the thesis now, celebrate the completion of three decades of education, and then get the collection together for the few winter and spring deadlines. And then, barring happy news from one of them, get it ready again next fall...