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Journal, Day One
Like a lot of people probably, who’ve participated in this series, I feel ambivalent about pushing out notes on something I wish I were more familiar with in a medium I think I must certainly need to be hipper on. Ah, well. Poetry and coolness, even comfort aren’t exactly ‘pease in a pod’ no? Lately, I’ve felt a little cut off from poetry being in research mode in another area. Maybe I’ll feel more connected to the poetic community soon (and by hanging out with you) as I did when I visited with friends at AWP this year. I’ve also felt more comforted by stealing away to poetry while I’m thinking academic thoughts. Feeling almost, as if I’m stealing my own soul by using writing time to not cultivate a relationship with non-poetic writing . . . this conventional speech, this mirroring of poetic language, this lighthearted aside, is the breaking of the chronology of language.
Anyway, I guess I’ll start evading by talking about poetry some or at least my feelings about poetry a little bit. I have a hedging relationship with poetry, coming in from the side door as it’s snuck into my life. For the first comments I guess I’d like to have a dialogue/omnilogue with you about the primacy of poetry in your life. Not the “need to write” as catharsis or even political anger, but can one see the world as a poet as distinct from ‘poetically’? I’ve been fading out of being on various poetry ‘scenes’ the last couple years while exploring the strange world of ‘non-creative’ academia. I say strange only because I regularly felt like a freshwater fish in the sea of different classes and conferences unrelated to making poetry.
At AWP, and a recent reading I did collaborating with poet Charles Bernstein, it felt like total re-immersion. I wonder, somewhat exactly, what was the difference in scenes. We were almost always speaking English (or making proto-English referent sounds) so the “total immersion” allusion is strained, but it did remind me of this, tell the truth, having traveled abroad a little. It recalls other times, often in collaboration with other artists, where that sense of thinking totally differently than other people interpreting the same event, was apparent. When I was working with choreographer Ralph Lemon years ago, I became clearer about different aesthetic/thinking registers (to borrow from the linguists for a second). We would look at a particularly dance section and construct totally different narrative arcs based on other pieces he (and I) have made. We saw the development of the overall piece based on our own way of seeing, and experiencing events. What can one offer as a poet with a different point of view on anything that’s going on while it’s going on for someone else? What innate value, irrespective of form and content, does our point of view, as language artists, have? Maybe this consideration has already been summed up in the “blind men and the elephant” story, but if you have any other ideas about this poetry way of seeing, let me know.
Well, going to a political rally, it’s pretty clear how society sees our seeing: as utilitarian rallying cry. That’s good to be sure, and I wonder if our use in this instance is as the traditional jester, confronting yet aesthetically satisfying, the court of public opinion. The last big rally I read at in New York, the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion, reminded me of the tenuous of even this clearly defined role: there was, as there should have been, a lot of cheering, yelling, taunting and supporting. Presenting toward the end of the event, my expectation was to read a new poem in development about the war from the perspective of a soldier from Brooklyn who suddenly gets blown up. It was even under time according to the wishes of the organizers. I didn’t end up reading it though. Something about getting up on the high stage and seeing all those folks and all those signs made me think: that the words and even the perspective I had to offer, had already been said, explored in this space. Editing goes with poetry as measures of success as book deals to fiction writers, and when going up to read I felt the need to excise my text out. I made this distinction from my usual (and typical) phobia about reading aloud because I didn’t have the compulsion to get off the stage and not say anything, but contribute somehow in a non-redundant (as opposed to non-repetitive) way. And so, I talked a little bit about the city, the people and the grace of New York on September 12th, 2001 and for a month after. It wasn’t a cry as much as a moment to recall. I felt that our power at that historical punctum also lay in our potential to transform, not only berate, cry or shout. I think some of the organizers were disappointed at first, looking for more sizzle or at least a big cheering dramatic upswell. I really had no expectations since I didn’t read what I’d planned and had no idea what would happen (not even as an optimistic rough estimate). If a measure of success in a blog is hits, I don’t think I achieved a victory with that, either. Afterward though, as I walked to the subway, people came up to me individually, quietly, saying things like: “I forgot about how we were. Thank you for saying that.” I would love to take credit for some great insight, but my choice seemed obvious based on the energy of the crowd and the dotted wall of words on banners in front of me. It was more of an editorial choice than an inspired one, but a poetic choice, nonetheless.
So to start off the journalblog, I’d like to consider what a perspective from a poet might be. Irrespective of how one writes poetry, is there a way that poets see things differently? This leads to another, later question, what does this other seeing offer for a specific instance or variety of circumstances?