For Christina Pugh, “experience” is an anathema. She questions what exactly it is and cleverly asks, “Is experience quantifiable? Does it drive a red Ferrari, or is it a rambling pedestrian with a long white beard?” She wants a poetry, apparently, less directly tied to life’s events, more related to the particular occasions (she makes a very useful distinction between “experience” and “occasion”) that inform the writing life.
My OED (shorter edition) lists, among the several definitions of “experience,” two that are relevant to this discussion. “Knowledge resulting from observation or practical acquaintance, or from what one has undergone.” And: “the events that have taken place within the knowledge of an individual, a community, the human race, etc.” In this sense, virtually all poetry comes from experience; where else can it come from?
Often, experience is pitted against imagination, but even the human imagination grows out of the life we’ve experienced. The complaints Pugh refers to about poets in the university is not that these poets don’t have experience, but rather that when you “professionalize” a field, as poetry has been professionalized in our time, you create a class of individuals whose experience is very similar. They have all gone through the same certification process, they all end up with similiar jobs at similiar institutions. What we need in our poets is not more experience or less, but a wider diversity of experience.
San Diego, California