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Writing and Failure (Part 1)

By Christian Bök

Greetings, everyone….
Today marks my initial posting to Harriet, and of course I am looking forward to contributing to the discussion on this website. For now, I am hoping to begin (on a mild note of mischief) by thinking out loud about the intensified irrelevance of poetry as a cultural activity. I might suggest that, despite the enthusiasm of both writers and critics alike, on various weblogs such as this one, most poetry has all but forfeited its status as an artform at the forefront of innovative expression; instead, poetry has allowed itself to devolve into a quaint subset of artisanal practices, like blacksmithery or cabinetmaking, which do little more than preserve an antiquary skill, long since relegated to an exhibit at your nearest Pioneer Village….

Writing is an arduous process that often takes a toll upon its practitioners, particularly among avant-garde poets, who must often commit to their artistic vocation with only the faintest promise of success. Even the most extolled literati have had to endure bouts of failure, contending with editorial dismissal, chemical addiction, aesthetic paralysis, or cultural abjection, and in each case such writers must find ways to transform such markers of failure into a formula for success. Who among the vaunted members of the avant-garde have not presumed in advance that their doomed labour begins by acknowledging the protracted atrophy, if not the consummate failure, of literature itself? Has not poetry declined so steadily from its historic position of cultural prestige that, in the modern milieu, poets have all but resigned themselves to their own inconsequence (much like the industrious, but otherwise incompetent and therefore obsolescent, factotums who mutely endure their recurrent demotions, while other, far more skilled workers in other, far more popular careers, get rewarded with wealth and renown)? Has not the poetic legacy of the avant-garde already begun to resemble a blasted library, bestrewn with the unburied cadavers of lunatics and suicides—all the beautiful, but misguided, losers who have martyred themselves to untelevised revolutions? Do not critics who study this holocaust always express dismay at the squandered potential of such talent and the unrewarded foresight of such genius? We always seem to say that, alas, these poets have failed, not because their work lacks aptitude, but because a philistine readership has failed to appreciate the contemporary significance of such art.

Comment (1)

  • On September 19, 2007 at 10:22 pm colin millar wrote:

    Poetry writing is just a skill among many. To denigrate other skills and dismiss them as outmoded when thei practitioners may labour a lifetime and with inadequate financial reward because they choose to strikes me as arrogant. Hypocritical.given the content of much of this posting.
    I can’t believe that you seriously hold the views expressed. If you do then I think you are a woefully inadequate ambassador for avant garde poetry and ipoets

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, September 12th, 2007 by Christian Bök.