Don't Read This Post (Confessions of a Failed Blogger)
I love the idea of blogging for Hariet. I love having an audience. I appreciate getting a little money (I’d appreciate more more if you were wondering, PF), and I am the kind of writer who almost always says yes to invitations. I think it’s good for poets to have to write prose and good for writers to have to write on assignment from time to time. Blogging for Harriet is a really nice idea. The thing is, though, I pretty much hate doing it.
I’m not looking for sympathy. I knew what I was getting into. I’m an adult: I could have said no. So why am I here? Why did I come back?
As a writer I’m almost masochistically daring, which is funny because in every other part of my life I'm extremely risk-averse. If someone gives me a writing assignment I hate (or if I stumble upon an idea I really do not want to write about) I feel compelled to do it. Often I end up liking what I wrote or learning something important in the process, which provides a kind of positive reinforcement for a negative experience that compels me to say yes to the next thing I really do not want to do. Is this how extreme rock climbers feel? That the pleasure is inextricable from the danger?
Or is extreme climbing (which I can't imagine ever wanting to do) about achieving a vista unreachable in any other way? I believe that if I don’t want to write something that dread is probably psychological defensiveness and is a sign that I really should write about the thing I don’t want to write about. So, I say yes. I say yes because it's difficult and I am strangely obsessed with embracing difficulty. I say yes because my dread makes me feel compelled to say yes.
This past week I’ve spent several hours composing the first three quarters of several blog posts, and indeed I have come to realize something new: one reason I don’t like blogging—in addition to the time pressure and the anxiety of sounding stupid—is because this is not a good form for me.
Truth be told, I didn’t “realize” this through writing. I was reading one of my many almost-finished posts to my friend writer Laurel Snyder and she said, “Yeah, this isn’t your form.” She didn’t say it meanly and it didn't hurt my feelings. True! How could it take me so long to see this?
First of all, I’m not good at brevity. Every blog post I start turns into an essay by the time I’ve finished it. Why am I surprised? I’ve written about my affection for reading and writing long poems. When I try to write short poems they often turn into a series, which is really a way of cheating and writing a long poem. I prefer novels to short stories. I like mini-series and epics. This semester, I’m teaching a class called “The Long and Very Short of It” where we read very long and very short poems. I suspect it’s pretty obvious to my students that I designed the class as an excuse to read long poems I wouldn’t ordinarily read or re-read by Bernadette Mayer, Wayne Koestenbaum, James Schuyler, Frank Stanford, Claudia Rankine, Louis Zukofsky, CD Wright, and others. How am I teaching the short-short poem part of the class? Well, my students are each bringing in short poems to present to the class (and thereby teaching me to appreciate and understand short poems). So, my allegiances are clear despite my best intentions to remain mysterious and aloof.
Of course I keep trying to master (or at least improve) on shorter forms. Since January 2011 I’ve been keeping a blog of daily, one-sentence observations. The rules I set for myself are: it has to be present tense, it must begin with the word where, it cannot be in first person. Keeping this silly blog has been pleasurable, but it also has a cod liver oil aspect to it. I set myself a task to remedy a weakness. These are crunches for my weak core. Two hundred and sixty four sentences later I might be better at writing one-sentence observations, but my posts are still sprawling into essays. You'd think that a poet would be good at writing pithy blog posts, but I'm not.
This touches on a subject I think a lot about: the boundary or relationship between poetry and prose. I’ve often been accused of being too prosaic in my poems and yet I’m so obsessed with form that even when I write prose I always feel like a poet writing prose. Craig Teicher recently made some brilliant comments about the difference between poetry and prose in an interview. "Poetry," says Teicher, "is self-conscious language, words that refer to themselves. Reading a poem, one is meant to be conscious of the materiality of the poem—the fact that it is made of words with meanings that shift every time they are read or spoken; words are like boxes that are packed and repacked with associations. One should never quite lose oneself in a poem the way one does in a great movie or novel." (Read the rest of the interview here.) I think that I'm writing prose like a poet—I never lose myself in writing prose but I'm writing prose the way I write poems—full of doubt, second guessing, twists and turns, turning and turing things over. So, do I try to "fix" that or try to change the form?
I'm confused as a writer and especially as a teacher about whether it is more important to push oneself to "take risks" and try new things in writing, to do the things I dread or dislike—I'm almost always suggesting to students that they try the opposite of what they're doing or try the thing they think they hate—or whether the job of the writer is to nurture one's characteristicness (more on this in another post), the thing or voice or quality that is most singular.
I don't know. And in my discursive, long-winded way, I haven't come much closer to an answer. I’ve got some good ideas (I think) for posts; whether or not these conform to or fulfill the blog post form is doubtful, but that’s what you get, PF, when you ask poets to write prose about poetry. At least that’s what you’ll get from me.
Poet and educator Rachel Zucker was born in New York and grew up in Greenwich Village, the daughter of novelist Benjamin Zucker and storyteller Diane Wolkstein. She earned her BA at Yale University and her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Zucker’s expansive yet lyrical poems interrogate and deftly...