Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

May 28, 2006

Being Pro-Poetry

Filed under: Uncategorized — Clattery MacHinery @ 11:42 pm

This world of poetry is rife and riven with competition and perceived heirarchal pressures. We need more individuals and organizations, or more individuals and organizations visible, getting behind the poetry rock, pushing it up the mountain to where it belongs, where society wants it, and where people outside the poetry community know it ought to be, for the good health of all society.

Poetry is often put down, through competitive impulse, sense of shame, or fear–whether these impeti are rooted in the perceived only or in reality. It is time to be free, to be freed by ourselves first. It is time to place the current unhealthy psychosocial positions of the community of Western poets, into the unreal where they belong.

Worst case scenarios for poets occur where, over the world, poets are being arrested and killed for writing poetry. But so-called “free” societies work subtly and powerfully upon human natures, poets being both human and natural.

As a child, often when my younger sisters would sing, I would tell them to be quiet, that I did not want to hear it. Now, I want everyone singing, in the sense of allowing poetry to flow from our cultures. Some say we have too many writers, and not enough readers. Let us worry less about audience, and more about community. For this is where our strength comes from, and this is where our most powerful messages, our most playful word crafting, most beautiful songs, and greatest shamanistic utterings, go forth from.

This past century, a shame came to poetry. The willy-nilly idea that great musings would lead to great society, destined the moderns into taking blame for the holocaust and other atrocities, in the most atrocious century ever. Poetry, especially from the West, seemed to have been leading culture nowhere special indeed, but making matters horrifically worse. Western culture, and therefore Western poetry, was called to judgment. And it has been quite a trial.

We said, don’t sing romantic, don’t sing modern, anymore. Beat counterculture, Eastern maybe, ancients revisited maybe, plus the great postmodern movement came into being. Some great poetry has come from it.

Nowadays we have the Collins/Kooser movement of accessibility, with the idea of inclusion–readability, and audience. More don’ts. “Don’t sing difficult themes” is the song. “We’re doing this, not that, now,” comes the call from up the heirarchy. “Communicate–be sure what you’re saying is clear,” they say. Not Collins and Kooser, if you listen, but those hopping on the bandwagon with the banners of those poets. Again and still, the moderns are to blame. But, according to this movement, the postmoderns are no help at all, impotent, in fact counterproductive–as if we need to produce poetry with an eye toward consumption and demographics.

Let’s instead pick up where we got hurt. Let’s say “Not guilty.” Let’s not shut down roads, because we find murderers use them too. Let’s stop being underground. Let’s be strong in community, savvy now, and visible again.

Bud Bloom

(Think of this more as a bud, than a bloom)

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9 Comments »

  1. This gives me a lot to chew upon: what poetry means to poets today, what poetry means to everyone today. I’ve found it to be a most vital artform, for those who do not write it, as well as those who do. Why else would poetry be so huge on the internet?

    However, the best part of what you’ve said here comes from the last paragraph: “Let’s instead pick up where we got hurt. Let’s say “Not guilty.” Let’s not shut down roads, because we find murderers use them too. Let’s stop being underground. Let’s be strong in community, savvy now, and visible again.” This is a message of hope and inclusiveness, a postive reaching out to everyone.

    It’s always better to focus on what you can do and what can be done than to moan about how awful it all is. Bravo.

    Comment by Christine Klocek-Lim — May 29, 2006 @ 2:02 pm

  2. Indeed, all roads should remain open.

    The literary world is large enough for all sorts of poetry. Accessibility is important if we wish to make fans of casual readers.

    Get those readers writing, and the world becomes bigger. Readership of all poetry will grow – even for the postmodernists. No one starts out loving highly sophisticated (or obscure) poetic forms.

    Comment by Carl Bryant — May 29, 2006 @ 3:14 pm

  3. Hi Christine,

    That last part “is a message of hope and inclusiveness” as you say. And it goes back to how you started, “what poetry means to everyone today.” The vision is for poetry to be reintegrated into human life. My call is for positive change to effect all society.

    And yes, focus on what we can do, but also focus on what can be agreed upon without a lot of convincing, even and notably, if such agreement is about diversity. I’m not saying do away with argument, but understanding whenever and wherever there is consensus, what scopes a consensus may take, knowing there are both forests and trees.

    Think of it more as a bud than a bloom.

    Bud

    _______________

    Hi Carl,

    If all roads are to remain open, then it does not matter if a given poem is one of the accessible ones, or if a given publication carries only less-accessible poems.

    You say “No one starts out loving highly sophisticated (or obscure) poetic forms.” That’s far too broad a statement for me to accept. I can easily conceive of people who would be turned off, maybe bored to tears, from accessible poetry, and turned on by the more obscure, jazzed into the musing of it all. Different strokes for different folks, includes everyone.

    And what shall we do with U B U W E B? Make them low on Google’s search results for poetry? What shall we do with this group of “innovative” poets: Now What? Refuse such blogs the “poetry” tag, so people only find them under “alternative poetry” or some such?

    The bandwagon of accessible poetry can only travel as far as the movement can take it. Interference in the movement, objecting to the writing of, any less-accessible poem is a form of censorship. It is these social constrictions that we need to free ourselves from.

    For instance, Ted Kooser may use his given position to spread “accessible” poetry (versus “experimental” or “obscure” or “alternative” what-have-you poetry) to the masses through newspapers. The good part of it is in the assertion of a genre or style of poetry as legitimate–as I assert all styles to be. So I agree, and I believe some legitimizing needed to be done, and still does. So I loe what he is doing. I love the movement as long as he or anyone else does not work against the “alternatives” and all the media channels proponents of such poetry try to use to spread their alternative words.

    Thank of it more as a bud than a bloom.

    Bud

    Comment by Bud Bloom — May 29, 2006 @ 10:35 pm

  4. Bud, I’d never advocate silencing ANY poetic movement. Conversely, I don’t feel we should take steps to artificially prolong the lifespan of something that can’t live on its own. Let it rise or fall on its own merits. Or let it pray for a rich heiress.

    I support easily-understood poetry for the masses because most people aren’t willing to spend the time to decipher a convoluted piece. That – or they lack the learned sophistication to appreciate a complex piece. If we’re going to interest the casual reader, we have to grab them quickly and speak to them directly. Where they live. I’m stating a generality, but I think it’s apt.

    Does that mean I advocate uncomplex poetry? Yes, if we’re talking about programs that seek to introduce poetry to the uninitiated reader. I’m sure examples of such poetry can be found within any poetic movement.

    Do I personally find the majority of work within some movements pointless and boring? Of course, but that is as it should be.

    I get angry whenever I hear purists screaming about never “dumbing down” their work. If they were such brainy poets to begin with, they could layer their meaning to appeal to a broader base while maintaining the integrity of the self-glorifying observation.

    I’m an amateur poet and I’m no better than anyone else. I’m certainly not better than my (few) readers. I hope to never allow that attitude to change.

    Regards,
    Carl

    Comment by Carl Bryant — May 30, 2006 @ 12:05 am

  5. Hi Carl,

    I am and was very sure you were not advocating silencing any poetry movement. This was nothing I had in mind, so nothing I wanted to communicate by my response to you. Thank you for making sure this is clear between us.

    I am unsure, though, what you mean by taking “steps to artificially prolong the lifespan of something that can’t live on its own.” If a poetry movement is being prolonged, it is being prolonged by a human being. And if a human being is having a part in the prolonging of it, such action cannot be artificial. I am thinking you have something in mind I am not considering, maybe even have not considered.

    As noted, I too support easily-understood poetry for people to read. I also support poetry that is not so easily understood for the masses. Even poetry not meant to communicate at all, (not yet “translated” shamanistic utterings, nonsense verse, computer-generated poems, true experimental wordsmithing, and so on, and so forth), but to evoke meaning and musing from the reader versus the writer.

    Each individual within these masses of people, can determine what he or she likes, having all the poetry available to read and select from, in print, online, on TV, at Festivals, everywhere, anywhere, all available. All the different movements to possibly choose from to become part of. Or, to go a step out of even this inclusive box: the best scope of poetry out there, so anyone may determine what new directions the form can take that it hasn’t already gone to.

    On the angry thing. Maybe some poets aren’t looking for a broad audience, not looking for such appeal. What would be wrong with a poetry movement, say, of poetry only for Mensa members, or even a Poetry 180 movement geared only to those with IQs above 180? Why not?

    There’d still be American Life in Poetry in the newspapers for the average Joe. Could we call this, or something like the spirit of this, pop poetry?

    But, think of it more as a bud than a bloom.

    Bud

    Comment by Bud Bloom — May 30, 2006 @ 12:45 am

  6. Bud,

    I like to think I’m pro-poetry, too. It’s true that the greater poetry community is riven. Even in the small Massachusetts town where I live, there are separate communities of poets who don’t talk to each other.

    In the past year, I have interviewed both Ted Kooser and John Ashbery. If you divide the poetry world into accessible and difficult, these two are polar opposites. This despite the fact that they are both white men who grew up on farms (in some peoples’ eyes, this would mean they’re in the same corner). I enjoyed talking to both of them and I think they both have useful things to say about poetry.

    Although I think my own poetry is influenced more by Ashbery than Kooser, I think Kooser’s read on poetry’s place in the world is closer to mine. Kooser has an expansive view of the poetry world, whereas Ashbery’s world is more exclusive. There’s probably a necessary tension that exists between the two.

    Anyway, thanks for sparking these thoughts.

    Andrew
    Flash & Yearn

    Comment by Sachem Head — May 31, 2006 @ 5:50 pm

  7. Hi Andrew,

    Those are both excellent articles, and enhance this thread marvelously. Thank you. The idea from Ashbery about exclusivity, is good too. And there in your small town, “are separate communities of poets who don’t talk to each other.”

    If there are groups of poets who want any kind of exclusivity from me, then let them have it. It’s not a bad thing all the time not to let others in. The sign says “Private”. This may not be the case, but such a hypothetical case is where my thoughts take off.

    I can imagine a group of poets who have been meeting for ages, and have become good friends, who simply are not taking any more people into their circle. They’re all set. Even a death cannot create an opening, only loss and dwindling.

    Or, how about a magazine, devoted to form poetry? Exclusivity, not a bad thing. A college program only taking smart high school graduates, because only the smart ones seem to succeed. Not a bad thing.

    Let me spin off just a bit, to say that these groups are all set. But we have this outreach that Kooser spearheads, to reach those who are not all set. The theory being that it is good to have a nifty poem once a week, on the page of our daily newspapers. This makes life better.

    Another enhancement takes place when someone who is into poetry, discovers something else in poetry. I am thinking specifically of a woman who was writing and enjoying poetry, then happened upon an online group workshopping poems. She realized there was a level and a realm she had not considered.

    I don’t see Kooser’s and Ashbery’s views at mutually exclusive. Let’s say we had a five year plan, and after five years, poetry was nicely integrated into our culture, people were happier, and the world noticed how it was abetter place. In that world, exclusive groups of good people would/will exist.

    Bud

    Think of it more as a bud than a bloom.

    Comment by Bud Bloom — June 1, 2006 @ 3:29 am

  8. Bud,

    I agree. I like Kooser’s project and I think it’s good for poets to reach out to a larger potential audience. I’m troubled by what Ron Silliman said about the trobar clus or “closed” style of poetry.

    Ultimately, I think the friction between the exclusivists and the expansionists has to do with the larger poetic institutions. Who controls the NEA? Who controls the Poetry Foundation? Where is this money going to? I blogged about this conversation here.

    I think where the expansionists run into problems is when the talk about accessibility turns into a form of anti-modernism. I understand the concerns people have with modern poetry being elitist and difficult, but I think critics should not discount the aspect of modernism that had to do with social change.

    The most famous American exponents of high modernism, Eliot and Pound, took some fairly questionable political stands, but modernism as a movement was interested in challenging the old social order and leading its readers to a greater awareness.

    As a poetry proponent, I love the idea of someone opening up their newspaper and discovering a poem that could lead them into a new relationship with poetry. But as a poet, I find myself a little conflicted. I find myself agreeing with August Kleinzahler and his spirited attack on Garrison Keilor’s book, Good Poems.

    As I said, though, perhaps this is a necessary tension.

    Andrew
    Flash & Yearn

    Comment by Sachem Head — June 1, 2006 @ 12:35 pm

  9. Great stuff, Andrew. Thank you.

    Your links led me to this one, and a good tangent, by Dana Gioia: Notes Toward a New Bohemia, wherein he says:

    The shift away from print culture to an audiovisual, electronic culture has had an enormous impact. Today the physical audience listening to live poetry vastly outnumbers the people who read it in books.

    The shift from print to oral publication leads to my second observation: there has been a huge reemergence of populist oral poetry, largely among groups who were alienated from the dominant, academic, literary culture. The new schools of populist poetry include rap, cowboy poetry, and poetry slams, which together command audiences in the millions.

    What’s next? It’s like playing the poetry stock market. One could be a genius or go bust. But if money gets behind a good idea, as with Kooser’s, then there’s an improved chance that whatever merit an avenue has, the inventiveness of that avenue will prove itself to be the way to go–that aspect that if only people were exposed to something, they would integrate it naturally, giving it natural growth in the culture. Sometimes it works.

    But then what will happen? As Gioia points out, who knew the oral thing would take hold as it has. And currently in our broader pop culture, even the originators of American Idol had no idea how huge the success of the show would be. But it was somebody doing something, following through with some crazy idea.

    We get nowhere if someone does not invest resources into ideas. For this, one needs to have a passion for it, and to recognize who else does, as Frank Wilson has pointed out to me in conversation, shared passion. This, coupled with following through with a vision, that vision being applied to each decision that is made–what to go with, such as this color, or that. This vision also let’s one know what is working, and what is not. These are old management ideas, but in practice, and in concert with the passions of individuals, “unexpected” things happen.

    We could, for instance, assess Poetry Magazine on these grounds. Is the organization being filled with passionate people, who still have the seat-of-the-pants mentality? Or has their, or will their vision become more oriented to their own self-perpetualization and “goodness”?

    Bud

    Comment by Bud Bloom — June 2, 2006 @ 11:24 am


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