Wednesday, July 26, 2006

good god

Will it ever end?

she understood the innocence of dying???

I'd draw and quarter someone for writing a line like that. I'd draw and quarter myself for writing that. I hate to be all judgemental and coming down hard on Poetry Daily, whose mission I fully support. But god, I'm just drowning in the mediocrity these days and it's making me cranky..This is why I don't write reviews of things I don't like. Bad poems make me angry for having wasted time reading them. And VD is not much better today--rather ho-hum and ordinary. I'm not familiar with either poets work on the whole, but dear god I hope they write better poems than these....

I hate to come off sounding all superior, but hell I feel like I am--even at my worst-- and not just me dozens and dozens of poets I know could outshine these...


Gillian said...

See, this is exactly why I won't let my students write poems about their dead relatives. Innocence be damned.

Christopher said...

i'm sorry, as a teacher, why would you limit what your students can write about? that's a pretty callous and judgmental comment"I won't let my students write poems about their dead relatives", and I say that as a frequent writer of elegies, many about the early loss of my father as a child. whether your students write crappy poems/stories/etc. they should should still be able to write them. where's the tolerance, especially from a teacher?

there's better poems in that issue of GMR, but that poem i actually did like. i don't have a problem with the word innocent being used at all, especially when we consider death an end, something we may fear, something violent, or an act we may try avoiding but can't. and she understands death has nothing against her, and she cries still. i think the poem is much more emotionally keen(oh god, lest we fear emotion and mistake it for pure sentimentality)then many a poem i saw getting MFA. i like poems that say one thing but hold double meanings or show some kind of contradiction, and i feel the extrapolated line does that. to me there is more than what is written being said, pain in the innocence.

that isn't to say i don't feel that certain writers i know can't write "better", but i think Plumly is a stronger Poet.

my dissenting opinion is as much for depth to the conversation as it is for myself.

that a poem can be "love it or hate it" so strongly is one of the good things about writing, invoking a reaction--which may get you to write your own piece in response. and this also reminds me of how subjective our lives (for poetry is ingrained in our bones)can be.

i think such a reaction would make both the teacher and the writer more proactive and not limiting or seeking limits to what we write.

wickedpen said...

For me, it's not so much the subject matter or the sentiment behind the poem, so much as the crafting of it. I have a thing about mediorcre prose masquerading as verse. This looks exactly like a not very interesting prose memoir broken into lines.

Also image, sound, rhythm--all the things that make poetry competent in my head. This one is faltering in all respects.

The line I quoted before borders on the cliche. Is flat, abstract. Tells me nothing new. As is she saw death as her last chance to live and She had already questioned God in heaven.

The poem is not incredibly precise with its use of language, and fumbles into awkwardness at points. Sonically, visually, there is nothing that gives me that frisson I feel when I read something good.

And yet, it almost rescued itself at the end. My interest WAS piqued by

It said, salotto città, that Venice was a city the size of drawing rooms, lit with the flowers of funerals and weddings.

But there was so much bad, badness before that, I couldn't buy it.

Gillian said...

Hmm. I was being funny. Or so I thought.

But I'll admit that I often encourage my students to write about something other than their dead grandmother. Someone else's dead grandmother. An imaginary dead grandmother. A grandmother who's alive.

And it's also true that I deliberately craft assignments which make it hard to write about one's dead grandmother -- a poem based on a tabloid magazine article, a poem inspired by a random collection of small portable objects, a poem created from a list of words somebody else compiled -- because I think it's part of my job as a writing teacher to push people out of their comfort zones and challenge them to experiment with different subjects, different techniques, different structures, etc. People tend to write about their personal stuff -- dead grandma, bad boyfriend, unhappy marriage -- on their own, but it's less likely they'll write a beautiful poem about Jessica Simpson or an elegy to their virginity or a prose poem about insomnia in a beginning workshop unless invited to do so. (I should point out here that a clever writer could easily add a dead grandmother subtext to a Jessica Simpson poem.)

Every week I assign a specific type a poem, and every week they turn in an original poem of their own choosing, and as the class progesses, the original poems improve in terms of craft which means it doesn't really matter if they're about a dead grandma or not. I've found that when newish poets write about personal stuff, they often let the content overpower the form. The more emotionally involved we are with our subject the harder it can be to make the choices which will turn our private thoughts into a public work of art. That's the point of steering students away -- even temporarily -- from personal subjects. It helps them develop the tools that will enable them to write about anything they choose in a way that engages all readers, even jaded, sarcastic ones like me.

wickedpen said...

The more emotionally involved we are with our subject the harder it can be to make the choices which will turn our private thoughts into a public work of art.

You are so right about this. Genuine and true emotion does not always make good art. There's a certain amount of distance necessary to mold it into something viable. A freind of mine has a poem about something personal that's been so difficult to write it's taken him like seven years to be able to get it right.
I on the other hand, usually try going at the difficult stuff from a whole bunch of angles, both based in personal experience and emotion and the fictional. It's hard to write a good death poem in the way it's hard to write a good love poem, or a good political poem. The emotions tend to get in the way of objectivity. Some poems need to be written as therapy...whether or not they need to be published if they suck remains the question.

I took a quick look at what was available online by Jarman and Plumly last night and found the rest of their stuff to be at least
competetant, if not really tripping my trigger. Even good poets write bad poems, I suppose, but worse, someone will publish them given the right circumstances. The editors of those magazines, no matter how famous or respected the poet in question, should have said "send me something else".

Christopher said...

I've agreed with the statement, "The more emotionally involved we are with our subject the harder it can be to make the choices which will turn our private thoughts into a public work of art" and I've tried dilligently to walk that line.

But I think, here, you've limited emotional attachment to personal experience, which I feel is a recurring symptom in contemporary poetry. Some writers become so entrenched in a vocabulary or sound--wanting to sound and read "clever"--or even a specific aesthetic that causes a bias against poetry that is surfacewise as biographical, prosey and not clever in...what?

I think that we are wanting the same thing but saying it in different ways, through different perspectives. I don't feel poems written solely about a grandma's death--poor poor grandma--are that exciting, or good. I say the same for poems about a political travesty like 911 or something as solitaryily painful (but not really because others, too, change towards the victim)as being raped. I can remember at least three workshops in the last six years where the poet cried because they wrote poems they were to close to. They happened to be not very good drafts of poems, or the student was someone who should look beyond writing as a means of success in their life. And I've sat through many more readings and critiquings of poems that are as self-indulgent in this way and other ways.

I too find it frustrating to sit through a workshop from week to week where Don Juan writes about his weekly peach, cherry, beautiful girl he's had/wants/was spit on by. As a writer it makes me cringe, but it is also a learning experience, which is why I find such writing necessary.

As I said, I am someone who anchors his poetry in personal experience. But I've never written directly and solely towards whatever subject comes to the page, whether it be death or love or violence. The problem shouldn't be with using those subjects but doing something with them fresh, right? That is why we dislike egotistical poems that simply say, grandma died and it's so so sad and wrong, life suchs, yadda yadda.

Where one writer may want to use Jessica Simpson to get at what she/he wants to say about the death of a grandma, another writer may use Venice, or perhaps as I have done I used a City Ordinance to talk about my grandma's serious illness.

I feel bad for using my grandma to write about what I find to be something of an important insight to humanity. In a poem called Maintaining Defiance, where my grandma's sickness is a result of the city burning down dead foliage, grass, etc. to keep the city clean, a lot more happens than my grandma simply getting sick and me being emotionally upset. (In truth, outside the poem, her disease was merely exacerbated by the event, and I switched the disease for musical purposes.) The poem explores a moment of "reality" where the mayor apologizes, loses his job, but the next year the same maintenance is done, and in that same time the grandma in the poem weakens physically but not emotionally--she doesn't say, what a cruel cruel world, but she also isn't victorious--she moves on in life, a life altered by this experience.

Claudia Emerson just won the Pulitzer for poems of high personal experience, divorce and the death of her new husband's old wife. Overall, I really like the book. Are there flaws and weakenesses, yes.

I understand you were being hyperbolic and sarcastic now. I too encourage my Composition students to dig deeper into their own experiences and into their own minds to come up with their own perspectives. I prescribe to the theory I was taught as an undergrad, you know, WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW, so, for instance kids from South Chicago are encouraged to dig into their lives. Rather than not seeing a generic piece of writing about a death I want to see it through the mind of a kid from Bronzeville, a kid from Wrigleyville, a kid from a single-parent family, a girl from the boondocks.

I say, Say it new; not, Don't say it.

I also believe fully in being objective, as both a writer and a reader. I find there to be many poems about repression out there, and that annoys me to read poem after poem, but that doesn't mean they are not good poems that I can't enjoy.

wickedpen said...

The title of the very next thing I write?

"grandma died and it's so so sad and wrong, life sucks, yadda yadda".