Monday, January 05, 2015
writing life: truth with a capital T
At my first ever AWP in 2004, I sat in on panel on Poets Reading Novelists and Novelists Reading Poets or somesuch, where a novelist exclaimed at the beginning that he always assumed that poets, unlike fiction writers, were telling the honest-to-god truth. That poetry was this expression of the self in its purest form and that poets were chained to mere personal experience for their inpiration and that anything else was highly disingenuous. And no doubt many agree, as witnessed by the number of "I came, I saw, I had an epiphany." poems littering the world. The poets experiences nature. The poet experiences heartbreak. The poet experiences loss. I, of course, was never very good at this. My themes (ideas, concerns, obsessions), whatever they happen to be at the moment, tend to need a broader framework and I tend to look at projects as stories, sometimes mine, sometimes someone else's. The I in my poem is sometimes me, sometimes not me, and sometimes a strange hybrid. The other people, the boyfriends, the mothers, the sisters, are very often compilation of people and experiences that are melded together for my own evil ends It's the best sort of lying.
With impending release of major characters in minor films ever more nigh (you can pre-order a copy here) I've been thinking a bit about shifts in my work over the years. This books feels perhaps like the most autobiographical of all, even perhaps moreso than the fever almanac, which relies so much on persona. Or maybe there is still persona, but it's closer to the bone. I've felt for a long time that the james franco poems, which make up one of the sections of this book, are perhaps the truest thing I've ever written. The other books are just distant, and not all of the stories they tell are necessarily my own. major characters.. is more autobiographical in detail I suppose, but also the voice feels more clearly my own. (or as my sister said after reading it "This is so totally you!") The series is perhaps closes to what my actual voice sounds like in real life, the sort of things I actually might say or obsess about on any given day (and no surprise these things happened while I was sort of messing around with words and not WRITING per se, or at least tricked myself into thinking I was fucking around and not working. It felt like journaling, and if I remember correctly, I think I purloined some statements from this very blog when I was stuck. The other poems in the book, the poems that made up havoc, the poems about creative anxieties, the moon letter poems are all series that drew largely from autobiography.
I can't say everything I've written since has been as much about me, except maybe the mermaid poems in shipwrecks of lake michigan (but then again, they're mermaid poems, so there's a bit of embellishment involved.) In what became salvage, there are those, the body/illness poems, the house series, and the ghost landscape pieces, which tell their own little story and aren't so much about me. The new book and it's apocalypse poems are somehow both fictional and non-fictional at the same time. There are more personal pieces and then there are persona pieces (most notably the terrestrial animal section with it's 1960's housewife motif) .
As I look at new work, I find myself wondering what exactly TRUTH is when it comes to poetry? Is it in the details or in the product? The truth that exists within the bones of the fiction?