Thursday, April 18, 2019

transparency and the writer's life

I once read an interview with a random poet where they talked about their creative process, hammering in how deplorable they found it that other poets spend so much time in front of screens, They. of course, did not, preferring instead to be entirely internet-less at home (though I suspect they still had a phone and weren't completely disconnected form the world.) They also found it deplorable to force writing, to commit to page counts, to poems, even when the muse wasn't flitting about.  Instead, said poet wandered about the countryside, waiting for the burst of occasional inspiration and then sat down at a typewriter and banged it out. Meticulously revised it over months, over years. (of course, this poet was a tenured professor, so therefore had the summers free to sit about waiting great-pumpkin-like for the muse.)  There was also no discussion of the indecorous work on submitting and seeking publication, which surely sullied the that very same muse. In the interview, it seemed like a nice life, full of smart people and smart conversations.  And they had books, several, and prizes and publications and all the things that writers get absolutely wet for--fellowships, grants, residencies.   But no indecorous discussion of how they actually got them.

Every once in a while, I'll encounter these sorts of poets for whom their creative lives are hidden behind a thick veil And sometimes there is this unspoken pressure to be doing things while, in fact, seeming not to do them.  Not to want them. Not to even try, lest one be considered too thirsty. You wanna play it cool, like you're not always seeking and querying.  But you probably are. Occasionally, I'll encounter a poet publishing like their first book and be surprised to learn that they had sent it out to contests 50-100 times before it was picked up, but that they were doing it completely on the down-lo. I'm always suspicious of poets who seem to get things easily, but then I've acknowledged that its not always as easy as it might seem from the outside.  Me, I sent it out about 10 times over 2 years and then bitched about it endlessly on the interwebs.  It was either going to get picked up or I would annoy everyone to death.  Eventually I was lucky.

And maybe I'm a poor example, having been blogging for nearly two decades, having always put all of it out there in the open. Everything from my earliest publications, to my serious book anxiety before the first one was picked up, to my MFA study rants. And that was merely blogging--the veil slipped even further when social media showed up.  Now, you not only know what I'm working on what I'm striving for, but also, sometimes, what I ate for breakfast.  A year or so ago, a poet was discussing the hazards of considering the work when we know all too much about the author via social media.  New Criticism, no doubt,  is probably dead, and in it's place, is it valid, in a review , to reference the personality of the author?  How can we not?  Is there such a thing as entirely private writers? (truthfully, if I haven't put it out there on the internet, I've put it in my work.) And really, I have no answer to this question of whether we should or shouldn't.

Because of things like facebook, which allow amazing opportunity for community and connection, I always a little weirded out by the poets who eschew them entirely.  Surely, maybe they are more productive (though waiting for that fickle muse surely can't be that effective in terms of time use and productivity.) But then again, so much of what I find there and the community attached spurs me on. (and a life without cat memes is a sad life indeed.)  I'm not sure I ever believed that writing needed to happen in absolute isolation. And what are we if not products of our culture?

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