Wednesday, February 12, 2020

poetry and vertigo

Pietro Longhi

Doing the #authorlifeonth tag over on instagram, I encounter very few poets.  Mostly, it's a lot of YA and romance novelists, with a few sci-fi & horror writers thrown in.  As such, their realities seem remarkeably different, their bookish bucket lists filled with film options, foreign rights, agents, and all the ideas/language that seem entirely unrelated to what poets do.   I was reading an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed bemoaning the downfall of the humanities as a subject, and was mentioning a few ways that universities were trying to appeal to students whose minds are in every place but there--new intitaives and programs, but there was mention of one that dealt with many genres of work & media but "no poetry."

I was crestfallen--how to build an audience for poetry when you've already dismissed it as too complicated or uninteresting.  It's not like students come out of the womb hating poems, but years of either neglect or over vivisection make them stay away from it.  I hope things like Rupi Kaur, bad as the work is, will change their minds and get them interested in more substantial work, but most of the world, even the literary world, kind of just forgets we exist.

At AWP and other book fairs, the dgp table is repeatedly met with folks who were interested in the visuals of the books, but move away once hear the word "poetry."  Even though I would venture we publish as much prose format work as we do lineated stuff.  So even if the sight of broken lines sets you into a spiral of confusion and disorientation, you'd probably find something to like. Many of our authors in turn are also CNF people, and I, myself,  tend to deal in prose poetry.

I've been thinking about this as I work on something that feels more short story like--mostly because writing it feels a little different.  I've been trying to keep in mind the things I learned while editing the hunger palace last summer with the help of an editor at The Journal..basically reigning in the poetry-ness to make it more kind to everyday readers who might be put off by huge metaphoric leaps.  Fiction of course, is somewhere between these two, prone to some leaps, but perhaps ore measured ones.  How to dazzle your reader without giving them vertigo.   Without going too far off the trail that no one can find their way back.

I 've been thinking heavily about how the work differs, esp. since I consider narrative a pretty big part of poetry, lined or unlined,  and maybe its more that poetry occupies this strange space between writing (via words) and music (via rhythm) and visual art (via imagery), whereas language is less material in things like short stories and novels.  But then again, some of my favorite fiction does use language as material in interesting ways, but that may just be the poet in me.

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