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Progression to Polish or Away From or the Wrong Premise

This isn’t my post for the day (or might be) but what Amy King at the Huffington Post puts an interesting spin on this subject of clarity and transparency of meaning versus seeing where it goes and how:

I’m often told that I have an occasional beautiful line or image but my poetry sometimes doesn’t “make sense.” I’m told to “move on” from poetry and write a memoir because I relay great anecdotes.

These encouragements are grounded in the notion that reading should please rather than challenging what people know, thus asking them to step beyond that comfort zone. For them, there is a progress from poetry to memoir that is, in fact, a move towards ease and comfort, rather than opening up and exploring what else our minds are able to conceptualize.

It’s the equivalent of my students asking me, “Why do we have to analyze these texts? Why can’t we just enjoy them?” As though analysis disallows pleasure–try telling the teenager who is suddenly fascinated by cars not to analyze why he likes them, what goes on under the hood, or which tires work best on what surfaces; tell him instead to just to sit back and enjoy how graceful the cars are as they speed by.

Those curious about text, what it can do, how it does it, will always be around as well as those who could care less and can’t be enticed to care more based on who they are at this time.

We can use poetry to tell entertaining stories. We can strip device out of the personal lyric, or load it up. But to say, push it over to fit memoir, then along the dynamic to some other range, a dramatic story arc, tweak to hero’s journey…now make it ironic and satirical and then strip it back and then extending it out and then…and then. Ideas are fluid and can fit various containers of various sizes. Explicit coherency isn’t the only mark to hit. To not hit that is not leaving the binary pole of b.s. Ideas, shuffling, exploring. If you’re reaching deep, you’re into the forest instead of at the front tree’s bark. Sometimes the forest is razed. Sometimes grazed. Sometimes the wood bore. Sometimes the bore hole in the wood.

But mental habits serve us well. We get used to divvying. Do whatever genre-bender you want, but what’s the sale’s line? Prose, poetry, memoir. What’s an entry handle? a niche specialization for the handshake of how to take what follows? How to frame if it fits? Is it serious or satire? From the heart or from the art?

Maybe it’s a product of urbanness where refining into specialities is prestige and not stepping on any toes, creating a market. To be a generalist and cross the tools of rules for how to do a genre, mix and match affects and effects is counter-tide somehow?

But to have someone say, I hear what you’re saying but do it my way instead, it’s a way of not being heard. It’s sort of like someone futzing over your clothes, correcting your collar, giving hair advice, recommending a diet, more protein, less whatever. People saying, just tell me more of those ___ to nth degree, and forget the rest.

When the audience is trying to mandate what they want said and how, it’s time for them to write or say their own story. A thing is what it is. You know what I mean?

Her distinction of pleasure and analysis being in opposition (emphasis of italics mine) is a good point. They can be obstacles but they can complement.

Just ask the person who loves cars to not learn, not tinker. No questions. No answers. Stay outside, on the surface, from a distance. Now love. Does seem unnatural, doesn’t it.

As soon as one understands what someone says, there’s a sort of recognition of self and wanting to make the other more like self. It’s faster than conscious thought. As soon as you make a connection you want to press in a direction. As Waldrop said, “inference is a transition toward assertion”

That’d be in

it’s a tall order that expects pain to crystalize into beauty
and we must close our eyes to conceive of heaven
the inside of the lid is fertile in images unprovoked by experience
or perhaps its pressure on the eyeball equals prayer
in the same way that inference is a transition toward assertion
even of serving rights of dawn against
a darkened and empty background ~ Rosemary Waldrop

from PENN sound from Nov 9, 2009 of Lawn of Excluded Middle (from Curves to the Apple)

Entertaining, Engaging Accessible Poetry is a tricky thing. In a way it is giving something new in a form that is pleasurable. It is giving an audience what they like, how they like it even if they don’t know they will as they’ve never seen it before as it hasn’t existed before exactly like that.

This is, in a way this, bringing people together as a room can respond collectively the same way. It is a reproducible kind of connect. In another way it is pushing distance between people. It is keeping audience at arm length as a kind of parlour chatter of a really good storyteller. It is pulling audience towards the speaker with clever hook, and pretty hooks and engaging spins and ooh tah-dah finish. That’s a hard skill to get to without seeming to be a huckster fumbling to the obvious bottom line.

There’s a hiding in polish socially. Which is not to say don’t hide. Hiding can be healthy and welcome. It’s part of the spectrum. Insisting on constant exposure is as unnatural as never leaving oneself vulnerable.

Being the Entertaining One that never troubles the mind isn’t an even reciprocal relationship. A nice idea and pleasant experience can become some self-perpetuating state. It could be symbiotic or parasitic. Good time friends readers may have no interest in the ideas, or the person, or the stories really, just themselves and their pleasure. Change the mix and it’s like Ronnie Milsap’s Nobody Likes Sad Songs. Except with poetry, it may be Nobody Likes Happy Songs. or Nobody Like Intellectual Songs.

Although it doesn’t take a genius to make the same choices, what Jason Hartley said about the bind of advanced geniuses applies,

the basis of it is these advanced geniuses are always challenging their fans, because they’re really listening to themselves. They’re doing what they want to do; eventually that turns everybody off on them. […] They know that people are going to be mad about it, they just don’t care. They’re not doing it to make people mad, they’re doing it to make themselves happy.

[via Quill & Quire]

To write poetry that challenges can be seen as just unnecessarily testing the reader or “being difficult”. A motivation to vex the reader is drawn but as friend recently said, “The speaker’s life is not about the listener’s life.”

The reader may just want the writer to get back to the audience when all the sorting things out is done and there’s a tidy little story ready for consumption.

Is that the reader one wants to please? Depends. Does that reader buy books? Does that writer rely books to barter thru cash for survival food?

If you have the luxury of a way to make ends meet. If you are self-sufficient for sounding boards and for social and for ego assurance and for whatever, the audience is not relevant to accommodate. The process is the end. The product is to be fed back into the process while the main act is living, learning, exploring. The books or poems or songs or what have you look like end product because they are performed or for sale but they are just snapshots of stage. They look like finished product. You can buy or not but that doesn’t essentially matter.

If you want to use these bits and feed them into your own process, that’s more interesting because then you are in the same game of processing and poking around. Thus perhaps the origin of trading around of chapbooks and admitting it’s a deficit not profit game for finances because the framework is not an economic one but an ideas one.

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