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On Sharing Your Work

Fictionalized generic statement: I’m working on an idea but I can’t tell you any of it. It’s too new, too unfinished.

Fair enough. Getting a handle on. Talking it through might illuminate but maybe verbalizing it all out is just how I think.

Fictionalized generic statement: I’m making some poems but just trust me on that because you’ll never see them unless you subscribe to magazines around the world that are print only. Okaaay.

Some fear their good ideas being “stolen”.

Some feel their process disrupted by opinions on it because they want to please and it throws them off their instinctual scent of what they’re after.

Some obey the magazines or blogs that run like magazines which they want to be an ally of who warn any sharing, whether on a blog, or online magazine, or audio recording, or 20 copies in a hand-made folded paper will make the poem invalid for sales to a different time place and people, edited or not. Presumably conversational recitals are verboten too.

Some poems don’t need outside help. Some arrive. When you have enough in your head from what you’ve read and been told, you can edit it yourself. Some poems elude giving up what’s “off”.

Many of the poems I publish I haven’t workshopped but that doesn’t mean the workshopping isn’t useful. It is to sharpen the teeth on perceiving. The poems I’m most proud of often, frustratingly, leave people cold. That’s because in part, I like the thrash and struggle to explore something new. And when I start to get a handle on something, that’s exciting. When I think I get something that I can’t explain, I like the poem. Poems that are dull to me I can knock out in a minute but others find exciting because I’m already skilled enough at doing that sort of poem. My brain slapping about amuses me briefly.

Rewind.

What if we didn’t share our thoughts until we could present them in the rule of threes, or say it in public speaking method: what you’ll say, say it, say you’ve said it. How hampered and muzzled would we be?

Imagine if we constrained ourselves as we do in poetry with conversations. No conversation gigs unless at $200 per session. It’s a different genre of communication.

When we blog we turn on a tap in our homes and you are hooked up to the plumbing system and turn on your tap and voila, refreshment or rusty water. But no one installs a coin box system to make a person pay for it in the bathroom. If you’re at a festival and you want water, put down your cash and access something shipped from a different aquifer, or from locally but there’s transportation costs, bottling, a different context of convenience that means, with a book or venue-based entertainment you pay for the same material as you could get at home for free. The value is the service not the content.

You want to pay for content? The material of poetry if good and goods, would rewards the poet more than the printer, the post office, the bindery clerk, the sound check technician, surely.

Rewind:

What is the good of public or shared speech?

How do you divide up what is communication you share only if a context of an article that gets commissioned in cooperation with an organization, and that which you do indie.

What to do about the conflating of value and payment? Where does community fit in? What adds value is the nth degree of what people do at no charge. Yes, a surgery is the service, the skill, the billable, but the difference between competent and memorable and healing is the portion that can’t be billed; the look in the eye, the assurance in voice, the arm squeeze, the tone that is set, the information of context that is given to the patient of what to expect and how.

Rewind:

How do we work out thoughts without others? Isn’t it the unnecessary reinvention of the wheel to go the long way around?

Imagine if we said, I’d like to talk to you about the hockey game last night or Breaking Bad, but I can’t, you see. Someone might pay me to add to the conversation 1-10 years from now.

But poems are a different kind of conversations. Some poems can be real-time responses.

But imagine if we said, I’d like to talk about hockey but I won’t contaminate my views by watching a game.

Or, I haven’t seen a game in years but to be more informed is to gather more misinformation. I’d like to form my judgements away from any hockey arena. That way my words can be more apt.

Reduced to absurd.

Even as I observe the absurdity of not blogging poems – of not entering dialogue with no barrier to entry – instead hoarding words on spec to where they can be paid for, with copies of pdfs with others’, or with copies on paper with others’, or maybe cash – I do it too.

Partly it is a good thing because poems when first made, or first revised, revived after 2 or 3 years of drawer time, are beautiful more to the maker, but not necessarily coherent to others. After a few more years, more rounds of revisions they streamline or become more fully themselves.

Partly it is thing driven by living tight rather than openly.

It is about fearing silence or the wrong response.

It is about being setting oneself up to be refused.

To keep poems and thoughts to oneself is about fretting about closing doors instead of walking around freely.

“It’s easier to write haiku than to think about it”, says Guy Simser.

The same is true of poetry more broadly. It is a fine thing with all kinds of advantages to write, to explore, to read, to express, but if you don’t think critically about how it comes together and why and what and why you are doing, there’s some opportunity lost. You can’t get your bearing all the time perhaps. You have to follow the urge to do.

Or maybe you can already say, I write this because this matters to me for such and such a reason and you can describe the tower of elephants all the way down. You have self-knowing to see what the importance is to you and to society and what drives you to say one thing about that thing in that way and not another. You know who you admire and why. You can tell what resonates and who resonate similarly.

I tend to go on intuitive runs. I tend to run blind by gut. I can’t isolate what I want or why it is necessary. I can say it is, or say it isn’t but I persist in doing.

I can say I am nourished by keen observation of haiku. I am nourished by the valuing of all things and flattening the hierarchy of profound and found that usually gets flattered into value and no value. I get something that comforts from poetry that refuses to mean, that refuses narrative, that refuses the natural autopilot expectations of the mind. I get something from poems where people are onto something that feels at the shifting heart of themselves. I feel validated in reaching by people who reach but also don’t quite get. I admire the poetry that is self-assured in the sense of assuring self rather than nodding smugly. I like poetry that models how to be compassionate. Poetry that models play and sacrilege and entering joy.

What counts as good? There are many aesthetics. There are many possible effects and subjects, depths and widths of saying. Sometimes it is worthwhile being didactic. Sometimes being blunt is appropriate. Judgement and abstract nouns are as taboo as gerunds in some poetry, for good reason but when they work, they really work.

“…unless you discipline yourself you play a game of no rules”, said Guy Simser, the implication I take from that being that pressure and constraints, and focused intention, make for best results while anything goes makes for sloppy results and no direction. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll always be there, or never get there. For momentum and direction, you need a purpose.

For a trip like that, it would be merry to have fellow travellers.

If you write in solitude, you isolate yourself from the maps and resources others have. If you create a firewall, you make what could be a lonely state.

arthritis makes us weather stations

forget the ox’s tibiae hugs,
the ramp to trample with
affection or affectation of.

it was a year from the forge.
it was delegated to us so we’d
forget trivial burns from stoves.

the waxen pine keeps on
being a mime of spine.
brome pollinates itself, us.

you said you almost called –
mint stems and lemon rinds
on top of the kitchen scraps.

normal energy is laden with tugs
of ash. everything above kudos
is larvae-sized, is dancing.

Related posts:

  1. VERSeFest: Sharing vs. Ownership in Literature On March 11th at the poetry fest Marcus McCann gave a talk on what our relationship is to other people’s work. How do we relate our words to the ideas...
  2. Knowing Your Own Work by Heart Once, years ago, I heard someone say that it is an act of respect for your own material to have it memorized. I can’t remember who stated it but I...
  3. Sending Work Out A how-to pdf of The Writer’s Studio Guide to Publishing in Literary Magazines and Entering Contests by Ayelet Tsabari. It includes, Rejection with an open invitation: almost always follows a...

Categories: Draft, Poetics.

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