Monday, January 22, 2007

Poets and Poetry

Okay, I said I'd write about why you shouldn't listen to poets talking about how they write. Here's why. They're lying. Well, maybe not lying, but making it up. They're talking about the act after the fact. Someone asks them how they do what they do and they come up with an answer. Whenever someone asks you a question you're supposed to answer and poets are always flattered that anyone asks them anything so they answer.
But really, it's all postscript. While they're writing they have no clue. They're writing. Later, they're editing but that's not writing it's just part of making shit look right. How and why they choose what they choose is locked inside them in secret places they may not even know about.
It's always good to hear poems in process. It's always good to hear poets read their work and see how it changes and watch the moves they make and the changes they make but why they made them and when aren't things set in stone. It's true when you're learning how to write people help you through this process. Or hector you through it. Or badger you. But once you understand how to put a poem together you just put it together. Oh, you might reach out to people that know your work and ask their opinions but your responses to that are largely instinctual and based on past responses.
I know I write something and if I think it's good but not done I'll send it to people I trust for comments. They say stuff. Sometimes I just do everything they say. Sometimes I do part of what they say. But honestly I never think much about the reasons. The poem has a place and a voice. I say it. There's grammar and structure and words and stuff but everything else is me and my cluttered world and I'm never entirely sure exactly what I intended.
But when I'm done and you ask me how and why I did what I did I'll give you an answer but it's a mishmash of reality. It's more like asking someone who just woke from a dream asking them the structure of the dream. To them it makes perfect sense but as they become more aware, more part of the world the structure disintegrates and they're left with just the dream. Odd and compelling but only a dream.
Last night I dreamed I was at a poetry/food festival. We were at a pre festival meeting of the faculty lying on surfboards in a lake. The leader of the faculty, Howard Levy, was asking for our thoughts on where the festival should go and I had a million ideas. After all, what a great marketing concept: The Food Network meets Longfellow. I sort of woke from the dream and sank into a new dream where Howard had just recently passed away. Apparently he'd been gravely ill throughout the entire process. We were all stunned. A great loss.
Then I was with my friends Danny and Eliot talking about the death of a poet from the East Village. He was a lousy poet with a bohemian schtick that sustained a meager career in a marginalized world. I told them who gives a fuck. He was a nice guy but his work sucked. They were appalled. I said, come on, this guy wasn't Bukowski! He was wasn't Jack Micheline! He was a near psychotic street person that just showed up week after week year after year reading the same scribbled verses on index cards to anyone that would listen and none of them had anything to recommend them. I said a poet should be someone who builds something real and solid and they said oh yeah, what about Frank Lloyd Wright! And I said Falling Water was a shitty building that is falling down and was leaky and nearly uninhabitable and they were really angry at me. I realized I'd chosen a lousy metaphor and was doing everything that I could to extricate myself from my own trap. They just got madder and madder at me for my high hattedness.
You could at this point, mention Moondog or Antler or even Hal Sirowitz as poets who transcend their schtick and take it to a place that is glorious. You could say, Jack you bourgeois idiot! You'd be right.
It was all just a dream. But it did get me to thinking about a cruise theme idea: Poets & Food & Booze. Travel the Caribbean with Mario Batali, Pedro Pietri, and shit loads of great wine. It might not generate any great poems but everyone would eat better than they usually do and they'd be in a better climate and the booze would be free!
One can dream.

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