My blog turns 1 this week. Not until Friday, I think. One day is not more significant than another, I think; but as year subsides to year, I need to look at a couple of things.
First of all, I have to observe this blog has been disproportionately weighted toward poetry. I have talked about this in prior posts. I mentioned the notion that poetry is dead here, here, and here. At one point I observed the fact that poems were piling up like the corpses of dead spiders in my house – unpleasant, repulsive once-living things. I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about (and rambling about) how awareness of an audience and “forced writing” alter the poems.
I declared my inconsistency in my very first post, so I’m not going to bother trying for consistency here. I’m just going to observe. I envisioned this project as consisting in roughly equal parts of thoughts, poems, and stories. While I was working on novels, I have thought of posting segments of them … but they’re pretty awful so far. The thing is, poems have overwhelmed everything else. I’m neither pleased nor displeased with that fact. It just is.
Prior to 2011, I had not written a poem since about 2002. This was a surprise to people who had known me before as poetry had been a longstanding habit. To me it was just normal. Toward the end of 2011 I started to write poems again. At first they were awkward, but fairly quickly I noticed something. I was succeeding at pleasing my own aesthetic. That was by no means 100%, but probably more than 60% of the time. That was different. I had always loved lines or ideas in my poems – you become attached to them, I think – but almost of none of them could stand as a whole; and almost all of them could make me wince and want to crawl under the table. That was, in fact, THE thing that prompted me to start this blog.
I still struggle with the why of poetry. Why do I like what I like? Why do I feel compelled to write what I write? And why is it different (at times extremely different) than the poetry I like to read? I have attempted to answer this before, but not to my satisfaction. I think poetry may be the second oldest form of writing; the first, if I remember correctly was invoices. There is some reason people do it; there is some reason I do it. So I’m taking another stab at explanation.
- Poetry is about transforming flaw into beauty. My poems often have dark themes – almost to the point of being dishonest in their warped perspective. But dark themes need poems more than bright themes do. The prospect of creating something beautiful – even if darkly beautiful – out of something ugly is compelling.
- Poetry is about revealing what was always there. It was just seeking words to express itself. This appeals to me in particular. For all my talk, the single greatest challenge I have is finding words to express things. Sometimes that is a function of avoidance – awkwardness. Mostly it’s because they don’t exist or always somehow miss the mark. Poetry is about forming a vocabulary to express things that aren’t easy. I have often said I didn’t know what I thought until I wrote it.
- Poetry is about ideas. But it is also about wordplay. There is a sense in which it is a game. It is peaceful.
- Most embarrassing of all: when I read a poem that reaches me, I fall in love with the poet. It’s what happened with the Sappho fragments I mentioned in my “about” section. So … um … er … writing poems is about the desire to be loved.
The second thing that becomes apparent is the fact that I’m repetitive. When I am most productive, poems pour out two, three, four at a time. I forget that I’ve used the same image, the same word, the same idea before. OK, the recurring idea I know about. My themes repeat. But the images and words surprise me when I finally go back and reread. I promised a word or phrase here to this poem, and there to another, maybe even a third. So I end up either being promiscuous or a liar … I think I can correct some of that in editing. But I’m seeing it a fair amount.
Third, I notice that the rarefied atmosphere of blogging – especially anonymous blogging, creates a persona that differs from my everyday self. The specific choice of anonymity has strengths and weaknesses. In some ways it allows me to be – in spite of audience. In some ways it is more honest – if there is a connection, it exists outside of context. It is real. At the same time, I can’t deny it is less honest in that people who know me in my other lives wouldn’t recognize me here. And by necessity, people who know me here know very little about my other lives – though these might actually recognize my other selves if they met them.
The effect is similar to an odd phenomenon I noticed while hiking. (One of my more involved hobbies, I have yet to complete the Appalachian Trail, but I have managed over a thousand miles at a stretch.) Because you didn’t know people in their normal contexts you found yourself making intense connections with them very quickly. People you met quite by chance would tell you appalling personal details – thoughts, hopes, dreams, memories, loves, losses, tragedies, failures. They felt safe doing this; their disguise was that they wore no disguise. What they had in common was that their daily, ordinary lives were lives lived in disguise.
For me, the jury is still out on the premise – whether the goal of honest writing can be better served with or without name. Whatever the case, the twin lenses of lack of information and the tendency to elaborate on precisely those areas that would cause problems in the outside world can create a warped perspective.
The fourth thing that is apparent is this: my persona is very self-critical, but it is far less self-doubting than it appears. When I know a thing, I know it. When I believe a thing, I believe it. If something pleases my aesthetic – if it pleases me – it succeeds whether or not others respond positively. Poems in particular fail, when they fail, for three reasons.
- They aren’t good – e.g. they don’t succeed at expressing what I intend them to express, or what I intended to express was untrue.
- The thing they express is not something felt by other people. They hit their mark, but they don’t resonate. (I have discovered that people respond to different things, and yes, Virginia, other people really and truly think and feel differently than I do. Not better, not worse – just different.)
- People’s personal tastes and associations interfere with perception. That is true when I read the works of others; it is true when others read my poems.