Saturday, December 05, 2009

Rambling thoughts du jour

The cage match offered no new insights for those who have been paying attention to Canadian poetry, but hopefully clarified some ideas and positions for some who don't yet know. It's clear to me who made sense, and also who was listening and who was not. It also made me realize that we in Canada have been locked in this dialog now for over a decade... That's a long time. That's becoming entrenched...but as Christian points out, there is a whole other world outside of that little dialog.

Meanwhile here's Christian over at Poetry Foundation making great headlines. (I don't really believe Christian thinks that poets are necessarily lazy and stupid, I know he isn't lazy, and I know he believes poetry is hard work...but...) But he makes a good point. I never did understand the assumption--in my earliest poetry workshops for example--that what we were all there to learn is to confess, or reveal some inner wisdom, usually very pat, that made everyone in the room go "ohhhh." Really? Why did we need a workshop to be told to make our poems feel more? And I rarely thought then, or think now when I see those oh moments in poems, that they are worth a pause... When a poet has poetic skill and insight it's marvelous, but my is it rare. Why not focus on craft, constraint. Or engage in a campaign of seeing, really looking at the quotidian, not just offering an unrefracted account of it. To me, conceptual artists--Marina Abramovic, Zhang Huan, Vito Acconci, know more about the human body and feeling its abrasions with the earth than most poets. It isn't that I don't want poetry of feeling, it's that I am simply unmoved, or unconvinced by much of it, and would rather have those feelings expressed through more finely thought terms, in a bigger context, and in more finely crafted vessels. Paul Durcan I trust has some insight. Seamus Heaney has some insight, Dennis Lee, Erin Moure, Christian Bok, insight, John Thompson, Lisa Robertson, insight. And all of the above happen to also have abundant, astounding poetic craft. This is no small commodity. Insight rarely comes of living a mundane anti-intellectual life. It rarely comes without taking enormous risks. That is what is rare in the world it seems to me. How do you measure that?


cycnet said...

I am somewhat sceptical about your determination of insight.

There is a responsibility for the poet to remain true to the earth - to not get so lost in the fancy and imaginations of their age - forgetting their body politic

Jan Zwicky is a great example of all that is right with Canadian poetry.

I will take her resonating truths over the quirky mechanical toys of Christian Bok, anyday.

We must not get so giddy about structure that the meaning becomes a frill

Lemon Hound said...

Thanks for your visit. I think you may be confusing insight with tone, or familiarity. People think that if a poem doesn't have a central speaking subject it somehow doesn't have a human center. I don't buy that.

Anyone can write one of those "ah moment" poems. My students do it every semester. They aren't difficult at all.

It doesn't mean they (my students or other such poems) have any truth or any insight. Sometimes they do yes, but not always. Sometimes insight arises from the most mechanical of undertakings.

There is a tacit understanding that a certain tone is necessarily sincere and necessarily truthful.

I don't buy that.I think Christian's project has as much meaning as Zwicky's. You'll find them both in my anthology along with 28 other poets who I think also have great insight...

I don't buy either/or scenarios. I'm sure Jan Zwicky doesn't either.

Lemon Hound said...

P.S. That you'll "take her resonating truths over the quirky mechanical toys of Christian Bok, anyday" is fine, but why suggest his is less true because you prefer one?

Why not simply prefer one?

Jonathan Ball said...

Sina, I've got to say that I was disappointed by this "cage match" --- Bok recycling all his old lines, Starnino as inarticulate as a riled-up Republican ... gah. Not only is this tired dialogue entrenched, as you point out, but these "cage-matchers" both need something new to say. I agree with everything you're saying here, but I'm curious to know what you really thought about the "debate" itself ... because I just found it so disappointing, and I'm wondering if I've overlooked something of value, something that wasn't already said a hundred times before -- something I didn't see.