There is also a real need for the work one shares with others to be about more than the one who shares? For some this motivates political poetry (about people & systems). For others, religious verse (about practices & signs)? Or, still for others, like me, & I think you, to the necessity that a truly memorable writing is one that is so stylized & intentional that the author herself is lost within, but by no means vanished by, the language?
No, none of this should come necessarily at the loss of the writer, her identity, or luggage of issues, etc. When done well, shouldn’t it deepen their significance beyond the mildly therapeutic, if nevertheless flatulent, confines of “expressing yourself”?
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Last night, on a whim motivated most by the heater not working at my house, I participated in my first ever poetry reading.
The venue was lovely. The chairs, haphazardly strewn about the room, with perhaps a bit too much care. Shabby chic, they still call it? Perhaps a bit too dimly lit for those with feeble eyes like yours, desperately maneuvering their papers this way & that in hopes of apprehending just enough light that their verbal stumbling wouldn’t match their clumsy approaches to the stage.
In general, I’m not very confident when it comes to dealing in verse. The paragraph is my more natural environment, with its scenery of appropriately placed subordinate clauses & the like. I am as invested in language as any poet, or at least the ones I most value, but to self-identify as a poet, or to set my pieces in the forms of verse, this very often feels like a pose I cannot dare live up to. But, occasionally, as evident by my attempts this week, I make a go of it. & each time, I feel more out of sorts. The difference recently being that I’ve come to relish the attending disorientation, & on a good day even use it productively.
Having said that, I wish I could report that putting my dizziness on public display went well. Oh, my reading itself was fine. None revolted or cheered, and I’d measure the applause as polite. The problem, such as it was, was one of tone. This was, it turned out, not my scene. What the chairs didn’t tell me upon arrival, the host’s invitation for all in attendance to make their favorite zoo animal sound, for reasons quite beyond me, did. It was then that I noticed the sheer amount of alcohol making the rounds. Beer & wine was being sold, not unexpectedly, of which I partook. More troubling, though, were the nearly-drained bottles of whisky & bourbon I saw in the hands & at the lips of those who very savagely, in my view, were pacing about, like the very animals they were mimicking. As people read, there were hoots & hollers of apparent affirmation —
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I’ve long ago lost the naivety that might make me a true-blue romantic. Such moments of “disintegration” & “burning away,” they’re only momentary, aren’t they? — and perhaps not even recognizable at all until after the moment has passed & you try to reconstruct what occurred, or see it reconstructed in a photograph or a video. There is too much that is not “of” the moment, or at least too much that you’d rather not retain for that moment to remain more than merely that. & that’s what I prefer, I think, the “merely that,” which is where the naivety comes rushing back, as often happens with preferences. And perhaps all this is good & right. Moments aged by the accumulation of too many minutes, ossified by the piling up of hours, like bodies flung into some mass grave, these too often become a kind of memorial, into which all things enter but never return.
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Which isn’t to say I don’t share your frustration with communicating the purity of the event—sexual or otherwise, though sex is a kind of stand-in for the unspeakably personal aspects of faith or spirituality that we don’t have (even if we don’t have them differently), and remains a better embodiment of things slightly-more-than-mundane (if any still remain)—because I do. It frustrates me when my words fail me, as they often do; but it frustrates me even more when I see what I regard as willful abdication of language’s power on the part of those who should know better (including me): those who, e.g., settle only for the clever and/or vulgar. I’m neither opposed to a pun nor am I a prude, but these are far from my mind when I reflect on what language can do. If we write successfully at all, as most of us do sometimes, I think it is when we create a space—if not the occurrence—for these unspeakable experiences, of sex and confession, pain and joy, to transfer them from one to another in some form or other. Whether I’m reading or writing, I simply don’t know when or how (let alone if) this occurrence of language will occur, or even if I know what it might look like—there being no reason it has to be on my terms.
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affirming whom, the hooter or the hooted, I could only wonder if there was an enduring difference. It all felt vaguely like the raucous church services I sometimes see on basic cable, the ones with the fat sweaty Pentecostal preachers in ill-fitting suits, where people swoon, as literally & loudly as possible, over the voicing of sentiments they already held to be true.
I don’t mean to say the readings were bad. They were not. No single poem stood out as great, but neither was I expecting that — & I hoped they were not of me. But there were, however, moments of genuinely good writing, sandwiched between self-astonished cliches & monotone metaphors. One gentleman in particular matched his vivid somewhat Oedipal imagery with a haunted vocal performance I only wish I could replicate. It was stirring, & I was quite happy I did not follow him.
This should not have surprised me as much as it did, but the enduring lesson of the night was that the first-person pronoun is alive & doing quite well, & is in fact learning more about itself each day. That sounds mean-spirited, I know. This is to say, I get it, their self-discoveries & sundry affirmations, their wide-eyed wonderment at what a body can do, theirs in particular, their animal calls & sexual frankness about raging boners, etc. I get & appreciate the celebration, but it is one I think I will in the future miss on account of staying home & reading Rilke.