Monday, 4 March 2013

Too much of a good thing?

In his recent provocative article for Poetry magazine (see here), Joshua Mehigan remarks on the different visions that insiders and outsiders might have of the poetry world. He ends his feature as follows:

"In the end, poetry looks radical only to the outside world, which ignores it, while from inside it looks static. Poets got out of these situations before by doing something new, but novelty is superfluous now. There is no way to get into the game without upping the ante, and there is no way out without bluffing or folding or everyone agreeing on a new game. If you’ve been a poet for a while you might not see how bizarre it all seems, and how monotonous, but if you shake your head and look again as a human being, you might."

There are two fundamental issues at stake here. One involves the old battle lines drawn up between different poetic schools, a tired set of false divides and postures that lead nowhere near the core of poetry. However, Mehigan is also raising a second key point that does very much interest me... that so many poets seem to view teaching creative writing as an ideal job, often after having taken a doctorate in the same subject, just how easy is it to lose perspective? When most of your waking hours are taken up by lecturing, workshopping or marking poetry, what undiscovered, unexpected spark is left for personal poetic renewal? When most of your daily conversations revolve around the poetic world and its codes, how difficult is it to keep remembering how verse might seem to someone from outside that reduced world? How does poetry change when it's inspired mainly by other poetry?

In this sense, I can only speak for myself. My verse builds over a lengthy period. This often involves unconscious processes. In other words, I often don't realise my mind has been worrying away at a poem until it pops out. If I were thinking about poetry during my working day, those processes would be destroyed. I need totally unrelated activity most of the time in order to allow my writing to flow.

I imagine many poets would disagree with me wholeheartedly, but that's the nature of the job, if a job is what it is...

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