Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thank you, poets

I've been in kind of a creative writing slump lately, wishing I could weave words like the ones I read sometimes from others, that make the world stop and get my attention, that make me see something I never considered before, bestow an insight, or resonate so deeply it stuns.

Three poets got my attention this morning--two that've been interviewed by SmartishPace, the other sharing on his blog the words of a favorite poet.  In an imaginary get-together I sat in the back of an imaginary room and took mental notes.  I've extracted and am quoting liberally from what was said, addressing specific points that speak to my own oft unspoken wonderings.

But go read the original interviews and entire Rumi poem referenced (the links are embedded in each of the three poets' names--just click on the name).  Interesting . . . and for me, very helpful.  Especially--and in another context--after reading all the horrible world news lately.  ("Find the antidote in the venom" -- Thanks, Don and Rumi!  How can a single sentence like that . . . have such a dramatic, yet positive, impact.  How the words that we read wake us up, enlighten, motivate and  energize us.)
Rae Armantrout:

On writing poetry:
Don’t write about what you think, or what you think you know, write about what puzzles you.

On language poetry:
Anything that will make us all stop and do a double take on what we hear (and see) instead of accepting it as natural is a positive exercise.

On not "getting" a poet's meaning in a poem:
For the Reader: If you have spent a good bit of time with the poems already and you still don’t get anything from them, I suggest you give up. You aren’t required to like everything!

For the Poet: As to whether people will get it, you can’t think about things like that while you’re writing. It would be too inhibiting.

On writer's block:
After about two weeks, if no writing has surfaced, I start to feel nervous. Then I go looking for it. I do that really by just maintaining a certain state of alertness. I’ll read things that might get me going. I’ll sit outside somewhere with a notebook . . . make notes on the things I see. I find that, if I keep at it long enough, something will emerge. I take notes in my journal not knowing whether those notes will end up in a poem or not.

The notes will be jotted down on different days in different places. At some point, I’ll notice that several of these notes have an affinity for one another. They seem to establish a kind of dialogue. So I’ll put them together and edit. If the poem still doesn’t feel finished, I will wait for more material to appear. By then, I have at least a vague idea of what I’m looking for – still, I won’t recognize it until I see it. Things have to come to me from elsewhere.

On the risk of being a poet:
Most people in America really see poetry as a joke or a sign of childish narcissism.  I am still reluctant to tell a stranger that I’m a poet. I can see that it makes them uncomfortable. So first you have to be willing to be ridiculous. . . You won't make any money directly from poetry – or at least not much. You have to find some other sort of work. And you may tend to resent your day job because it takes up time that you could spend writing.

Stephen Dunn:

On the state of poetry today:
The under appreciation of poetry in the U.S. frees the poet to do whatever he wants. In another sense, he can do what he wants because what he does doesn't matter. No Mandelstam-like repercussions here for writing an important anti-government poem. But it's important for me to write AS IF everything I write matters. And AS IF I have a concerned, intelligent audience. To not turn my back on the willing, intelligent reader as much as contemporary poetry has. The poet needs to make gestures to the willing intelligent reader. That same reader must make serious gestures of attentiveness to the poem. 

On all the published poems out there:
At any given time in any culture most of the poems in print will be mediocre. Don't worry about it, it's a given. Just keep an eye out for what's wonderful.

On writing poetry:
Write the poems that you need to write. All other concerns are tertiary.

Advice to young poets:
Take your enterprise as seriously as other would-be artists do. No short cuts. Try to be as engaged and as disciplined as, say, a violinist or a dancer would.

Don Wentworth, after reading Rumi:

On not giving up:
Find the antidote in the venom. The secret is in plain sight. Open your eyes. Light up. Smile until you can't smile anymore. And keep smiling. Find the antidote in the venom.