16 jun. 2005

Here's a mystery of craft for you to mull over, overnight or in the morning when you read this.

The poet who possesses it, whatever definition you have of "it," and then loses it. That is, a poet who is good by virtue of craft and then loses the ability and/or willingness to write a good poem. Think of Jorge Guillén. Cántico is brilliant, but he just gets duller and duller the longer he lives. The craft is still there, in that the lines have the right number of syllables, but the meter-making argument has died. Denise Levertov is another case. She's got a lot of technical proficiency and a great ear, but those later books are awful. It can't be like a trumpet player losing chops, because it's not a physical skill. It's quite mysterious. Jaime Gil de Biedma said that poetry is for the young or the very old, but that there is middle-aged period where nothing happens. I refuse to believe that, being middle-aged myself. If you don't like my Levertov example, I'm sure there are others you can think up yourselves. If you learn to write poetry then why can't you always write it? I can see drugs and/or alcohol, mental illness or dementia, having an effect, but in the absence of these factors I just don't get it. [Or maybe I'm asking the question in reverse. What needs to be explained is how poets continue after the first burst of youth till about age 25.]

Does the poet know he or she's lost it? Usually not--which indicates an atrophy of the critical function too--a function which ought to be stronger the older the poet gets. I mean the ability to see whether what one writes is any good.

8 comentarios:

Nick Piombino dijo...

Most motivated poets don't worry about these things as much as excited and deeply curious spectators who apparently are frequently unable to distinguish between the feeling to write poems, the nerve to publish them, and an inspiration to write some checks and pay their bills. Rilke waited years for the inspiration and ideas to complete his *Elegies*. What is it about struggle you don't understand? Charlie Parker makes it look easy; so does Charles Bernstein. But it isn't easy, even for the best. Falling on your face is a major part of the deal. That's what many writers never seem to understand. (Even so, a motivated and working poet doesn't need their so-called poet friends to write negative reviews and tell them so). The best advice I ever heard about life- and therefore art is- "You get up in the morning and do the best you can." This applies to being a published poet as well. You appear to be obsessed with the fact that even some very good poets occasionally or even more often than one might expect or want them to, embarass themselves. And other, even worse poets get published all the time. Sheez, how is that possible? The fact is, If you keep writing and have some nerve, some ability and some confidence, eventually publishers and a number of readers actually start following your work and get seriously interested. Some very good writers just never seem to understand any of this- this is because they put the greats- who have clearly never made a mistake- on a pedestal and dismiss everybody else. This ruins the fun of the thing for them and maybe even prevents them from actually getting beyond the spectator stage.

Dan Velleman dijo...

Could it be the other way around? I think the loss of the critical faculty might be what causes the apparent loss of craft. After all, craft without good taste (or some kinda taste at least) to guide it is just masturbation.

Jonathan dijo...

Nick: Are you saying I'm just a "deeply curious spectator"? I had writer's block for years and could write nothing. I understand all about these traps the mind sets for itself.

I still don't understand how a poet can lose it so completely. Not just fall flat, but turn permanently into a different and uninspired poet.

Good point, Dan. I hadn't thought of it like that.

Nick Piombino dijo...

"..craft without good taste...is just masturbation." Here you have scored high on my test for "middlebrow/sexist" thinking, Dan & Jonathan. To me, the essence of middlebrow thinking is thinking that taste (and so-called "craft") have anything to do with artistic creation and success. As Guy Debord tried to tell us, art (and life) for that matter should not be lived as a spectator sport, with endless obssesive scorecards of winners and losers. Possibly every excellent artist in history was initially accused of "tastelessness." What about Joyce, Henry Miller, Jackson Pollack, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Whitman, etc, etc. All started out with nearly everyone accusing them of lack of craft and tastelessness. Important art is about having the courage to try to challenge and change people's "tastes." Reserve the concept of "taste" for talking about food and beer. Anyway, what's so tasteful about resorting to flinging out the word "masturbation" in a discussion about poetry?

Jonathan, I was referring to your argument, not to you personally in what I said. I am trying to support the artist side of your point of view in trying to address the issue of your apparent obsession with failure and taste. I am so bored with the middlebrow obsession with winners and losers, best and worst, that most boring of American masculine traits. The willingness to risk failure is what creates great art, not "taste and craft."

Jonathan dijo...

My post was directed against "craft," in the sense that if poetry were a "craft," poets couldn't lose it so easily. There has to be something more there.

As for the masturbation reference, that was Dan's. It wouldn't be my choice of words, but I don't see how it's sexist. After all, people of all genders and sexualities have been known to do it.

Nick Piombino dijo...

I didn't think "sexist" meant masculinist, though I did talk about issues concerning the latter in my comments as well. I thought "sexist" meant the obsession with connecting everything to sex, which does happen to be frequently a masculine trait; like the obsession with winning and losing, success and failure, the best and the worst, etc. So much of this stuff reduces to who is going to be-or remain- the top dog. So what if someone is not at the top of their form later in life? If there is anything of long lasting value in the work, everything will be found to be useful to some readers and scholars anyway in the long haul. Some poets contribute one lasting work or comment; 99.999% of poetry is forgotten after the death of the author. Nobody knows what the outcome will be, not me, not you, not Marjorie Perloff, not anybody. You pays your money and you takes your choice. The outcome is all a mystery; that's what makes art so fascinating; but what is so astounding to you about aging leading to some waning of ability in some and not in others?
I'd like to understand this interest of yours better. Jackson Mac Low's work only got better and better right up until his death. He said "There is all too much liking and disliking." What counts is vivacity, risk, courage, persistence, not judgement, taste, critical ability, as you seem to be so convinced. Many people get older and just can't listen to or debate with other people; they get stubborn about only seeing their own way of doing things and point of view; this happens quicker for some than others. Some people think Ashbery never wrote anything of interest after *The Tennis Court Oath." I am more in admration of his fecundity; I don't worry too much about which poems I like or don't like. I just read them, stunned that they exist at all.

I am not very focussed on what either you and Dan said about craft,. I was more concerned that you were once again mostly directing yourself to the mystery of success and failure in poetry, your constant theme. You are polite when I try to respond to this theme on your blog, but you never seem to be very interested in the specifics of what I have to say to you about this. You-are apparently convinced about the efficacy of yours- and others' judgements of "good and bad" in poetry. This is a blind alley, in my opinion. To me this is not a generative point of view for the growth of poetic creativity or energy on the whole. I have to acknowledge the persistence of your curiosity about when and why poetry is "bad." Maybe I should acknowledge when I think blogging is "bad." I think it is "bad" when it focuses on the need for a hierarchy of whose is the best, what is the best, who is the strongest, who is the weakest. There are more interesting and valuable ways to differentiate between people and their work. I like and I don't like, this is good and this is bad reminds me of a conversation I heard between a few teenage girls on the subway yesterday; "I love green, " "I love blue", "I love red", etc.

JWG dijo...

What the hell? Maturation, masturbation, masturbation. Now I feel better.

michael dijo...

negative capability is as good a name for it as any.

like selfmarketing, a separate & essential talent for an artist, besides craft.

this is where terminology like "grace" comes in handy.

it's halfway between listening & the ability to see around corners. it's ego surrender meets sponttaneous combustion.

this is why i don't think most everything written so far about poetry gets it.

the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing was closer...