31 ene. 2006

Writing a poem that will get you thrown in jail is taking a risk.

Turning an elegant variation on an existing style is not taking a risk. Or even an inelegant variation.

Enjambment is not a risk. Almost no stylistic move is "risky." What is exactly supposed to be on the line, at stake?

I might risk being rejected by Poetry Magazine if I write a certain style. But they might reject me anyway.

Is "Chicks Dig War" a risky poem? I suppose the real, verifiable risk is that unintelligent people might think Drew is sexist. He is risking something to that extent. But I doubt he cares.

Maybe I'm being too literal-minded here, but the entire trope of courage and risk, when applied to the writing of poetry, seems to be almost entirely misplaced. Poetry is not a daring adventure. It is not dangerous or risky, unless you happen to be César Vallejo. Most poets are making their bets with other people's money.

Then does that mean I have to stop criticizing poets for being complacent, for not taking these metaphorical, purely imaginary risks?

Is there something existential I put on the line whenever I write, a real risk, but one invisible to the outside world? There could be. But then our practice of praising every poet for "taking risks" in endless identical blurbs cheapens this existential process. Even the most seemingly complacent poet might feel some sense of emotional risk just being a poet at all. For all I know. Maybe the conquest of that genteel style involved a huge leap of faith, if the poet came from a family hostile to any artistic endeavour.

What am I really talking about?

9 comentarios:

Joseph Duemer dijo...

The risk is personal, rarely existential. You know how the best comedians are willing to say anything for a laugh? The best poets are willing to say anything. And without expecting the laugh, except perhaps the laugh of derision.

Nick Piombino dijo...

I noticed that a blogger quit his blog recently on the basis that blogging is not like everyday life. But this is exactly what I like about blogging, when it is immediately thought provoking, as in this interesting self-reflexiive post -but when I've had time to think about it during the course of a day. I agree with JD that the best poets are like comedians that are "willing to say anything." Perhaps this explains why it becomes harder- for me anyway- to write poetry as I get older. After all, I have spent countless hours rephrasing what I am thinking so that I do not appear foolish, confused, hurtful, uninformed, etc, In everyday life we must learn to try to be, or at least appear to be, cool. But poetry that is merely cool is mostly boring, wheras in life such posturing is appreciated and necessary because it greases the wheels of social interaction. In everyday life we have to behave like musicians in an orchestra, whereas in poetry what is most pleasing- to me, anyway- is an absorbing recitatif-full of unexpected thoughts, words, turns and syncopations; Vallejo's work is such a wonderful example of what we think of as poetic risk, even in translation, which is the only way I can read him. Although I have many translations of Trilce, I always come back to the David Smith Trilce. It's the beat, of course. But does that make it a "good" translation?

Jonathan dijo...

Good comments, Joseph D and Nick D. I think I have the best commenters of any blog.

I don't get what you mean when you say, "It's the beat, of course." I'm sure the meaning of that should be obvious, but I'm feeling very dense.

I'm feeling an article coming on "Translating Trilce"

Nick dijo...

Weiners, re. his poetics, how he writes (can't remember the question exactly):

"I try to write the most embarrassing thing I can think of"

Nick LoLordo

Nick Piombino dijo...

Got to delve into that copy of "Cultural Affairs in Boston" I purchased recently. That quote from Wieners just nails it.

What I meant by the "beat" in Trilce has to do with what I imagine to be Vallejo's intricate rhythms that David Smith is trying to track. One of my favorites is


petrels from *him*, tendencies of trinity,
finales which commence, ohs of alases
one would think, prized for their differences.
Group of the two cotyledons!

Let's see. So it is without being more.
Let's see. Don't let it transcend toward the outside,
and think trying not to be heard,
chrome and not be seen.
And don't let it gliss in the great collapse.

The created voice rebels and won't be mesh or love.
The sweethearts can be sweethearts in eternity.
The don't strike 1. which will echo to infinity.
They don't strike 0, which will be so quiet,
it will wake up 1 and make it stand up.

Ah bicardiac group."

Has David Smith here transferred the Spanish rhythms
of this complex. labyrinthine poem into English or American enunciations? I'd be curious about what you think of this.

The other thing about this poem ithe heartrending personification of numbers and words. "I will wake up 1 and make it stand up."
Vallejo does something similar with money in XLVIII:

"I have 70 Peruvian sols....

Being 69, it bumps into 70;
then scales 71, rebounds into 72.
And thus it multiplies and glitters..."

Touching, especially considering Vallejo's consistent poverty.

My very favorite is XXXII:

"999 calories.
Rumbbb...Trraprrr rrack......chaz
Serpentine "u" engiraffed
to the drums of the biscuitmaker.

Who like the ices. But no.
Who like what's going on neither more or less.
Who like the happy medium.

1000 calories."

I feel like I've been guided into a microscopic
world of letters, sounds, tastes. Perhaps memories of childhood. The repetitions- "who like" -also frequently establish a beat in Vallejo's poems, a quality also found in Neruda, but much different.

Jordan dijo...

Poetic Risk, Wasp Version: It's always risky to speak directly, without evading, about what you're feeling.

Jonathan dijo...

The rhythmic effects are similar, but not identical. Even this translation flattens some effects, like "No deis..." which is a second person plural form of the command, but shows up as a third person plural future in the translation.

John dijo...

Risk in poetry: Eliot Weinberger has written passionately & eloquently & well-informedly about this: Nazim Hikmet spent years in prison for his poetry. One of Salman Rushdie's translators got assassinated. In olde Europe, governments executed translators of the Bible.

In an American context, most talk of risk in poetry is risible.

Nick Piombino dijo...

I'll see your squad of laughable smug poets and raise you a score of heartbroken, unrecognized alcoholics and unemployed, unpublished suicidal geniuses.