Friday, January 18, 2008

All Welcome in the House of Poetry

Jeannine Hall Gailey has a great post about "labels" and schools of poets on her blog right now.

Here's some of it:

I don't understand some of the intolerance I read in books of essays and blogs towards poetry different than one's own. Poetry does not have to be all one thing or the other. I've never, in all the years I've spent reading, studying, writing poetry thought to myself: "All other writers should write like me; otherwise, they are bad writers. I know the true way and everyone else is on the outdated/outmoded/too conservative/too experimental path." Whether you write plain-spoken narrative, curvilinear lyric, Shakespearean sonnets, or some experimental-explosion or surreal prose poem, you are all welcome to the house of poetry.

Anyone who labels "the other side" - or even claims there is an "other side" - I just don't understand it. Why is it not all right to be avant-garde, lyric-narrative, stream-of-consciousness, whatever a person wants to be etc? Why must Ron Silliman paint a big broad box called "School of Quietude" and lump everyone who doesn't write like he does into it? Why all the snide remarks about the "other?" Donald Hall does it too. "McPoems written by MFA students are bad; therefore, implicitly, I am good." Fights about schools of poetry - is this a guy thing? Tell me what you think. Because I see it a lot in men's blogs and men's essays


and here's my response--


I think it makes humans feel safe to label things, whether it's poetry or other human beings. By doing it, there's a certain aspect of control, of math: Because X=X then Y.

Our insecure selves like to feel superior to other people (esp. if we're feeling insecure about ourselves). I always think of the quote about having the biggest skyscraper in the city, you can work hard and build the tallest skyscraper, or you can try to knock all the other ones around you down. I think many times, people bring out their wrecking balls and go to work.

The problem for me is, when we generalize or label, we miss the individual or in this case, the poem. We say Categories A,B,and J are good, while C, D, and M are bad. Instead of searching deeper to understand why a poet writes the way s/he does, we write them off.

It's in our history. Think about whenever an artist started painting differently. Think about Picasso's Blue Period.

I like it when poets focus on the specific poem, not a specific category. It's too big. It's like saying everyone in America who owns a _______ is a selfish greedy jerk. Yes, there will be some who are and some who aren't. It's the same in poetry. I don't always like highly experimental work, but sometimes I do. Sometimes I write highly experimental work, many times I don't.

The only association I'd like to have as a poet is by region, to be a NW poet because yes, I live in the NW and that is where you can find me. But I don't want to fall into any "group." I think if I do, then I'm not doing my job as a writer. My goal is to avoid any labels. I'm not a can of soup.

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