Ptarmigan

a grouse with completely feathered feet

9/10/2004

Already fall is beginning to creep in. Leaves are turning. NBA training camp isn't that far away. But I digress. I'm still working on my long poem. It's up to 53 some pages now. Bit by bit. And the funny thing is, as I guess was to be expected if you really think about it, that my "poetics" or whatever you want to call it have already mutated from the beginning to the now. And will likely before I reach the end. (Whenever that is.) Moving towards the esoteric to the exoteric.

Now on account of my Having Grown Up Catholic, the esotericism was always the base root of my experiences. The rosary triads aren't called "Mysteries" for nothing. It was Rilke's letters that talked of the "vocation" of the writer and which, needless to say, hit my 19 year self with the the idea of a kind of proxy hierophantic relationship to the writing and the material. With, you know, literary fame and all the attendant glories. That was the plan at the time. It seemed win-win. But...one thing I've always noticed about myself--worried would be too strong of a word--or a question I would ask myself would be whether the styles or techniques I've used have been "authentic" or not. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Maybe it's not even the right question. How much of authenticity is socially constructed? "Certificate of authenticity." I wondered if having modest early "success" in poetry and fiction involved a figuring out tricks, little cantrips. This is complicated by the fact that I often don't know what's a trick or not. And some great writers have built their entire lives around amazing, unreal tricks (Frank O'Hara tricking realism; Borges tricking out the essay).

And therefore, none of this process is unnatural and I don't regret it. And it was entirely welcome and necessary to emulate and therefore metamorphasize my influences. Or to find obscure sources with which to emulate and recontextualize. This was how I got at what was important to me; it tied together with how I wanted others to see me. All of which is separate as to whether individual stories or poems work or not--which really isn't up to me to decide. This is still my interior monologue that has the mic, in case you haven't noticed.

On that note, for a little while I flirted with the materialist assumptions inherent in Language poetry--seeing all writing only through the spectrum of political emancipation, thought of ways to apply this to speculative fiction. I thought that was an escape hatch. I quickly unflirted myself. Although there are many writers from that schema who I admire and who write amazing poems, theirs has been a shitty track record on the political emancipation front. (Much more complex of course than this 3 sentence little ditty is acknowledging). And it didn't necessarily achieve the goal of the erasure of personality. The best Language poems are the ones with instantly recognizable "personalities" of nil-personality to them (e.g., Bernstein, Armantrout).

So much of what goes into what we write remains unnoticed--and in many cases for a good reason. I don't want to meddle in processes I don't understand. I want to let impulses dictate to a large degree what I pursue. But at the same time, it is neither sterility nor blitheness, if one does notice, and then let go what has been noticed. It's not a matter of craziness, a feverish pitch, but of sanity and observation. Getting further away from the Fantasia fantasies of the lone artist on Witch Mountain, or wherever.

Anyway, when the aforementioned paradigm started to collapse for me, it really felt like a personal collapse. I talk about writerly techniques as tools to students--but there comes a time when even the tools you've come to trust just don't fit your hand anymore. Or you wonder to yourself--why the hell am I carrying around this heavy toolbelt? That's the moment it unbuckles, and then when you try to leave the tools behind, there's at first this moment of euphoria. And then: "Shit. What did I get myself into?"

So how does one give up attention, the need for it, without becoming a recluse? While still being attentive? There is that constant back and forth, but from that can be discerned a middle way, neither plainspoken nor cryptic.

All this is tied together in a way that I'm probably not explaining very well but which feels very important to me in this moment. There's this idea that I'm riffing off that Dogen, a Zen patriarch, presented on the Lotus Sutra. To get to a point where I'm not turning the poem, nor the poem's turning me. Rather, the poem turns the poem. It sounds so easy and yet it's the hardest thing in the world, because you have to take your hands off, and no cheating. Is it even possible to do that? But this isn't a sterile process; the enjoyment of writing is still there as a baseline (and indeed, the Lotus Sutra itself is a kind of ecstatic freak-out jam session with cosmic beings. So maybe that's a good place for a poetics as any. But maybe this deserves a long post about the Lotus Sutra then). I have no idea what's next.

1 Comments:

At 9/11/2004 03:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Traveling a Zen writing path should, at a minimum, provide a useful set of experiences to weave into your identity as a writer and as a person. May your journey give you the meaning and fulfillment you seek.

 

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