a grouse with completely feathered feet


What I want to do next with Taverner's Koans, in my alleged overhaul of the entire site:

I want to provide the poetics essays and exercises in the context of fucking poetry character classes. Yes, a la role playing games. Somewhat lilting, sardonic classes -- but still evocative ones that a young writer can respond to. Have it be somewhat absurd, much like the classes at Kingdom of Loathing (seal-clubber, disco bandit, sauceror, etc.). So a teaching track would involve various sets of lessons, poets to read, and exercises geared towards, but not exclusionary to, a particular beginning poets' inclinations, with the understanding that if one comes from x end of the spectrum, it is often very very useful to read broadly in works from the y end of the spectrum.

The fact is that there are so many subcommunities that are talking past each other that have little concourse with each other. Unfortunately, the only way in most of the academy involves what has somehow been inculcated (individual teachers' idiosyncracies notwithstanding) as the "right" way, usually based on concretion of representational language, in the intro to poetry workshop. Not horrible in of itself per se, but it can lend itself to massive gaps in one's awareness of the very existence of wide swaths of poetic exploration and yes experimentation.

(Should one "convert" students to writing epistemologically tenuous and fraught poems hyperaware of the uber-stamp of capital on any linguistic system? As much as a teacher should "convert" students to writing stable-first person, "sentences with line breaks" rememberances of their grandmothers.)

However (as I'm probably going forward pissing everyone off) the problem with the talk about disassembling the workshop is that there's been precious little proposed in the way of an alternate community. The only way to engage with wide swath of ephebe poets is to, well, engage with them. You don't have to start with "simple" poetry and then hope. Working towards true democratic models of the learning of poetry is certainly hard work. But 80% of which involves reading. So it should be relatively straightforward to point out a series of matrices for a poet to follow, along with the encouragement to go matrix jumping as one pleases.

In other words, yes, to go back to the rpg parlance, multiclassing.

Of course all of this is easier if one has a "scene" to fall into. But the website is pretty much designed for those who are too far away from scenes.

A side goal of this project would be to recussitate, and fetter out, interesting and honorable practitioners of the narrative lyric. They're out there, I'm pretty sure.

The second stage would actually involve creating online "guild homes" for community and fellowship.

A few with a Language-poetry proclivity might contend that this is all a trifle, a distraction from the real work of poetry, a fake kind of happy relativism that does too much to gratiate to students' unfounded ideas about poetry. But it goes back to the Buddhist idea that I've been yammering on about, about the relativity between relativity and phenomenon. None of these paths inherently has a lack of rigor or attentiveness tied into them. It's way too draining to go through life thinking that 90% of the poets out there are abhorrently mistaken. The vast majority of us are going to write unloved poems. In other words, to quote from an interview that Language poet and Zen priest Norman Fischer gave:
JW: It's dicey to make comparisons, but perhaps Gary Snyder was right when he said to me, "Well, I think these critical theorists could have a lot to learn from madhyamika emptiness philosophy."

NF: Yes. They could learn to be sweeter, and simpler, and more relaxed.

As to why...? omg d00d, why the fuck not? Can it be any worse than the collegiate workshop model? (not that it doesn't have moments). Can it be any more asinine-sounding than "New Brutalism"? (not that good work isn't published under that aegis). Let young poets see their role in the poet world as a role, rather than an involiate landlocked part of their identities. Lending itself towards a sense of play, a play with allegiences. This can give a banister, not a straightjacket, so that there can be a multitude of pedagogical approaches that can coexist happily. Er, or at least without killing each other...

So Josh, Aaron, and all those other ex-gaming poets out there--and I know you're out there!--hook me up with some frameworks!

Besides, when you're trashed at a boring writing party, how much better would it be to say, "I'm a 5th level Black Mountaineer/2nd level Beat." Groovy!


At 9/29/2004 01:01:00 PM, Blogger Gary Norris said...

i like your argument that we should let the poet see him or herself in his or her world. i think that rests the debate about conversion. i believe we are often taught the craft of writing through a lens meant to preguess a reader's evaluation of the finished work. In workshops, writers often hear, "I don't this *will* work..."

The best workshop experiences end up being worthless outside of the context of the discussion. I might take what I learned to work with me later on, but it goes no further than that.

So, your concern about talking past each other is a poignant one.


At 10/02/2004 02:05:00 PM, Blogger Karen said...

Having spent a hefty chunk of my life building and running online games, I get such a kick out of this. Good gameplay, goals, etc are all important but ultimately what keeps players coming back after the initial excitement fades is the community, the creation of extended kin/home (with built-in distance and low commitment). Just knowing there's a group out there, 24/7, who will welcome you and share some kind of affiliation, even -- or especially -- if it's completely arbitrary and made-up: people get happy.

I'm intrigued by the idea of taking a bunch of people so firmly attached to their identities as unclassifiable independents, and inviting them to discover the fun of taking on this kind of role as role. It's a concept that's fallen out of fashion -- doing it deliberately, I mean, and allowing yourself to have fun with it. Maybe you'll bring back the Dandy.

At 10/04/2004 06:54:00 PM, Blogger michael said...

sounds fabulous. i will just mention my recurrent confusion, for what it's worth: i also write speculative fiction, & there are times when i'm unsure whether an idea i have is really poetry or just a notion about poetry that would be better held by a fictitious poet in a madeup society in a story i need to write. i recommend, therefore, that aspiring writers begin by inventing MORE THAN ONE poet-avatar/poetic movement; & have them interact through mutually-incompatible aspects of their work...


At 10/05/2004 11:57:00 AM, Blogger Josh said...

I'm coming late to this discussion, but I want to say hey, Alan, awesome idea. What interests me most about your proposal (aside from trying to class myself: fourth level Language poet, sixth level Berryman Apprentice, fifth level Oulipean?) is how it implies the existence of a framework that I as an ephebe was totally unaware of: it was like sitting down to play AD&D without having a Players Handbook to tell me that there were other classes than Cleric. (And don't most of your average workshops have a vaguely ecclesiastical air to them?) The main problem I had with most (by no means all) of the workshops I took was the instructor's presumption that he or she was teaching us Poetry, not poetries, or even at least one poetry among poetries. I had no clue about the various aesthetic/social/political spheres of difference. What I look for nowadays from a poetry community or poetry conversation is that my interlocutor has read the Players Handbook and knows their own "class" and is willing and able to locate or at least acknowledge that mine exists and might have something to contribute to a given adventuring party.

The other mode of classification this model brings to mind is alignments. Are Language poets Chaotic, or fiercely Lawful? Are post-confessionalists, like AD&D bards, always neutral (Lawful Neutral, Neutral Good, Chaotic Neutral, etc.)? Does "Good" or "Evil" represent one's political stance (with Good being, from my perspective, leftist)?

And if we're going to have conflict, as we will, this could potentially provide some rules. What's John Ashbery's armor class? What's Jorie Graham's THACO and does she get an attack bonus for her hair? Etc.

At 10/05/2004 10:46:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Great stuff, everyone. I hadn't thought of it in terms of a fictional setting of sorts as a banister, but that really intrigued me...It seems like it could really work in terms of a MOO; set up a cartography that contoured the ecosystem. (I guess that was the missing word in my post) the poetic landscape, create an allegorical terrain in which poets could interact within.

This ties into the idea of "avatars" and multiple characters.

But let's say you create a character randomly or semirandomly--what would it be like to have to stay in those shoes for a period of time?

Plus, you need the maps, y' know! I liked when everyone was drawing their poetics grids (I think you started that Josh, didn't you?)

And Josh, I think Jorie Graham's hair would be a separate character altogether.


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