Friday, October 26, 2012

An open leter to my fellow Coursera ModPoers

I’m taking a little holiday from studying modern poetry (ModPo is a Coursera study course) because I have pursued it capriciously in the first place, starting in the third week and playing catch-up with what should have been, in some sense background material, a history or a lineage of a kind of “Adams family” of odd members (poets). I never intended to pursue it as if it were for credit because it has the great benefit of not being something attached to getting some kind of degree. This is education as it should be – with no extrinsic pull of the carrot other than the sometimes not so gentle tug of love (intrinsic). I have been free to enjoy it while I have felt those urges (ultimately urges of self-discovery, because they are lacking exterior and, somehow, ulterior motives).

This holiday won’t be as long as the last one (about a week because of a writing deadline), maybe an evening while I write this, because I am also looking forward to a sense of community that I know is tied to the temporal boundaries of the course. So I must do some of this course work which interests me during the same time as others do it and therefore I will be able to share, in some sense, in the process of reacting in new and different ways to already familiar poetry. This is the student community I have so greatly missed in the many years since I was young and at a university.

The community that I have had for the last ten years has been that of the contemporary poets who are connected by the internet. Many of us have never met during our lives although we have come to know one another well over the years. Suddenly I am now part of a (also internet driven) community that has a very different interest in poetry. This gives me the opportunity to make some comparisons. On the one hand, both communities are about poetry but only one part of the contemporary poets, the language poetry people, seem to be a part of both worlds. I find that extraordinary!

Most of the rest of the contemporary poetry group are getting filtered through the market-place of the internet readership. There are a few shy ones in the group but most of us are more or less interested in being viewed. Some years ago we were all happily blogging along when the e-zine editors started refusing poetry that could already be found by Googling. Suddenly we were no longer able to share our poetry and everything had to go through the filter of the e-zine editors in order to appear on the internet. This goes along with that old theme of some things are simultaneously good and bad. For example, suddenly a lot of the poorly conceived experimentation nearly disappeared. The need to get work through the editors was like the discipline of writing a pantoum or villanelle. True to the publishing business, a lot of editors are pretty conservative or reflecting some particular style or school so their tastes must be taken into account (or in some cases, at least pandered to).

I have continued to experiment, currently with the non-punctuated mechanisms of speech as it can be applied to the written format. It is demanding and interesting while not being so much of a put off to the reader who hasn’t studied your manifesto or read your scientific abstract (average person readers don’t do that stuff and are usually left to consume greeting cards, sadly). An earlier example might be found by reading my poem hourglass beach which is in Book of Aliases. It was written probably in 2007 during a trip to Turkey and only has a couple of hyphens that are used rather conventionally. It is a mish-mash of styles that include lists, objects as narration, some clunky metaphors stuck in as a kind of shorthand, a kind of faux objectivity of the Oppen/Zukofsky objectivist variety, indirection as a way of transcending my own spiritual and intellectual limitations, and just a touch of Jack Spicerly “oh I was just taking a dictation” lyricism thrown in for good measure.

It interests me deeply that the world of academic poetry is such a difficult world, in the sense that one must leap some hurdles and scale some technical barriers in order “run the Hash” with a bunch outlandish seeming fellow members of this particular in-club. It is also interesting to me that it is so different from the world that creates the poems currently. This is the most perplexing observation for me because it makes me ask about, most importantly why this division has occurred? We both use much of the same literary/linguistic jargon although I am aware of a more practical basis underlying why I use and am familiar with those terms. I find myself tempted to speculate that poetry is changing (in terms of the people who actually write it) precisely because of the unique pressure the internet is putting on it. There is great freedom and, with the exception currently of the e-zine editors and the langpo people, there is also no guiding principle to form little cohesive pockets of like-minded poets. We more or less loosely form them among ourselves but it seems a lot “looser” than the physical alignment that occurred earlier when the poets lived in the same city or went to the same cafes.

Still it remains that the two worlds seem divided by an impenetrable barrier and the poets want the interest of the people (it worked for Whitman) while there remains an ivory tower element (sorry Al) to the workings of the academics interested in poetry. Inevitably, we all come to the same place of wanting to enjoy the magic of words more but we seem to have such different ways to get to there. Most often I feel the richness that has come into my life via my education. I don’t regret that richness and have been sharing those sentiments with students at every opportunity but I also relish the joy, beauty and personal discovery that became a part of my life when I began to want to write well enough so that people would find value reading (I want them to hear it when they read) my words. Now I guess I ought to get back to doing a little studying. I’m really enjoying this course and the thin, clear air way up here in the tower!

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