Musings writing

2017: Year of the Poetry Experiment

This year I’ve been writing a lot of poetry. It is fun, interesting, rewarding, and also potentially crucial to Evernost—if the thing really does want to incorporate poetry.

As a result of this, I am in the process of submitting a (regular-length) chapbook manuscript to several contests—out of the desire to motivate myself to produce the best work I can and out of the wilder sort of wishful thinking, because rationally I suspect there’s no way my poor little manuscript will make it through even their initial screening processes.

Mostly, I say this because I am not (yet? may I at least add an oxymoronic yet?) a born poet. The poetry I’ve read is limited, to say the least. I’ve been writing poetry seriously only for a year or so. What’s more, while language is probably what I’m best at, the accounts I’ve read by and about good poets suggests that my ear for language is not and never will be sensitive enough, nor my passion for language deep enough, to put me among their numbers.

But even if I could by some miracle fly over these hurdles, I fear that what I’m trying to do is not something that would fly in any of the poetry establishments (plural) I’ve encountered—even if it were executed by someone with greater skill and talent than I possess.

I wrote once on this blog that I am a disproportionately large part of my intended audience. I want to write poetry (and prose) that I would at least sort of want to read and would also think is good.

First of all, it has to be accessible. I don’t want to baffle non-writer-me—at least, not completely. I love the sensation of mystery, of meanings larger and deeper than I can comprehend, in what I’m reading, but I have to understand enough to see at least what questions are being asked and become emotionally engaged in them. I want something tangible to grapple with. I want perhaps 5-20% of the meaning to be difficult or totally inaccessible, not 80-100%.

(I have no problem with poetry that is smarter than I am. I am very glad it exists and has appreciative audiences who find it 15% difficult where it’s 95% difficult for me. I just don’t want that to be the main thing I try to write.)

On the face of it, “somewhat accessible” seems like it would get poetry more of an audience and not less. But my impression (from admittedly insufficient reading) is that most “accessible” poetry tends to be explicitly political or thoroughly grounded in the minute details of day-to-day existence or both. I admire the former thing, but it is so far from my heart and imagination that I have no desire to try to produce it. The latter I cannot even really say that I admire. Realism is good to master as a set of tools, and as a literary philosophy it’s fine, I guess, but I don’t think it has to be everyone’s.

Sadly, the second part of my goal of appealing to me makes my poetry even more questionable in relevance: instead of occupying itself with politics and the everyday, my poetry is stuck somewhere back in the nineteenth century….

The contemporary poems I’ve read that actively play with ideas, that deal with topics beyond the everyday and outside of direct political engagement, tend to move at a pace I cannot follow and seem to avoid tugging at the heartstrings except in the most delicate and indirect ways. Large themes are addressed obliquely, in a spirit of play, or not at all.

All of which is to say: I suspect “accessible” poems about high abstraction, taking as their vehicle resonant and only somewhat subverted or subversive fantasy, which are not at all tied to the present day (though they reflect my mindscape much more accurately than something with up-to-the-minute engagement with the news would)…are likely to look like a strange, insta-cliche disaster. This assessment is, at the very least, the danger I have to avoid, and, more likely, the curse I have to endure.

Probably my bigger problem right now, though, is inexperience, and that I will keep trying to fix.

Otherwise, 2017 has been a marvelously productive year: I self-published an illustrated chapbook, I submitted Pet to agents and got a full request for it, and I DRAFTED EVERNOST. I’m still reeling. If 2018 is anything like this, I will count myself a very lucky writer.


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