Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Poetry Workshop: a Question

I’m thinking about the production of poetry, and poetry workshops.

Here’s the trace of my thinking:

Consciousness alienates us from an engagement with the world. The word “world” places a veil over the world. In this way, we’re alienated by desire from that which we desire. So? We’ve known this for a long time. What language does. To the object. And we know it’s veils all the way down.

The question for me is how do we, when we’re writing poems and talking about the poems of others, work with, and pay respect to (and not just fiddle with) the nature of words for things.

One way to work with the interpretive veil of words is through the poetic fragment. The fragment as the allowance of mystery. Not the fragment as willful action, as trick. The fragment which admits that all poems are already only fragments of an understanding.

This use of the fragment is toward an opening text where the reader exists rather than consumes. An example of what I mean could include poems where the fragment is actually quite large. Perhaps fragment is the wrong word for what I’m thinking. By saying “fragment,” I’m trying to get away from the way some poems exist within an assumed language, and an assumed singular world. An assumed totality.

Perhaps I could call it the poem that allows itself to remain open to mystery. Or the poem that holds itself open to its haunted nature. This description would work as well for a poet like Thomas Lux as it would Martha Ronk.

For me, that seems a lovely combination.

This might be a way of producing a text, yes, but more importantly, it might be a way of reading a text.

When we read texts in poetry workshops, we tend to read singularly and reductively, toward a revision of the poem that yields the story that all can follow. Toward a narrative, a certain coherence. But when we talk of the poems we love, the ones we return to, we often speak as one haunted.

If we, in poetry workshops, when reading poems, look for ways to reveal the fragments of the poem, and to let the breakages speak, we might find our poems becoming larger. So rather than asking a poem to yield itself to our ideas of the necessary surface unity, we open our thoughts to looking for a deep unity behind fragments, our questions and our enjoyment might possibly be enriched.

I’ve left too much undefined here. It’s an open question, and one I’ve been throwing around in workshops for a number of years.

Or perhaps I’m just trying to rehabilitate Wordsworth’s “spots of time.” (I hope not.) Or maybe I’m overly worried about solipsism. It’s good, I think, to be overly worried about solipsism.

5 Comments:

At 1/05/2007 7:19 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Our cognitive interpretation of the "world" around us is by definition solipsism. We see things as we are. Unfortunately this interpretive process is further diluted by the transposing qualities of language and words which color our conception and consideration of something which exists within our socially constructed reality.

RE: When we read texts in poetry workshops, we tend to read singularly and reductively, toward a revision of the poem that yields the story that all can follow. Toward a narrative, a certain coherence. But when we talk of the poems we love, the ones we return to, we often speak as one haunted.

Agreed, we tend to read in the workshop context towards a vision that yields a rhetoric that we can follow - all the while projecting it on others. We do not read "finished poems" (if such a state actually exists - or as Mary Kinzie intimates,” Any poem is at best imagined as provisional.") in the same fashion that we do workshop poems.

When we bring a new poem to the workshop, anxious for praise, others' voices enter the poem's metabolism before it is mature, distorting its possible growth and change.
---------------------- Donald Hall

Thank you for this thought-provoking post.

 
At 1/05/2007 12:22 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Indeed. And yet I believe in the community that is the workshop. The space of and for attending to art.

Perhaps, as one moves through the voices of a workshop, and the voices of research and attending to the world (perhaps chance operations, etc.), one can find a way, if not out of silipsism completely, then at least part way out of one's conitive interpretation of the (under tension) world.

If not for us, personally, perhaps for the poems?

 
At 1/05/2007 4:29 PM, Blogger louise said...

if one spends large amounts of ones time concerned about one's own solipsism, does that make one solipsistic?

just wonderin'

Louise
(whose poems were once described as hermetic)

 
At 1/06/2007 7:55 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Unless one is hermetically thinking of it, of course. In which case no one can tell.

(1. Unless hermeticism is just another form of solipcism. 2. There is no solipcism like the solipcism of the avant-garde, as well [But why quibble?].)

Ach du.

 
At 1/06/2007 3:31 PM, Blogger Peter said...

" . . . let the breakages speak, we might find our poems becoming larger . . "

I love this idea.

 

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