Saturday, June 16, 2007

What Kind of Lover Are You?


I’m thinking about writing again, imagine that. For some reason lately I’m wanting to work with metaphors for the act of writing, or the space of writing, or the writing stance. And then I’m turning on myself and wondering why I’m wondering.

I’m trying to figure out why I write so much, perhaps. And then, what really worries me, will I stop writing at some point . . . perhaps I’m revealing too much about myself here, talking about my anxiety, but I’m also interested in the larger story behind my own manic poetry writing story.

And to add to that, just because I write a lot doesn’t mean the quality is high. Writing a lot just means I have piles and piles of poems surrounding me.

This is my greatest personal fear, as described by Christian Wiman, from a link I got through C. Dale Young’s blog (thank you C. Dale):

* * *

. . . four years ago, after making poetry the central purpose of my life for almost two decades, I stopped writing. Partly this was a conscious decision. I told myself that I had exhausted one way of writing, and I do think there was truth in that. The deeper truth, though, is that I myself was exhausted. To believe that being conscious means primarily being conscious of loss, to find life authentic only in the apprehension of death, is to pitch your tent at the edge of an abyss, “and when you gaze long into the abyss,” Nietzsche says, “the abyss also gazes into you.” I blinked.

* * *

Wiman seems to have passed by that with a nod, but for me, I have no idea what I would do with myself in this situation. It would be like forgetting to breathe. Perhaps it’s something in his formulation. I don’t see why he has to equate writing poetry as being conscious of loss, though it is, of course. I equate living itself as being primarily conscious of loss anyway, why not make art out of it? Why not generate something? Why not perform it?

In my thinking, there is a way that writing poems is performative, like sex. I was about to write “like sports,” but the truth is, I do think of writing poetry much like sex. And besides, thinking of it this way allows me to mention sex, which is, of course, a wonderful thing to mention.

A couple weeks ago, I was talking with a person I know while waiting for a plane, and she was talking to me about reading a book recently that suggested the writer get in touch with the “coyote within.” Now, I have no problem with getting in touch with one’s inner coyote, but I really felt, once she explained to me what was specifically being suggested, that “coyote” was something of a cop out to what the writer really meant: getting in touch with your inner fearlessness, or more specifically, your inner nymphomaniac. That realm of desire. Of need.

A nymphomaniac always has the switch in the ON position, and is always looking with full imagination at the world, and specifically, the other people that inhabit it. But there’s also a formula to it. The way the imagination sets scenarios into every situation.

Of course, artists have a long tradition of being over-sexed, literally, and while I say more power to them (green lights are always going to be more generative than red lights), I’m actually thinking of it metaphorically first. Although I suppose I could think of it literally, as all that artists owe us is art, not genteel behavior, and as artists work best when investigating out there in the open field, I heartily endorse going in search of as large and varied an image hoard through personal experience as one can (keeping within the limits of, well, some sort of common sense I suppose).

I read an essay several years ago by Mark Halliday, and in it he was talking about the poet’s arrogance, he writes:

* * *

<<< If you do take a poem casually, you feel slothful, shallow, flippant — a feeling that is very different from thinking hard about a poem and deciding it is itself slothful, shallow, flippant. Fortunately, persons don't often have the gall to say, “If you don't love me, the problem is yours.” Poems say this every time.

Poems keep stroking their own hair.

I want to ponder the essential arrogance of poetry — not simply the annoyingness of weak poems, of pallid or muddled or fakey or coy or tricky or jabbery or cowardly or false poems wherein "arrogance" becomes repellent, or the tiringness of difficult or obscure poems. Such repulsion or annoyance or fatigue is only a reminder of the essential arrogance of any poem.

Emily Dickinson was fabulously arrogant about her vocation.

I dwell in Possibility—
A fairer house than Prose—
More numerous of Windows—
Superior—for Doors—

When Dickinson informed Colonel Higginson that her business was Circumference, he did not reply, “Oh, come off it!” — he was sharp enough to know he had encountered some sort of genius.>>>

* * *

It’s an interesting article, more so to me, because I’ve never thought of poetry that way, as a form of arrogance. But somehow this does tie into what I’m thinking this morning, at least in my conceptualization, of the inherent, needful sexual nature of the art act. And perhaps there’s an arrogance to sharing art, even in my conceptualization, a “you like to watch, don’t you?” aspect to public art. But doesn’t everybody like to watch, even a little bit? Isn’t voyeurism an important aspect of encountering the world?

“Make love to the camera,” the old photography cliché goes . . . and why not? Isn’t “making love” the fundamental human behavior? Isn’t that Whitman’s dark desire? To be everything? To be everyone? To be in sexual engagement with all?

Perhaps I’m projecting, as I’ve always had a difficulty with decisions. The way any decision is predicated upon loss. The loss of all the possible decisions one did not decide. (Which road do you choose in the wood, right? And what does one lose when the road chosen makes “all the difference”?) The winnowing of the open field of possibility. And the art act, the writing of way too many poems, might be a way for me to reclaim some of that field, even though each poem, individually, loses more than it claims.

So maybe it’s experimental sex, then.

This conceptualization of the engagement of art sounds more sensational (pun!) than I intended, but, well, maybe not. To equate the art act with sexual activity, opens up (yikes) a readily conceptualizable way to talk about what it means to experiment, and the value one might find there, as far as your imagination will take you. And tossing out all mores and normative cultural expectations.

I probably should think in tamer terms in public discourse, but oh well. And maybe art is more like accounting . . . but then again, isn’t accounting just like sex?

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