Christian Bök Is Always Interesting
From The Poetry Foundation’s harriet blog, I’m finding out that Christian Bök is being fascinating again, responding during a Q&A session at Kelly Writers House, UPenn, November 18, 2009:
[I]t seems to me that among the poets that I know, many are very lazy and very dumb. I always joke with my students that poetry couldn’t possibly be as hard as they think it is, because if it were as hard as they thought it was, poets wouldn’t do it.
Really, they’re the laziest, stupidest people I know. They became poets in part because they were demoted to that job, right? You should never tell your students to write what they know because, of course, they know nothing: they’re poets! If they knew something, they’d be in that discipline actually doing it: they’d be in history or physics or math or business or whatever it is where they could excel.
I find this very distressing that the challenge of being a poet in effect to showcase something wondrous or uncanny, if not sublime, about the use of language itself, that we tend to think that because we’re conditioned to use language every day as part of a social contract, we should all be incipient poets, when in fact people have actually dedicated years or decades of their lives to this kind of practice in order to become adept at it and I think that craft and technique are part of that.
If poetry weren’t informed by models of craft then nobody would need take a creative writing course. I joke with my students again that if it was simply a matter of saying, “You know you’ve written a good poem just because; you’ll know it was a good poem when it happens.” To me, that’s tantamount to telling your students that “You should just use the force, Luke” in order to write a poem. I don’t think it’s very helpful. But to be able to say “Here’s a series of rules of thumb that always work under all circumstances and if you adopt them slavishly, blindly, you can always be assured of writing something, producing something of merit.” I think it’s important that students are at least reassured that there are some technical aptitudes that they can adopt.
That’s one point that can be made. But there are others. Bök, for me, makes the same mistake nearly everyone makes (including me) when talking about art. It’s a call to the collective, which is, that people keep wanting to find some way to project outward the conversation of art making, when the truth is that’s a craft issue, not an art issue. Art is a projection inward. If it helps an artist to think in craft terms, that’s fine. But I also posit that a poet could write as good of poems by following slavishly the “use the force, Luke” approach.
It’s terribly presumptuous to imagine, “If poetry weren’t informed by models of craft then nobody would need take a creative writing course.” Sure, it’s a true statement. There is and will always be craft in what an artist does, but there’s a bucketful of hedging in “informed by,” that also leaves open huge fields of what one might mean by “craft.” “Practice” would be a better word. As in what one does as well as the need to repeat things. Even Luke Skywalker had to practice. And he had a practice he followed. There was craft in that.
What matters, in the end, is not the artist’s conception of what is being done, while it’s being done, but by what in fact is left behind. The artifact. The project is beside the point. That said, it is interesting and fruitful to see what others see in the making of art. Such things have an impact on the art’s reception, which can be enlightening, and dangerous to art (as when art gets conflated into pesonality).