Saturday, October 04, 2008

Why do you write? Why did you start?

Ron Silliman writes:

“. . . it was clear that giving it your all, writing exactly what you thought needed to be written, regardless of whether it looked comfortably familiar or not, was the only way to go. Anything less really was just too boring, too timid. Why even bother?”

And it gets me to thinking how similar are the impulses that get us all into writing, and why we’re often so crabby. Is it true? Do we all basically agree with Silliman’s initial impulse? And how funny, then, to agree, as the forms of our agreement take such radically different, and contradictory, paths. So that what Silliman found boring, others found liberating. And the path of Silliman’s investigation, others find boring (but probably not timid).

How interesting it all is, as I’m thinking again about Charles Wright’s introduction to the current BAP, and his assertion that very few good poems are being written today, and that he’s not finding the thrill in recent poetry that he found in Berryman and Roethke, etc. And then Bill Knott commenting the other day on my blog to say that while he doesn’t like Charles Wright’s poetry, he does agree with his assessment of contemporary poetry, about which Steven Schroeder commented that such an assertion possibly says less about the age we’re in that the age of the poets making the assessment.

(Addendum: Bill Knott [see comments below] has written in to say that I'm misquoting him. I hate misquoting people, and did so unintentionally, so here is the part of his comment that I was thinking about, now as a direct quote:

"Schroeder's right: it's his [Wright's] age, which is my age too—— /// I don't like Wright's poetry, as I've declared many times on my blog, but I agree with his general sentiments here [though the cuisinart metaphor is for desperation]

. . .it's a generational difference gap, of course . . . your impatience with his attitude is the same as Wright's impatience 30-40 years ago with Allen Tate et al . . .")

But but but, I want to keep saying, all ages have a very high percentage of poetry that doesn’t last. Is there really something about our time that is somehow worse? Or less sympathetic?

I always get a sense of dread when I meet someone for the first time, someone who doesn’t read poetry, and they want to connect, so they say something like, “I do like that one poet, what’s his name again? Oh yes, Billy Collins.” And I have to decide how to respond. I don’t want to hurt their feelings by saying what I think of Collins’ work (boring and timid might suit), after all, they’re just trying to connect, to be nice. But I’m frustrated. I feel bad. I think to myself that the reason they like Billy Collins’ work is that he is the contemporary poet who has been sanctioned and given to them. Where and how, I haven’t a clue. Maybe on Prairie Home Companion or something?

I think of how much I’m moved by John Ashbery, Rae Armantrout, Martha Ronk, Mary Jo Bang, Michael Palmer, Charles Simic, Charles Wright, Mark Strand, and so many others (and younger poets like Kevin Prufer, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Zachary Schomburg, G.C. Waldrep, and on, seriously, it’s a long list), in ways as important to me as my first experiences of Berryman, cummings, Stevens, etc. Of course, I'm not trying to say a young poet, with only one or two books out, is "the same as" Wallace Stevens. I'm talking about my experience of discovery.

Maybe what I’m really asserting here is that artists confuse taste with value. Or, to put it a different way: our personal taste clogs up the gears of being able to asses the state of the art. I haven’t yet gotten to the point where my ability to have that first sense of discovery blunted by either time or inclination (or perhaps Wright is correct, as I get the impression from his comments about the poetry he's finding that he feels perhaps we’re living in a lesser time after a great time, and we’re so much a part of it we can’t tell the difference [I hope and trust that’s not the case, by the way]).

And yet, isn’t that very thing the reason we start writing in the first place? It was for Silliman, above. And for me as well. And for all of us. To write what we need to write. To not be boring. To not be timid. I started writing out of that explosive experience of something new there on the page. Something primary. And then (and this is what I think Silliman also means), when I first started publishing, and writing after that initial joy of language, I found myself writing away from, and in the face of, writing I thought was being highly praised when it shouldn’t be, while poetry I thought wonderful, was being improperly discounted. Specifically, I wanted to write against the poetry of Philip Levine, Rita Dove, and later, Billy Collins, and on.

So, is that also the case with all of us? And then another question for you: what got you started writing? What has kept you going? Do you write against other forms of writing?


At 10/04/2008 11:10 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

you're misquoting me...

i never said this is "a lesser time"—— that's nonsense . . .

... i said my general (not specific) agreement with wright was generational...

and i said schroeder's correct about "age". . .

fuck it... if you're going to misrepresent what i say,

then i won't bother to say anything more to you ...

At 10/04/2008 11:33 AM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

Before the othe questions: Is it then our duty to wait a certain amount of time before assigning artistic merit to the work, until our personal feelings can be sorted and dealt with?

I have no idea if I started writing 'against' anyone. Hell, what I knew about poetry when I started writing you couldn't fill a thimble. Now that I've been hacking away for a quarter century (since I was 15) I can fill that thimble, but I am no longer drawing water from a tea cup, but rather an ocean.

I really think I started writing to simply answer something inside of me. Unfortunately I became sidetracked on the idea of external validation, and it took many years to get past that. That places me in the 10-12 year range of writing seriously and wanting to be a better poet.

I think of Silliman and L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets and I cannot even begin to fathom what they are trying to do. I am sincere in my perplexity. I know the idea of confronting language at it's creation and (in)ability to truly communicate an idea. I get Derrida and Levinas in the broadest sense of what they were after, if not the specifics of their philosophy, but that doesn't help me to 'get' what Lang Poets are trying to do and see what value lies in their work.

This doesn't mean my work is any better than theirs, only that I lack the ability to step away from my own perspective and find the coherent thread in work which is so radically dis-similar to mine in structure.

This probably wasn't at all what you wanted.

At 10/04/2008 11:59 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Bill Knott,

I apologize for misquoting you. It was unintentional, I promise. I wasn't reading what you wrote closely enough.

I'll fix it.

At 10/04/2008 12:19 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I like that, and hadn't really thought of it from that angle. The way you say you can't 'get' some poetry or see what value lies in the work. So, I'm guessing then, that you don't think of yourself as 'writing against' them, you just don't encounter them one way or the other when you write?

I think while writing something, while actually composing, I don't think much if at all of poets or styles. So I agree with you. But at some point I have to turn to what I've done and conceptualize it. To think of why I believe what I believe. That old idea that even if you don't talk about your theory, you're still working from one. Or maybe it's just me trying to say why I don't like some things, and why I like other things so much.

Should we wait before assigning merit? Well, that would be nice I suppose, and time does that anyway . . . but we're going to want to talk about what we like and dislike as we encounter it. Right? We want to talk back to the work that interests us, one way or the other.

At 10/04/2008 12:39 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Addendum: after the comment from Bill Knott [above], I deleted his name where it appeared with Wright's in the paragraph where I mention "lesser time." I've left the rest of the paragraph intact, because I do believe it's a valid reading of Wright's (if not Knott's) coments.

At 10/04/2008 1:43 PM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

I think we all measure ourselves against some structure or another. I think it's only human to do so. At some point we crave to know where we stand in relation to the world we have created for ourselves.

Conceptually speaking, I think we continually have to see if we still believe in the things we did years ago, even months ago in some cases. My work reaches new levels and I no longer am interested in what I did only months previously. I think it a strange contradiction which cannot be divorced from the human condition: We are artists who should be concerned with our own aesthetic, but being human, we cannot help but put ourselves in place, in perspective to those around us---defining ourselves by what we see.

I once wrote a paper for a history class contradicting the idea of Nietzsche's Superman. I called it (and I thought I was so clever) Nietzsche and the Clark Kent Experience. I supposed Clark Kent as a man who was Superman but did not know his true nature. What would happen without having a model for extraordinary behavior when Lois Lane found herself in peril?

Does he discover his nature in full or in part, or by ignorance fail miserably because he lacks the ability to ?

As an artist, how do we know we are genuine to our art, meeting our potential? We measure ourselves, and in the act of measuring our self, we limit ourselves and our potential. Nietzsche claimed that only the exceptional individual could escape the slave mentality, but I still disagree because as humans, we crave, almost instinctively seem to base everything on a model, even by way of rejecting those who came before.

At 10/04/2008 3:59 PM, Blogger ljs said...


I like your sense of "writing against" here: for all that you and Ron have obviously different poetics and agendas (not that I necessarily think agenda is quite the right word to apply to you...I think it'd have to be a more humourous word), there's an important urgency to your "against" and his "need."

It makes me think of Williams who, as much as he hated Eliot and what Eliot stood for, needed him: Williams' poetry was spurred by the need to write against Eliot. Thank the stars he did!

Sadly, I guess that means (gulp) we might need Billy Collins: to write against. That's an unhappy conclusion for me to arrive at! Indeed, I want to step back a little: ideally, what we write against is more self-aware of its poetics (and why its poetics is there) than I think Billy Collins or Dana Gioia or William Logan is. I think of them as passive recipients of outdated models, for the most part.

In other words, we need writers who we don't value but who do have value - who are not, as you say, "timid" (Eliot certainly wasn't).

Like a stuck record, I come back to my mantra here: if we can find ways to better and more necessarily communicate poetry and poetics to the sort of reader who has somehow been given Billy Collins as what "poetry" "is," maybe we as writers will have better things to write against than Billy Collins.

Jeez, sorry for using his name so many times.

At 10/04/2008 5:01 PM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

I will bite, coming to the defense of Billy Collins here.

I don't think Collins lacks self-awareness in either his poetics or his poetry. I believe that his simplicity and being straight forward (almost to the point of meta in its creation)leaves him open to criticism which may be deserved, but I don't thing that makes a poet unaware.

I think this is the perfect illustration of John's point. I think we are talking a matter of taste vs. value. I love Billy Collins' poetry, but I also like Williams, Pound, Eliot, Creeley, Stanford, Roethke, and most the Romantics with all their snobbishness. I don't think liking Collins is less a sign of ignorance and more a sign of proliferation and marketing. Neither makes his work bad.

I think Collins runs the same chances as all of us do as to whether our poetry will be read in 100 years---slim at best.

At 10/04/2008 6:41 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Yeah, I know what you mean. I'm always asking myself if it's just me, and my personal taste, or is it really something like pandering in Billy Collins' work. I just think it's easy, and I can see it coming from a mile away. Like a formula action movie or something. I just find no pleasure in it, and it frustrates me that others do, often people who own no other poetry. I could admire COllins in a way, if I thought that there was somethign in his work that called people into buying more poetry, but it seems like for many of his readers his work is the start and finish of their poetry reading, and I think of the pleasures in the work of Rae Armantrout, for instance, or even someone more "getable", like Louise Gluck, or Dean Young even. You know? Billy Collins is fine. I own one of his books as well. Maybe two. It's not the fact that he exists that bothers me, it's the fact that so many read his work as the whole of poetry. There's so much better stuff out there.

But I will take you up on your future guess! It seems poets in the future are read not only for their own interest, but also in schools for what they reveal about their time. In that way, there are many poets I think have a better chance of being read. But to be honest, I try not to think of that much, it always leads me into remembering that at some point the sun will explode and we'll all be turned rather meaningless. Ouch.

At 10/05/2008 5:50 AM, Blogger C. Dale said...

In many ways the sun already exploded, and all of this is rendered meaningless. You could think about this stuff forever, and even then, it would be mostly meaningless. Artists create. That is what they do. Life goes on in hundreds of thousands of terrible ways despite the fact Art exists. I say create something instead of thinking about why you do.

At 10/05/2008 6:29 AM, Blogger vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...


In response to
Your question—

Not falling flat
On my face

When faced with
Still one more

Menacing blank
Sheet of paper.

At 10/05/2008 6:48 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Yes, of course, that is the correct answer. And I agree with you. One doesn't want to pre-think or over-think the thing out of its energy, but you also at some point (maybe when revising?) have to reflect upon it? We all have an idea, a monitor, through which we read?

That's really what I'm getting at, I think, in my meandering way, the way we assess what we've written and what others have written. Some way to talk toward what and why we like what we do? And what others do? Something like that?

I've heard editors talk about this before, how difficult of a question it is. Assessing. What is your method?

At 10/05/2008 6:51 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Yikes, I'm glad I don't think blank sheets menace. I think I'd spend most of my time in the closet. For me, what menaces is all the possible things to say, when we have to, in the end, exclude so many.

The blank sheet is pure, inviting!

At 10/05/2008 6:51 AM, Blogger ljs said...


I take your point about Billy Collins, and I'm glad to hear you speak up for him. Maybe I was wrong to cast my comments in terms of self-awareness: Collins does engage with what it means to write at the contemporary moment in ways that are much more valuable (even if I dislike some of them) than Logan or Gioia.

Maybe that's what it comes down to: not taste versus value, but awareness vis-a-vis the contemporary moment. The Romantics were all about that, and agonized over what it meant to write poetry at that moment. That's valuable, essential even. The work survives not because it's beautiful, but because it was necessary. (And, indeed, still is, I wager: as this whole hoopla over's "Issue #1" shows, there's a grave misunderstanding of poetic originality at play today, deriving in part from an erroneous reading of Romanticism).

So thanks for standing up for Collins (didn't think I'd write that) and Williams in the same post!

C. Dale - I'm not sure "why" we create matters as much as "how" - that's a different from of awareness, and for me it's much more about the contemporary moment. I find I'm using language, and therefore creating, differently in a world where there is less truth-value to political comments than once (i.e. no repercussions for any political lie, a point I'm drawing in part from Michael Palmer's Active Boundaries ). So yes, creation, and maybe not too much worrying about the "meaningfulness" of the work, but I think it's essential (as I feel you do, if that's ok to say) to investigate the how and what: the form, the tone, the syntax, the choice of words. (Again, that's what the Romantics were about: they were revolutionary, in many senses.) That, for me, is what poetics is, and not a statement of why one writes.

So, lastly, Ron's mention of "when" one starts to write is intricately connected to "how," especially if you're reacting to contemporary political, social, and even personal-social environments.

At 10/05/2008 9:49 AM, Blogger JeFF Stumpo said...

In the interest of writing "against" a couple of posters here...

I do an activity with my Intro to Creative Writing students that involves a blank page. They have five minutes to write every piece of verse they can think of on it, from snippets of Shakespeare they memorized for extra credit in high school to nursery rhymes to lyrics from songs they were iPodding before class. I then make the point that they never, ever approach a blank page. Any time they sit down to write, it's already scribbled over with all of these lines [I half-jokingly call this Francis Bacon day, as in the painter]. Not only that, but if they give the page to someone else, it contains thousands of other lines they haven't read yet.

There is no pure page. All you can do is interact with the tradition, and your options are to do so consciously or ignorantly.

In a way, though, I think this gets directly to your aggravation over Collins. It's the same aggravation that prose writers experienced during that Stephen King defense of J.K. Rowling a few years back. And it's not just "popular" writers like Collins. We've all met that particular undergraduate, generally a young man, whose favorite writer is T.S. Eliot. This means that said young man has only given Eliot extra readings. The same thing happens with Kerouac, with Dickinson. The problem isn't Collins so much as it is that "I read Billy Collins" is too often code for "I ONLY read Billy Collins." Anyone who limits his or her reading to such a degree limits his or her consciousness.

This is where I vastly differ from C. Dale - it's never enough to just do. I can run someone over with my car. That's doing. If I was drunk at the time, maybe it's manslaughter. If the person was pointing a gun at me, maybe it was self-defense. If it was my accountant, maybe it was first-degree murder [bad joke, sorry]. In writing, where nuance is far closer than the gas pedal, my hows and whys are absolutely critical.

At 10/05/2008 11:13 AM, Blogger ljs said...


Great post - and great exercise!

I do think you have a point about the "only" reading a certain writer (and, in the case of Eliot, an outmoded one) as being a problem. There's so much poetry that doesn't get interacted with, and get to influence writers and readers, because people are hyping the same names - that's a problem whether you're a new formalist or post-avant-flarfists.

At 10/05/2008 3:18 PM, Blogger vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...


"Maybe that's what it comes down to: not taste versus value, but awareness vis-a-vis the contemporary moment. The Romantics were all about that, and agonized over what it meant to write poetry at that moment. That's valuable, essential even. The work survives not because it's beautiful, but because it was necessary."

You're right, but wasn't Eliot(and WCW,my favorite,thank you)doing the same thing?
So why would you tag TS as being outmoded (whatever that means--does it mean we don't read Eliot these days because we are supposedly on the pitcher's mound and he is chasing flies somewhere in deep left field?)when what he wrote was what was necessary "vis-a-vis the contemporary moment"?


Yeah,I have to agree with you--the blank sheet is pure,inviting but it ain't worth a plugged nickel if it remains blank or worse yet, if we fill it full of "fillers"--so let us choose our ammunition carefully--and make each shot count.

Which brings me to what Jeff Stumpo says when he says "I then make the point that they [my students] never, ever approach a blank page." In his introduction to "How the Net Is Gripped: a selection of contemporary American poetry," David Miller writes "The limitations of this [he is referring to the Language School] approach are pointed up in an encounter between Susan Howe and Alan Davies. In a discussion following Howe's talk,'Encloser',Davies says,"Somebody used the term 'real event'. I never encountered one myself. Howe responds:
......I do not believe you never encountered a real event. That sounds so theoretical. Have you ever been really hungry? Did the dentist ever hit a nerve when he was giving you a filling? Have you ever had someone you love die? Did the Holocaust never really happen? Did we never really drop a bomb on Hiroshima?" Do we never,ever approach a blank page?

At 10/05/2008 4:17 PM, Blogger JeFF Stumpo said...

@ljs: I'm with you on the problem not being one of schools but of a more general approach. I'm not yet ready to call Eliot outmoded.

@vazambam: Hmmm, as someone who has gone off on the L=A[etc] position myself (you'll sometimes see me writing things like "yelling 'kitty, kitty' at a charging tiger will not prevent you from being eaten"), I'm trying to figure my way around this. I think you're taking my position to be a commonly held one, that the world doesn't exist without the word, but I'm not certain. I don't want to put words in your mouth - I'm just a bit confused. Maybe you're just reading me more literally than I meant?

Here's the thing - I don't approach history thinking I'm filling up a blank space. There's stuff there. A past, often miscontrued or misappropriated or never-fully-knowable, but it's there. I believe in (wrong word - I have empirical evidence for) the nerves in my teeth, and I've felt more alive playing a good game of soccer than revising a poem. I don't deny the reality of the world, though I may question my own perception of it.

From this perspective, I can never approach a page without context, without preconception, without influence. It's not that the page isn't blank, but that it isn't "blank." I'm hoping that I'm explaining this coherently (in the sense that it both makes sense and hangs together philosophically).

I also tend to use this day as the time to mention that "I don't read poetry because I don't want to be influenced" is a false argument - you can't help but be influenced.

Am I now spinning my wheels in too long a response to all this?

At 10/05/2008 4:21 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I'm very glad I was not at that talk. I get really squirmy in such instances.

My son's name is Eliot. Oh well.

But I don't think LJS was trying to reduce Eliot or WCW (also one of my huge favorites, along with Stevens). I took his point to be that Eliot doesn't sound contemporary, which doesn't take anythign away from Eliot, but when a young writer can only name Eliot, then there is a problem. Not a problem of taste, but a problem of, well, language. Maybe? But he could make his point better, as it's his point, not mine.

Ah, that blank page. It gets me right back to what C. Dale said, that art is what an artist makes. (Which is my paraphrase)

And then, what to read. What people need to read is language that is used well in the service of interesting thinking. Outside of that, we all have our tastes.

Michael Palmer has a new book of essays out, Active Boundaries. I liked that one quite a bit.

At 10/05/2008 4:34 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I'm more in sympathy with the language poets than you are, at least to the level of the (slightly older) poets I like reading more than any other being Rae Armantrout, Michael Palmer, Martha Ronk, and Mary Jo Bang . . . none of them really scare quote language poets unscare quote.

But I think, really, that the world I live in is there, yes, but when making art, the world doesn't exist before the word, it unfolds with the word, and I think poets like, oh Ted Kooser or somesuch just ignore that, and it irritates me. I think it's a false art, really, and I'm opposed to it. But sometimes, well not in Kooser, but Kay Ryan maybe, the wit of the thing becomes enough to carry me through. But I can't sign on for the whole ride. Art, to a large extent, is about its medium, in all senses of both words, so for me, the page IS blank before I begin, but I'm not blank. I think that's how I'd change it. At least right now.

At 10/05/2008 4:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Drawing an analogy to C. Dale Young's gentle encouragement of a poet choosing to write simply because she wants to to running over someone in a car for the same reason is my favorite thing I've heard in some time. There's plenty of people I'd love to run over with my car (many more than poems I'd like to write or poets I want to read). I needed that affirmation, Jeff. Thank you. Any time you encourage us to break one of the Ten Commandments, contact me via my personal email address.

Also: who cares if someone just reads Billy Collins? At least they're reading. And who I am to judge? Because I'm overeducated and ended up with a Ph.D. in Creative Writing because I was too lazy to be of service to anyone but myself? (hats off to poets like C. Dale Young and Peter Pereria for juggling both with such success.)

Sadly, I have too much time on my hands, too, and often don't have anything better to do than harrass those of us who may have better things to do. Or dream about running someone over in our car.

Steve Fellner

At 10/05/2008 5:44 PM, Blogger C. Dale said...


If you run someone over with your car and the person dies, the person is dead. No matter what you think about it. That IS my point.

At 10/05/2008 5:51 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

You people are way too dark for me. I prefer the Roadrunner version, where Wiley E. Coyote pops back up with tire marks and goes scampering off.

What were we talking about again?

At 10/05/2008 6:08 PM, Blogger JeFF Stumpo said...

@John: I like your re-rendering. Were I to be exact, I'd probably use it. There remains a sad little part of me that likes the flash of telling students the page isn't blank. But I'll forever be in an ethical conundrum... :-)

I should say that there are Language/Languagey poets whose work I like. I'll use techniques pioneered or most commonly used by Language poets in some of my own work (I like a variety of styles, so if the content of the poem asks for it, why not?).

The major difference, I think, is the reason for using those tools. Which is to say "why." I think I want to approach the word as a way back into the world. The word is always insufficient. The poem sparks research but is not the past; the poem explores but is not a feeling.

Which is partly to say particularly straightforward, as-if-it-were-the-thing writing can annoy me. Sometimes it's enjoyable, but these pieces often lack the sheer visceral joy than can be experienced in even a bad action movie. Which is partly to say I'm partly in your camp. I'm partly in another camp. I think I'm in a canoe at the moment.

@Steve: Trying to figure out if you're being sarcastic or not. Pretty sure you are. :-/

Hence my increased use of emoticons. :-)

In case you are being sarcastic, I live in a part of the US where beginning writers write really horrible racist/sexist/homophobic/classist things (which is to say, I live in "your" part of the US, wherever that is) and don't even realize it. It's part of their inherited vocabulary. Much as I just complained about the word being after the world, I won't deny the power of naming in shaping the mentality of a person or group of people. I've had students who, or been with people at a slam/open mic who, or heard visiting writers who produce pieces that alienate and belittle, that tacitly encourage violence, etc etc etc.

If we believe that our words matter, that our words have power, then damn right I'll stand by my analogy.

At 10/05/2008 6:14 PM, Blogger JeFF Stumpo said...

@C. Dale: I'm with you there. It doesn't much matter to the dead person (depending on your religious views). But there's always that survivor (you) in the equation as well. Somebody survives. Somebody tells a story. Somebody makes choices (which involves ethical decisions) even after the event.

At least until the sun blows up, and the machines we've left behind are doing their Cylon thing on the way to Alpha Centauri.

Incidentally, I've been writing "against" people so far in what I've hoped to be a pleasant or elucidating dialogue. Really hope I'm not actually pissing anybody off.

Except for maybe Steve :-P

At 10/05/2008 6:20 PM, Blogger C. Dale said...


Forgive me. It is just that I see people die every day. It is difficult for me to have these kinds of discussions. I may be a lesser artist for that very reason. The real thinking for me involved with Art is internal. All these discussions just make me feel feverish and dry in the mouth. Do I write against people? Yeah, I do. But I also feel at times I write against myself and even the poets I write against aren't even the poets but my small-brained perceptions of them.


Sorry to be blabbing on and on here in your space. I'll rub your shoulders at the next AWP and all will be forgotten. ;)

At 10/05/2008 6:30 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You're not pissing me off. You'd have to try very hard to do that, and even then, you probably would still fail. Trust me!

C. Dale,

Oh please babble on! This is one of my favorite conversations in poetry. And yes, it's a combination of really being in the world (your job, my job) and being in a metaphor (the car wreck analogy), while talking about being in the work (another primary instance of worlding) and conceptualizing what one does/ has done . . .

I don't see what that should lead to the least bit of misunderstanding. Ahem. Ha!

And C. Dale, yeah, I write against me a lot. The whole seeing the enemy and the enemy is us kind of thing. I read a Sharon Olds poem recently and I thought it was excellent. You know?

At 10/06/2008 7:44 AM, Blogger JeFF Stumpo said...

@ John and
@ C. Dale:

Glad to sign on this morning and see these posts. Very glad indeed.

@C. Dale in particular:

Not a lesser artist at all. Not in the least. And if nothing else, I need to impart that the whole car analogy isn't flippant.

I don't see people die every day. And I don't mean in any way to downplay that reality (or even the metaphorical value of it). It would possibly/probably change my view on these things (meaning everything) if I had that experience.

I'm about to type sad things, so I'm just going back to my own blog to do so. I like the re-increasing happiness over here.

At 10/09/2008 7:41 PM, Blogger Jonathan Barrett said...

This is a little bit late but I love your distinction between taste and value. I think Charles Wright’s assertion may be more a matter of taste than value. It seems that if one is inclined to insinuate that contemporary poetry is “lesser” or “weak” (my word not his), one might have to first develop criteria for what constitutes poetry and secondly synthesize an aesthetics for poetry (i.e., what is poetry, how should we judge poetry, and what is the value of poetry). Unfortunately judging poetry is not that scientific (i.e., “if this poem contains A, B, C, D…then, as a product, it has value and worth”) and relies heavily upon taste: what one likes and doesn’t like, and then a comparison of all poetry through that slowly evolving, and in some cases, devolving lens. Our only hope is that our vision remains clear…and if not, there’s always Lasik eye surgery or…

I’ve kept writing because I can’t quit. I’ve tried…I’ve even tried using Chantix but nothing seems to work. Reading keeps me writing and the incessant cravings. I mostly write against modes not forms: specifically autobiographicality and confessionalistic poetry, as Rachel Zucker puts it. I don’t like “I” or anything closely resembling it but that’s just my “taste.” There are, of course, some very good “I” poems out there with hints of autobiographicality.

By the way, congratulations on Map of the Folded World; I have read The Little Book of Guesses twice and loved it. I heard you read at the Writer’s Place in KC a few years back, which was one of the best readings there in the past 5 years. I look forward to reading Map of the Folded World and hope you read again soon at the Writer’s Place.

At 10/10/2008 5:28 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Thank you, that's very generous. I loved that reading. There was something very nice about the vibe, and reading with Sam.

I don't make it down there as often as I'd like. (Maryville is 90 miles away.) But I hope to get down there again . . .


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