Saturday, September 27, 2008


I think I do a reasonable job of being honest with myself. I see what I do. I know why I do it. I admit my errors. I offer apologies. I have a reasonable sense of my own mortality.

There is a particular arena of life though that appears to be outside of my control. That arena is constituted of my tendency to dwell in my beliefs as if they were reality. In politics, poetry, romance (before I was married), I have always been capable of dwelling in the belief of a thing when that thing does not in fact exist. Take for example the current elections. Once I believed that Barack Obama would win the presidency, I began from that moment to dwell in that belief as an accomplished act. I am then vulnerable to absolute shock if the world's reality does not or tends not to conform to my belief. You can imagine the spiritual chaos I experienced during my dating decades. My passion would perfect my relationships, even with virtual strangers. I can't imagine how I must have seemed to those girls: arrogant, oblivious, or just clueless.

Onto poetry writing, where this tendency (which we have not put a name to) comes into full flower. I can see that I often - most often - sense having completed a poem before I even finish the first line. Something in the original thought or my mood prompts this tendency, this projective habitude, which I am compelled to sustain and fulfill. No wonder then that I often write quickly, once I get going, so as to close the gulf threatening my pre-obtained sense of composure. No wonder, again, that I write in the forms I choose: a box for filing up, or a series of boxes, each discrete, in a row, topped off just so.

Perhaps this mentality (projective habitude, did I say?) is agricultural in origin. There is surely no harm in a farmer expecting plants from the seeds she holds in her hands. It would be unreasonable not to expect a tomato from a tomato seed. Even so, there is peril in projection, and any farmer risks looking like a fool if his plans are upended, whether by some act of nature and/or his own poor planning. There is glory and dismay, I think, in a farmer's life.

On the other side of the human coin is the hunter mentality, which stalks toward an open horizon. For the hunter, belief is constituted only at the point of obtainment. Theirs would be an ordinal habitude. Hunters, I think, would make better writers, overall, though somewhat predictable. A hunter would be more likely to ask questions and more content with open results, and thus less likely to obtain unlikely results. Hunters, as a rule, are less excitable than farmers.

One more archaic type: the shepherd. I take the shepherd's constitutive habitude to partake of the farmer's and the hunter's both. A shepherd should and must expect that sheep will arise from sheep, while flock maintenance is an open-ended activity. Thus the well-worn classical trope of the shepherd leaning against a tree, gazing out at his flock and beyond, from out of his projective anxieties to open references of cities and plains. The shepherd's dilemma is how to choose between the one and the other, whether to dwell in the collective anxieties of his tribe or strike a clean path toward some solitary goal. It should come as no surprise that shepherds prefer music to words.

Human constructions aside, my point is that self-knowledge is not the work of the moment except insofar as one is explaining oneself to oneself and others, as I do here. In knowing myself I have cleared a passage to the work to be done. In making myself known, I have shared a terminology and a limitation. Both terminologies and limitations are forms of further encouragement, after all.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

This is not my job

If this were my job, I would make sure not to make a mistake. As it is, I expect to make mistakes, because I am unconcerned whether I am right or wrong. I do not seek agreement or correctness. I seek satisfaction and completeness. This is my art, not my job. That I call what I produce my work is not to confuse my art with my job. All is work.

As I think about my art, I have very small thoughts. Perhaps this is because my art is small. That's okay as long as my art obtains satisfaction and completeness for myself. I could not judge it otherwise, and I would as unwisely rue shortness of breath as the limited breadth of my art. No, I have small thoughts about my art because the thoughts are small, utilitarian thoughts. What will I write. What have I written. Is this a manuscript. Am I satisfied. Those thoughts - that is, those four thoughts. Usually, just the first of the four: What will I write. Having written, I ask myself Am I satisfied. The other thoughts - What have I written and Is this a manuscript - are posed infrequently, like one-armed mannequins, occurring only when I have written some substantial number of poems and am feeling like a collection or manuscript is coming into focus.

As infrequent as are my thoughts about myself, they are if anything less frequent about others. I except others' work blindly and without regard to any one critical framework except to react strongly if the work appears either wonderful or deplorable. I often see wonderful work and am glad to tell the author what I think, but I have so little else to say that I am sometimes embarrassed I said anything at all. I rarely see deplorable work. Often, the work is sad, and there is nothing I can say to sad work.

I can make up for my lack of thought in saying I am in a more or less constant state of preparedness to write. So the question What will I write is really only an exposition of the ever present consciousness that I will write and am readying myself to write. I have nothing new to say on this point, how a writer goes about his or her day, occasionally testing the mind for words that will set new work into motion.

I think I have explained how this is not my job, and that I do not go about it like a job. Perhaps if I treated writing like a job I would write better poems. I wouldn't care if I did, though. I think I would lose some other present thing if I were to impress jobliness on what I do. If anything, I dream toward less efficiency, less coherence, more presence. To be the work, the poem. To disappear.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Surprise, me

A friend, schooled in experimental poetics, wonders at having written a narrative poem, when of course all poetry is a narrative of the poet having chosen to write this or that particular poem, regardless of style. There is nothing to wonder at in conflating, abridging categories. Categories such as experimental, narrative, are not controlling factors. There is nothing in a category to prevent one from anything. No one suggests that what you know will control what you do next.

If I am undiscovered that is because I have not let myself be uncovered. The risks I take - and I must be at capacity to take those risks, for they require effort - are what uncover me to myself. Then I write. Then I can say what I have written, but I will never know what I might write next, nor do I want to know.

All this sounds cool and confident. Writing in form however I am faced with knowing to a certain degree what I will write next, and so the task of writing is complicated in that I must freshen the form while surprising myself. I tend therefore to write in arcs. I have some basic set of controlling impressions in mind, which will to a greater or lesser degree guide what comes out of me. This mode of writing produces manuscripts from ten to thirty ages long, which I title, then put to the side. I now publish those manuscripts as books, which activity should pretty much encapsulate my efforts to make myself known.

But, again, even as I publish, and therefore ostensibly uncover myself to others, I become more known to myself and less capable of surprising myself, or uncovering myself to myself. Well, I suppose that much of my life is given over now to fulfillment rather than surprise. I think there is a twist in all this which I have not yet uncovered. All it takes is one surprise to set the record straight.