I attended the Oregon Book Awards last night. It was a lot of fun. Great host and entertainment. Lovely excerpts read. Good speeches. Laughs and interest abounding. I wanted to shake the hand of John Salisbury who seems like a good guy and studied with Robert Lowell, but I missed my chance. And I personally think that my wife Endi (a finalist in poetry) should have won EVERYTHING - but, there is time for that. Hers is the best poetry I know, and I am often right about such things. Ask anyone who knows me.
For myself, I have been mulling over my self-proclaimed retirement as a writer. It's been about 2 months now, and I admit to feeling selfish. Clearly, there is work to do, to "write the book that won't be written until you write it..." as someone said, or words to that effect.
What after all is my book? It is the book of peevish obscurity. I should embrace that. I really should, while recognizing that it is a work in progress. Obscurity and it's sickly twin, futility, are not to be won outright, done forever, but must be pursued. It is an ongoing effort, keeping obscurity alive. The bromide expressed last night, "One team, one dream," is one I should swallow with a song on my pillow lips. Surely the Oregon Book Awards (OBA) are a part of the team I can call on to prompt and promote this dream of mine.
I need not call out or seek support. It is there, always/already, ever present in spurring me on. I really had no idea what the hell last night was about, or what anyone meant by what they said. I am so far from being invited to stand up and say something about "writing" that I simply cannot comprehend the words of those who are called. One should say, Thank you, of course, as a nice thing has just happened (winning the award). But why? What does any of this - publication, reviews, nominations, awards - mean?
Why am I so stupid (or peevish)? Obviously it is a choice. But not really. Like I said, I retired from writing. I saw the writing on the wall years ago with respect to my career and have put up a good fight (I said to myself) but really enough is enough. No one reads me, no one cares. The effort is more than I can justify. Better to devote myself to work, family, and church (more on that later - church, I mean). I was not discouraged as much as determined to be done, to "own" my life again.
It is not a choice, being so perverted in my determination to crank it out, to seek always, ALWAYS, a way NOT to integrate. Meanwhile, in the rest of my life (work, family, and church) I am virtually perfectly integrated. You should see me! 14 years now at the law firm, year in and out with outstanding reviews; my wife and son are happy and productive in themselves and appear to like my company (yes, THAT is the mark of a good provider). As to church - or my Catholic faith - I can say it has utterly refreshed me, giving me something that never disappoints. I am forever rejuvenated in my faith. I serve and volunteer and attend and support and write to the faith.
Well, so perhaps life is just so lovely that I am not required to seek success in writing. But, it is more than that. I inwardly, devotedly, loathe success. I believe deeply in futility, in monk-like service to an ideal - not a cause, because worldly causes are too fractured for me. But ideals - philosophical ideals, and God.
So, my favorite authors have not changed in decades - even while I am crazy about the fact of new writing and all the great work being done for this or that contingent, all of which advances the epistemological ball. So I am brain dead. See, I am willing to live with that and take a hit.
But, somehow, the story does not stop there.
Why is that?
I goes back to purity - "YOLO - you only live once" - stated last night by the OBA host. I do not think one can get purity and simply forget it. I think of poetry (my thought) as being, from my perspective, a knife that cuts at things that do not serve truth. Poetry is negation. It is the knife that serves to keep truth whole. I believe in disappearance. I do not see that writing is worthwhile except to throw the reader back upon himself. It should both invite and deny. Ideally, it fails to do anything but this.
I like a poem that makes sense while failing to do anything else.
I also do not think of purity as something one invents or can improve on. One partakes, or buys into it. One is beholden. Can a poem be "pure"? Of course not. But the poet can be beholden to that ideal even if he/she is not always conscious of it.
All the social ideals (that matter), all the helpful notions....there are enough people carrying on with that stuff. I have never wanted to be one of those writers, offering something important. It makes me ill to even imagine doing such a thing. That is not what interests me as a writer.
So, you see the challenge. Getting older, loving the world in so many ways - but where one's writing while, not exactly negative, is certainly rather pointed in terms of cutting, dispelling, vacating. I do all this openly in a form that says PROBLEM. I think I have been challenged over the past year in writing both for my faith and writing poetry, those being very different ventures, even as Christianity embraces personal negation in perfectly beautiful ways.
All this goes the Concrete Formalism, of course. The self-supporting object. The announcement by shape. A block, not to build with, but to empty the surroundings.
Well, let's say this. I took time off (for Lent, mainly) and now am back at it. I love poetry, regardless what people do to support it. Anyone who reads this far is my kind of nut. I love you.