Friday, August 19, 2016

Freedom Will Not Set You Free, and Related Observations

You may not find truth if you are looking for mere facts.

You may not know the truth if you know only facts.

You may not reflect the truth if you are turned only toward facts.

Our world is awash, it reels in a deluge of information and facts. Those facts may be statistical or be facts of imagery and sensation. That which can be received and immediately comprehended is a fact. Ours is an informational Age. We decry limitations in the name of the idol of access.

When everyone can be anything and all knowledge can be everywhere...that is freedom. Freedom as an end, not as a means. Since when did freedom become an end in itself? Perhaps when people tired of explaining why it mattered, or when they forgot why. Or when the ends of this world had disappointed too many too soon for the call to freedom to mean anything but as an end in itself, to serve the best possible outcome in any given situation.

Freedom without an end, love without an end. What do they mean? Can love exist without an object, a beloved? Can freedom exist without a goal: the right to vote, free speech, equality of the races, equality of the sexes? Does it make any sense to speak of freedom without an end in mind? Is information valuable merely by being information?

I believe that freedom has lost its object, and that our love of information in lieu of truth is to blame.

To my way of thinking, the artist stands in two worlds. In one, his work satisfies a particular end composed in his time, created from out of a self that positions itself, consciously and unconsciously. with respect to a culture or cultures. That is one aspect of the artist.

The artist also stands in a world outside particular reference in that his work and life participates in the lives and the work of those around him, and in his predecessors and his successors. The language of one's medium is, in this sense, the information one needs to work. The goal is the work of art itself. Even as artists are pressured to deconstruct the object they continue to compose meaningful work.

Much of what is written these days seems mannered or insipid. Sentimental, mostly. But the painterly, visual arts are strong. In this Golden Age of Information - rather like the Renaissance in its outward show of worldly profundity - the visual arts are where the action is. As a culture we rush to the video tape as if the truth finally will be revealed. The crime scene, the family photo, even pictures of cats. Anything to cut through the haze of all-access all the time.

What is truth in the present Age? It is what truth has been in all Ages, of course, we can be sure. The question is how do we as individuals serve that truth, how do we orient ourselves? What do we address, and to what end? Will we be satisfied with information as an end in itself? What's the plan for getting from here to there, where truth resides?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Narrative Arc, a Word of Surprise

Like a thief in the night, I appear happy in poems.

Most artists will relate to this I believe or see something familiar. I throw myself into things immensely and intensely. It is my personality, my calling to be this way. In part it is because I fear regret, the idea of reaching the end of my rope with something undone. I have never minded the thought of lack of material success, but to hold back on commitment: that is failure.

And certainly the poetry, with 30 or so self-published books, designed exactly as I wanted them to be, bear out this tendency. I began publishing in earnest in 2008 on I was publishing occasionally in magazines, but I was not connecting really, and did not feel I had any kind of place in poetry. I had written 8 manuscripts or so, and the weight of that unpublished work was such that I found myself thinking I could not write another word until they were published. But how can I publish them?

Behold: the Internet.

I stopped sending out to presses and magazines because I did not care about what they offered. I did not care what the poetry world was, and how it viewed my work. I decided to publish my own work in a way that was faithful to that work. In a design that was consistent and supportive of the poems. In books that were whole, complete, and sense-making. I wold be able to write to a book, to a purpose, and move on. I would develop as an artist and as a person without the fear that publishers or critics would hold me back.

I decided that the poems would find their way into the world to the extent that the world wanted or needed them. In truth, I cared less about my work for being mine than for great poetry per se. If my poems were significant they would find their audience. In truth, they would find their audience in any event.

I would produce these books and they would be for sale through I broadcast the books on Facebook, to friends, and on the Concrete Formalist Poetry group page, and in this blog. Oh, I formed the term concrete formalism to describe what I did and wrote about that.

I invited others to my group page and they saw my work. I occasionally - well, 2 or 3 times - read my work in public here in Portland, Oregon. I gave my wife, Endi Bogue Hartigan, a copy of every book as it published. I shared the books with friends, as gifts. I shared them with my son.

I stopped reading poetry but I wrote volumes. I wrote as I lived, dedicatedly and passionately. The covers always featured a drawing I had made, and some of the books included drawings inside them. I did all this up to a point a year or so ago and then I stopped.

I stopped because I was conscious only of silence. I felt that any book I produced from that point would simply fall to silence as one further instance of a project that had, in realistic terms, made its point. I am not a fan of bullying behavior, and putting out book after book in the manner I had been doing so seemed suddenly a stubborn preoccupation. Over-insistent and boorish.

So I stopped. I stopped writing. I stopped thinking about writing. In a sense I exposed myself, my process, to the light of day or better yet to the light of my conscience. I upended the turtle of self, and I left it there to die. I put a stop to expectations, to the internal narrative arc where I could have come back after this Lenten retreat and picked up again where I left off. I cut off my poetry at the knees, and I had no regrets doing so.

Since then, I have to say, my life has improved on every front. Family, at work, at church, exercise-wise, and intellectually. he poetry life was a siloing one. I felt I had this pursuit, a vocation, which was quite simply at odds with everything else, which I had to defend against incursions of time and energy. In the end I was asking myself, why am I doing this? What's the point? I have published 30 books and nothing has come of it. Do I really need to do another? If I were to die, I thought, I would do so knowing that I had done all I could, written the best poetry I was capable of writing, and was true to my decision to produce and publish in a way that I had to.

So, I waited. And, after several months, occasionally I would wonder what coming back to poetry-writing would look like if I ever did it. I really had no idea, other than not wanting it to be as it was, but that's not to say I had rejected any one specific tenet. I simply had no interest in revisiting the scene where I very good decision had been made.

My ego, in short, was out of the picture, and that was the last thread, the pure point of release, when I not only did not care about what I did in poetry, but about what I had done. I viewed all those years, hours and hours or writing, of consternation and wrenching existence, as an absolute boon. Writing has provided me with my education (grants at PENN); it had brought me together with my wife, Endi (at Iowa) and therefore my family, including Jackson. Writing had given me a rewarding career as a trademark paralegal. Therefore, it had given me the house I sit in and the clothes on my back.Thinking about it now, I can see that writing allowed me to follow through on the intensity-tendency I referred to above as nothing else had, so that I could see what it was about up to the very end and, ultimately, that exercise matured me, it helped me develop a self-knowledge, a conscience, that would lead me to the Church. It made me the kind of husband, father, and friend I would otherwise have been incapable of being.

Add to that the 30 books, almost as an afterthought.

With all that, do I really need to write another poem? With all that, why exactly have I bothered to doubt myself? I have doubted myself as a means of at least exposing myself, my ego. Now I feel inclined to believe that I could write and will write if the need to do so is made apparent to me. If a project or idea or any sort of prompting force makes itself known then, yes, I would write again. But I do not have it in my mind to do anything now, to do anything "differently," or to regret anything of what I have done.

I am glad for art. I am grateful for art. I am open to art, and I am about as free of a personal agenda as anyone I have ever known. That surely means something in itself, which may be, quite simply, that I am somehow content through and through. And what a nice surprise that is.