Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Period

Thanks so much for your suggestions! I also got some by mail. I'll post a list, ordered by the most frequently appearing names, in a day or so.

Deb Scott asked what got me interested in this period. Well, for one thing, it's the only one left, the only one I don't know much about. I left it for last, when I undertook to read western literature, for three reasons: 1) it was last, chronologically, and I like to do things in order, and get people's allusions, 2) these were my rivals, and I didn't want my creativity soiled by contact with them, and 3) I didn't like them much.

I've been reading the western classics for nearly forty years, now. (Oh, you know? There's another reason I put it off. This is the period when “western” really breaks down. A 20th Century or contemporary poet could have been reading virtually anything from anyplace in any language. There's no way you can “master the sources.” The rules of the game change, here.) -- anyway, I've been reading for forty years, and it's been feeling very queer to me, not to have a couple books that are part of a reading project in my pack. So partly I'm driven to this by force of habit.

It's been decades since I took either the idea of literary success or the idea that purity was good for creativity seriously. Dead hands, there.

It's reason number 3) that really been changing, though. I've been softening towards modern poetry for several years. Dave Bonta started it. Then other blogger-friends who dropped inexplicably into verse from time to time: Rachel Barenblat and Dick Jones. I read their poems at first as I used to read essays students submitted to me, deliberately and conscientiously. They read my stuff, after all, however bad: I would read theirs, even if it was in unrhymed and unmetrical verse.

Who knows when it changed, when it first happened that I opened Velveteen Rabbi, saw a narrow column and ragged right margin, and thought “oh, a poem!” with pleasure, instead of disappointment? But it did change. I marched through Dave Bonta's epic Cibola with increasing fascination in the metrics of modern poems. He insisted he paid no conscious attention to it, but he did things with it nevertheless. And Dick Jones turned out to write perfectly metrical verse, by classic standards, quite often. I began to feel, not that I was superior to modern poetry, but that I had missed a boat.

And then of course I started writing the stuff myself. I've never been a passive reader. Whenever I read, I start itching to see what I can do with the same sort of thing. I fully expected my readers to give up on me, or at least to ignore my poems and stick to the good stuff. To my astonishment, they read them and responded to them. This wasn't just a game, it was a form of communication. You could write poems that people you cared about would actually read.

At that point I was hooked. I started reading blogs that were only, or primarily, poetry: Jo Hemmant (who alas, has not been blogging lately! but who edits the Ouroborus Review and runs Pindrop Press), Carolee Sherwood, Sage Cohen, and others. Whole worlds of poetry were opening up. And so now, even though I don't think “canonical” really applies to modern poetry – I've written before and will probably write again about this: I think that English Literature is mature, its canon is essentially full, and that demographics and technology have made writing poetry in English an entirely different undertaking – even so, I want to read the poets who stirred up the poets that I have been reading. That's my reading project now.

I like some of my poetry. I think that my best writing is still mostly prose, mostly the riffing, wandering journal entries like “A Glaring Spot,” below. But I'm not sure that my poems and my journaling won't converge, at some point. And anyway, I'm having fun.

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