Old Moon

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Bother?

Do other writers (or would be writers) happen on those days that make them wonder why they bother? It's supposed to be inspirational to read wonderful things, isn't it? Sometimes, of course. However, more and more as I get older and older, I have a month or two when almost everything discourages by its very presence on the page.

I've just finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, not a new book, but one that can't fail to stir up any lover of the kind of fiction that tells more than a story. Lyrical, insightful, muscular prose about individuals in a unique situation who become instruments and victims of tragedy--a true Aristotelian tragedy. so what if he stole the plot that Shakespeare stole? By the time Wroblewski got through with it, it was as new as it is old. I may never try another piece of fiction when I get through with my third novel.

Then I move on to some poets: Marie Ponsot, Tony Abbott, John Updike, Malcolm Cowley, Scott Owens. The same result. There is once in a while a moment when some of us get to feel superior. Mine was last week while I tried to catch up on The New Yorker. Two of three poems simply yielded not a scintilla of meaning after three readings. After I got over feeling just dumb, I decided to adopt the attitude that either the poetry editor needed to admit the truth or was being duped. Even if meaning is subtle and requires some of that mid-century Deconstruction to interpret, a reader needs to find at least a little of it. Otherwise, when there are neither rhythm nor rhyme to give pleasure, there should be no excuse for the kind of payment meted out by a publisher with such a reputation for excellence.

Local (in a broad sense) poets manage to be humble and penetrating. Glenda Council Beall, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Owens and Abbott, Mary Oliver, and so many more offer a reader that touch on the psyche that reminds us that we're all in this together, and writers can find satisfaction by doing something to inform, amuse, console one another. Wherever you may be, fellow searchers, find the words that speak to you. That's what I try to tell myself when I'm hoping to find a reader for the ones I write.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Poetry and Poets

I will never get over the number of people who write poetry. They seem to be legion. The question of how many read it is unavoidable. Even if we all had access to the newest poems, could hear their authors reading their output, and were consciously dedicated to taking in as much as we could manage in a day, we couldn't come close to absorbing what's out there.

Why write poems instead of stories or essays?

In the 21st Century, how do we define poetry vs. prose?

Is there room in any publisher's list for material that doesn't fall clearly into a category -- i.e. "contemporary," "confessional," "lyrical," "nature," and so forth?

Sometimes I write poetry (I must use the term loosely) because something about the thought I need to express demands diction I wouldn't use for prose. Maybe if I understood what a "prose poem" is, I could use that designation without feeling I need to make the written lines look on the page like something that can't be prose. More than that, though, is the need to give expression to an idea that requires metaphor. If I'm honest, I have to admit that some notions are too vague in outline to lend themselves to ordinary sentences and lack of ambiguity. So many facets of everyone's life are inchoate, and it's those that need poetry to give them any form at all.

Having attempted to trick some of my high school English students into defining poetry (as opposed to prose) over 30 years ago, I have a notion of how poetry seems to define itself to me, but feel certain the criteria would satisfy neither an academic nor a young poet. So now I'm hoping to get educated. Oh, I should confess that I buy and read young poets, and some wonderful older ones like Marie Ponsot. Still, looking for clear-cut absolutes, I don't see much to help identify them.

I just hope that the answer to the first question doesn't turn out to be: because it's easier than to write prose!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Carolina Blue Day

Had to sit down after about an hour of strenuous (for me) gardening. Might as well put it to some use. If one is fortunate enough to be in good health and as old as I am, this will probably sound like a reply should be "Duh!" Two things remind of me my age: the difficulty of getting things moving when I get out of bed, and the fact that no matter what I do, I can't do it as long as I could before I got where I am.

Today in NC is like something out of a real estate brochure -- and the whole week has been the same. I can't stand to be indoors all day.

This brings up the old problem of priorities. IF it rains tomorrow, at least I'll have about a quarter of the gardening I need to do ready for it, but I'll be two days behind what I hoped to be my self-imposed deadline for two reviews and an essay I've promised. As they say, "Sigh." Besides, I want to go to an art show and poetry reading on Saturday, so hope the weather isn't a problem. I hate walking in the rain with a new permanent. How's that for triviality?

What I really need to do is go out and take a new picture for this page.