Sunday, January 9, 2011
Poetry Makes You Crazy
Since 1997, I have been working on a poem. Some years I work on it for hours each day, week after week. Some years I do not touch it. It's a long, rambling, epic poem. It is my life, written down. In two important ways it is accurate.
One, it is rambling and incoherent yet contains flashes of insight and occasional nice phrasing. You have to wade through a lot of nonsense to find the gems, but they're there.
Two, it is tangential to reality while assuming it knows what is going on.
In both of these ways I resemble my two literary heroes. One is Ezra Pound, and the other is Kenneth Patchen. Now, the funny thing about this is that as people they couldn't be more opposite. Pound is a notorious figure, a right wing nut in many ways. He famously broadcast messages in support of fascist Italy during WWII, and even late in life showed flashes of anger and hatred. He repented the worst of his sins, but he remained an unpleasant man on a personal level. He was a horrible husband, an absent father. Patchen was the opposite. He was a conscientious objector during WWII, very leftist and anti-authoritarian. He was devoted to his wife, a dark and sad man but by all accounts a nice one.
What they had in common was intensity and talent. They both worked through difficult conditions, always writing and making amazing poetry. Most poetry, then and now, is worthless. Not just bad-- but a horrible affront to language. It's painful to even be near it. Good poetry is something transcendent. Good poetry is divine. I don't know if my poem is good. I think it has flashes of good. I hope they carry the poem into something wonderful. I'd hate to add to the volumes of mockery that exist as poetry now.
I'm nearing the end of this poem. (I say- though I've said it before. Maybe I'll never stop. But it feels more done than ever.)
It's long, though not impossibly so. I have 120 pages right now, and may even edit it down a little. I don't want it to be unwieldy, but at the same time I am skeptical of editing. Poetry just comes out. The me who wrote the first lines at 21 is certainly not the 34 year old me typing this today. But any editing freezes another moment. Why just make a poem for today? Certainly trimming needs to happen, and good phrases saved. But overall I think it just needs to stand. It is what it is.
Here is an excerpt. It captures the general feel of the poem, though the style tends to wander over the decades. Like me!
“I don’t like dictionaries,
if it tries
to end in
I really do,
sure so I
I that, you see eno—
loss, might be
For ten hours,
no one gets the distinction
between everything and
matter how often you