Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ekphrastic Poetry

June 29, 2012
Wait a minute-- what poetry isn’t ekphrastic?  I couldn’t write another poem without the other poems I’ve read.  Without the arts there would be no arts.  I consider all poetry ekphrastic in some sense.  So let’s day it’s about “ Gurenica ”.  Fine, ekphrasis.  Or about Michaelangelo’s “ David ” or a Turner sky , Grieg’s Piano Concerto , something from Elvis’s Sun sessions , Burl Ives “Blue Tailed Fly”  or “I Want You to Want Me” .  All ekphrasticisms.
        Ekphrasticism has morphed into ekphrasticitis, has taken over more workshops than   loosestrife in Minnesota  (watch out sestina) and I’m sick of it.  I think people like the word.  It’s hard to spell, difficult to mouthe and impresses others a lot.  Poets around the world are having ekphrastigasms in groups and in public.  There’s even the thought that our poems derive shiny particles of greatness from their ekphrastic gods.
        I bow before art, worship the ones whose work went before, the ones I cannot measure up to.  I write because of them, sometimes in response to specific works.  This is not unique.  If ekphrasis causes you to  ponder, deepens the  pool you dredge your poems from, then good-- great.  Incorporate this into your practice of writing and living.
Otherwise I propose to ban the word for five years, or maybe twenty.  Re-name the seminars with something like “The Importance of Stuff that Came Before” or “Plagiarizing Passion”, or “Stealing Wallace Stevens’s Jar”. Honor the art.  Don’t cheapen it with haute demotics.  And when you go to poetry camp refuse to write ekphrastic poems.  Instead, watch films of Sam Snead swinging a golf  club or Joe Dimaggio running the bases .  Your poetry will be better for it.
Yes, I’m still going away the 7th through the 14th.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

How to Take a Writing Vacation

     It seems prudent to write about writing on vacation.  I say, DON'T DO IT.  In your canvas chair you'll sit in the mountains or by the sea thinking He Who made them and the lamb and the tyger will speak and that finally you'll hear Him in the voice of that beloved dead uncle you never met whom you've been listening for for years and years.  In the words of Sherman Potter, "Bullcookies"!  If it's not happening at home where you live and move and have your being it's not going to happen in Chatham or the Great Smokey Mountains or on the shores of Gitchigoomie.

     Take your journals, your pens, your crappy attitude toward your in-laws who will visit and leave their wet towels on your canvas chair and write every day but don't expect much and don't expect a breakthrough, to be struck by lightning, to see the white buffalo or the black swan.  Sleep, swim, tan, nearly drown, hike yourself breathless, get poison ivy, drink, smoke 'em if you got 'em but don't expect that cat named Kalamazoo to say a mumblin' word.
     Empty your head, change it, abandon yourself to lesser things for a while.  Your mind will work in the background, the unconscious, the subconscious as it always does.  Your're a goddamned poet.  You can't stop it.  But you can't start it either.  Back at home where the lawn needs mowing, where you need to give a spoonrest from Provincetown to the neighbor who (may have) fed the cats and cleaned the litter boxes at least once and the dryer is getting noisy and the 800 number caller from Newark DE is looking for your late car payment IS WHERE YOU WORK IS GROUNDED.  Somehow the poems live there in that stupid place you need a vacation from.
     I urge you (& myself) to learn to write wherever you are.  I also urge you (& myself) to abandon the notion that your magnum opus will arrive at a temporary address during that very week you've chosen to get away from it all when the poems are in it all.

     PS  I'm happy to be back and will be on vacation from the 7th through the 14th.  I will not have internet access and will not post during that time.  And, I will not write anything worth reading in between lobsters (although I actually did once but that took a dying sister to change the equation and I don't think she'll do it again).
     Really, I'm back.  See you later.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I'm about to resume the blog

And so I'm running this test...get ready!

--
"Things are a lot more like they used to be than they are now."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Publishing: So What?

Now that you've published, what do you do? I'll confine myself to those who self-publish with the intention of giving copies to valued friends and family since I've done that and suspect that many others also do so now that publishing is so easy. The answer is:

Buy envelopes and postage, address the envelopes, affix the postage, toss them into the nearest mail box and FORGET ABOUT THEM.

Once they've been posted they're on their own and expecting anything from your loved recipients is an exercise in self-love that won't be satisfied. It was two weeks before my wife, worrying that the “Ten Short Addresses to My Grandchildren” may have been lost in the mail, asked one grandchild if she got it and she said “Yeah” and spun out of the room to beat her little sister with a toy rabbit for sticking her tongue out at her. One friend emailed “Thanks for the pomes (sic)” and he's a poet too. I told my wife to not ask. The point is that not many will care much about your poems and those who do won't worship you our your work unless you are on your death bed our you slip a c-note into the envelope.

Keep in mind too that poems given to your family, written to/about your family probably aren't your best anyway-- and don't waste your best on them. Go smugly forth knowing that they won't get them, as in understanding them (or you), and that you have better places to place your best work. As I said before in an earlier entry, one of the first exercises for beginning poets is to understand the size of the audience that doesn't care

When it comes to publishing, win contests, submit poems to legitimate presses and magazines, accept the rejections as better than what you'll get from your family and friends and learn to write better. It is possible but rare to self-publish and sell a million (or even a hundred) copies. If your work can't pass muster with contests, presses, magazines it's not likely to pass anywhere else either and I am duty bound to inform you that if it passes muster with those contests, magazines, etc it still may not be very good, just accepted.

So jaundiced a view about publishing begs the question: Why write? Why publish? Write for the truth. Publish for vocational identity in public as a poet. Don't hide your light under a bushel. In fact, publish all you can without expecting anything from it and don't let your desire to publish affect your art beyond the writing lessons you'll get from even the most scurvy editor. If your effort to publish saps the art, feed the art, quit the publishing.

So long for now.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Editors Suck; But We (really) Need Them

But back to the poetry.  Having edited two journals for the Connecticut Poetry Society and having several manuscripts in hand worthy (IMHO) of publication, I decided to publish one on my own.  I downloaded Scribus, an open-source program very much similar to MS Publisher, and went to town on the thing, ultimately printing (at Staples) “Ten Short Addresses to My Grandchildren” just in time to miss Christmas.

The experience was wonderful once I got a handle on how to go about it and I had one of those lessons in humility we all need every now and then.  Despite my every belief in my skill, there was a lengthy learning curve.  We all complain about editors but I can assure you that even though I was working with myself, I as an editor brought my self as a writer into several unanticipated internecine struggles and an equal number of shaky agreements.

What did I learn? 

Editing is difficult. 

Anyone can get published.

I have on my bookshelves any number of self-published volumes, some by close friends, some of the books are pretty good and some (most) really crappy.  The gatekeeping function of the editor may be saving us from slogging through even more mediocre poetry than we dare imagine.   A couple of good editors have saved the world from some of my most pedestrian work.  But those editors also gave me the most focused, concentrated lessons in writing that I’ve ever had.

The moral then is to get your work in front of serious editors for their consideration.  It’s part of the process of learning to write, even more than a process of getting published.  No matter whether the editor is a fellow-writer (never family), a trusted reader, a professional.  Then, once you’ve gone through that gauntlet with your manuscript, go ahead and publish it yourself, or any other way you wish.

Next time I’ll tell you what to expect once you publish.

So long for now.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Write A Half-Assed Poem

01/11/11

I've been piping down valleys that did not include this blog, notably since my sister died. Then, I find someone is actually reading it and I re-think my dedication, which has failed, and why it failed and thus come to what is a problem in my little house and in the larger house of the artist.

The basic reason for my failure to continue is that I haven't the time and I haven't the time because I've spent my writing time writing poetry-- it was a very good year for that. Beneath that reason is that I have another life, or, another life has me. In that life I work, truck in the real world that I wish were the unreal world. Add to that that my wife is retired and we spend a lot of time together doing things that couples do when they have kids with kids and, allegedly, time on their hands.

Make no mistake: I have plenty to do that doesn't involve wife, kids, cats, rats and elephants and that does involve poetry, blogs, publishing (more on that in a few days), fiction, reading (got a Kindle for Christmas-- wonderful!) and all manner of things in the working out of my salvation. My lions fight my lambs and the rich, the well-healed have a leg up when it comes to the arts. Despite what one wishes to think, financial security, bucks, buys access as well and here I mean access to the workshops (however loathsome), festivals, seminars. It makes networking easier and this greases the skids.  I have been the fortunate and unfortunate participant in many such events.

We are in large part a product of our choices or failures to choose and there are many who rise from ashes like mine to achieve great things that I have not risen to. Nonetheless, I assert that there is something amiss when society makes it so hard to engage the arts; when life seems to have so many things more important than the arts, when it values them so little. Respect and dignity for the arts and the artists would go along way to giving the artist the motivation to seize those choices that make for a life devoted to the arts as a career. There can be many Waldens and when attacked with passion they can become sustaining to the practitioner of the art.

Otherwise, we content ourselves with half-assed potshots we call art.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Emily Dickinson for President!!!

Since truth requires Art, I’d like to talk about the relationship between politics and the Arts.  I believe the vituperative atmosphere of politics and punditry is partly and largely due to the absence of Art and therefore Truth and its pursuit in our daily lives

To turn on the TV is to hear countless people bawling out opinions as if 1) they knew something and 2) they are facts.  Neither is true.  Facts, whether true or not, are taken for Truth even by some very good people.  Freed of Truth, facts have devolved into name-calling and thoughtlessness masquerading as discourse, which, of course, it is not.

The absence of the pursuit of serious art—music, dance, sculpture, painting, literature—in our daily life and in the schools is the greatest problem facing America, perhaps the world, today.  The humbling honesty of Art and its pursuit bring wisdom, thoughtfulness and erudition to our tables.  Another by-product is a profound respect for the thoughts and opinions of others.  I hasten to add that the road to peace goes straight through the arts.  Without the lessons of the Arts, the schooling in our universal concerns and cares,  our deepest yearnings and how we deal with them, the notion of lasting peace is both empty and pointless.

Even the smallest honest poem contributes to mankind (Emily Dickinson comes to mind).  The study of any of the world’s great poetry finds the DNA of the human soul.  We all share it and participate in its growth.  Failing to be instructed in the Arts diminishes it.