Monday, September 26, 2005

Charles Olson meets Bob Dylan

The quotation of the day on my MSN homepage was from Charles Olson, and said something to the effect that poetry is the transmission of energy from the text through another person into action, or something like that. Sounds very Frank O'Hara, actually.

That seems right to me, though. Lately, I've been reading or skimming a lot of other poets, thinking about their projects, and trying to figure out some basic questions about my own project. These questions of mine have been rather broad, and perhaps too existential--like, what is my poetry supposed to do? is is supposed to be beautiful language? is it supposed to be plain language? filled with precise metaphors? absent metaphors? profound? aphoristic?

I think the Olson quote answered some of my questions. I do think that poetry is (for me) basically a certain kind of energy, something that connects writer, text, and reader. (Odd how Olson sounded a lot like O'Hara's 'personism', but without the sexual subtext.) Lately, I've been having trouble writing because the energy that is manifesting itself in my writing is not what has been there before--less of the rushed, run-on, propulsive stuff. The energy now is less forward-driven, more pooled, more cryptic, like small bundles of words to which I repeatedly set fire, I guess. Though that sounds a little odd, a little pyro. In some poems now, the energy is created by juxtaposing a few charged words in each line, created by writing a short line or series of lines, then compressing that by eliminating words, like articles and pronouns, that seem to be simply carrying water, but not carrying energy. Once they're compressed and juxtaposed properly, then they can 'burn', I suppose--that's their energy--a sort of release of something hot.

Other stuff is more rhythmic, but at the same time more chaotic--like a tension between rhythm and a ruptured 'meaning'. That is, the rhythm, not the sense of the thing is what drives the line, and then the project of the poem is to bring the semantic elements to some kind of closure, no matter how bizarre.

On another topic--one of the things I think about a lot is voice. One of the types of voices that is very attractive to me is this young, rebel voice that is typically MALE--sometimes ironic, sometimes not. You can see this in O'Hara, Ginsburg, Tony Hoagland, Dean Young. I suppose you can see it in Chaucer even--he comes at things a little slant, with humor and wit. His lines run on as well--think of the opening of the Canterbury Tales--the energy is propulsive there, forward-moving--the reader is driven forward.

We were watching the PBS special on Bob Dylan--he is yet another example of that stance. Young-ish guy, lived hard (or pretends to), traveled, seen stuff, confident (filled with bravado, really), sensitive, with a vulnerable streak. It strikes me that there are not a lot of women who take that stance. Joan Baez, perhaps. Is it hard to pull off? That vulnerability in the male persona is critical to the voice, but it seems an unusual element in guys sometimes. In a woman, it's expected almost. Edna St. Vincent Millay is someone who pulls off that bohemian woman kind of thing--in part because she wears her sexuality on her sleeve and is unafraid of an audience's reaction to that. Lucinda Williams (singer) is another--rough around the edges, with a bold, forward sexuality. Daisy Fried's work also does it. Is it a willingness to be blunt and unapologetic about sexuality (for women)? With guys who play up that stance, you expect the footloose sexuality--it's expected, the way vulnerability is in women.

Time for bed--more on this later, maybe. Seems half-finished.

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