Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Go, Dog, Go

I've been thinking a lot, especially during residency, about how my three previous advisors have affected me and my work. I owe each of them a great debt. And I've realized that the influences they have had on me have not always borne fruit while I was working with them--sometimes the impulses they helped to generate don't rear their heads until much later.

Daisy Fried: good, tough questioning of the premises of my work, as well as its expression in line, sound, and figurative cohesion (or lack thereof). Opening up your work to change and experimentation requires a necessary dialogue with a ruthless (constructive) critic. This rigorous dialogue was blended with a deeply seated contractual permissiveness; that is, try things, see if they work, turn off your internal editor and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Along the lines of, you work best by failing first and learning something from that. Piece of advice most taken to heart: a poem is like an accordion and can be opened at any point, tinkered with, and then left expanded or pushed to its former contracted state.

Karen Brennan: Who also emanates a creative permissiveness; that is, an avoidance of prescriptive advice--but this is blended differently, with an attentiveness to formal invention. The piece of advice most pertinent to me at the time: an attention to shape and design (formal invention, not necessarily formalism) is what holds a piece on the page that is connected syntactically, digressively, or figuratively in unusual ways (and, therefore holds it within the span and scope of the reader's attention). My own experimentation with invented forms and designs really begins here, although what I write for Karen in that vein doesn't really bear much fruit.

Dean Young: Again, much like Daisy, a green light to run forward in any conceivable direction (his initial direction to his group: I want to be surprised with every packet)--but what is the leash or the red light? (I take this from analogy to one of my daughter's favorite books, Go, Dog, Go). The poem needs to yield an emotional sense, an attention to complexity if not necessarily a 'point'. How does the poem, which might be like a wind-up mechanism or a jet engine taking off, or some other form of channeled and shaped energy, how does it come to closure? How do different dictions co-exist, for example, and still yield either a sense of co-existence or maintain the tension of absolute disparity? This, then, is like the tension involved in teaching: how to train the thing to move independently, yet encourage it to fulfill some sort of expectation that would signal completion or achievement or yield realization? A shift in consciousness, I think, is his term for it.

But this is it, isn't it? What to make of the complex tensions that keep us suspended in our lives? How to reap useful energy from even those tensions that enact stress and fear and loathing? How to enter what you most resist? How to articulate complexity and yet make it perform? How to balance permissiveness and restraint in a culture that would make extremes of either one?

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