Monday, October 20, 2008

Not a good example of interesting sentences

I'm hoping to write a bit more about poetry in the upcoming weeks.  Right now, as a personal aside, we're so flat out with Robert's concerns, including issues with his babysitters, and just getting through the election season--the next two weeks are tough.  

I am generally stymied with poetry at the moment: babysitter snafus are wreaking havoc, the husband is working overtime, and it would please me to no end if MCPS could figure out how to have more 5-day weeks of school.  There are only 9 in a 19 week semester!

I am, though, in that delightful place somewhere between frustration and inspiration, where I keep thinking to myself that I have absolutely no idea what a poem is.  That's really where I like to be.  It's not a theoretical dilemma for me--it's formal and structural.  A poem is a group of words that must find order, or a carefully managed disorder.  It's an 'utterance' (as a teacher a few years back I really liked used to say)--and it must find its proper channel.  But this goes beyond the Aristotelian: the needs of the speaker, the audience, the material.  Another teacher liked to talk about duende--what I've come to interpret for my own needs as that element of the poem that establishes its own need for existence, its own need to be read.

I'm still, with my early Stanley Fish in hand (Professor Fish who has clearly moved on in his intellectual life) trying to figure out what that balance is between reader and writer.  For Fish and his then-wife Jane Tompkins, it was all about reader response.  And that still intrigues me: reader response is what makes a piece.  I think it drove WC Williams nuts early on.  But the reader's expectations are so critical to the success or failure of a poem, and I'd like to hypothesize that a poem may not, in fact, be flawed or a failure to meet with a resounding negative reader response.  

How to stick with your instincts when you know you're also engaged in shifting (often unwillingly) a reader's reception--that's the puzzle.  Where's the balance?  If the reader doesn't buy it, you're just cooked--but what if you believe in what you're doing?  Do you just press forward, hoping to knock heads with the right group of readers?

And I find myself shifting to prose lately--wanting to explore it.  Not fiction, non-fiction, essays, all of which requires more time than I have now.  I just want to push the envelope on everything lately.  I keep thinking about what Karen Brennan used to say about writing interesting sentences.  We talked about that for an entire semester--I had the poetry divide with the hang-ups of lineation, and, on the other side, a workman-like prose style that I'd developed mostly in reaction to my job, the technical writing and editing that I do.  

This post, btw, not a good example of interesting sentences!  A stirring around post, a thinking things through, a floating of trial idea balloons post.  

Interesting sentences: Milton, Creeley, O'Hara, Sir Thomas Browne, Virginia Woolf, Annie Proulx, Alice Notley.  You can take thoughts and structure them, formalize them, help them conform to lineation and grammatical norms--or you can let the thought find its own syntactical shape, let the thought push grammatical and syntactical boundaries, basically revel in the complication of the structure/form, which complicates the theme and intent and meaning/content.  That's what I like about the above writers.  


Elizabeth said...

I just love your posts -- reading them, chewing on them, slowly digesting them. You enlighten and educate and bring the reader along in your thought process. Keep going and thanks so much for the intellectual stimulation. That's a rare thing around these parts...

jeneva said...

Thanks, Elizabeth! I love your posts, too--they're so moving, and they illuminate so much about the special needs community. And then you have the funny ones on politics and all else! I'm waiting for the next one--I keep checking in.