April 30, 2011

Why I Write Poetry; Plus, In Rotation (Poetry Bookshelf Edition)

Well, well, 'tis the end of poetry month, and my serial reprinting of old scree has come to an end . . . temporarily, at least.  No promises about how soon I'll drop another handful on ya . . .

Writing poetry is a damn site far from being cool these days.  It ranks somewhere just below being a lipstick Republican and just above The Prairie Home Companion in the accounting of cool.  Poetry still simmers under the surface in the form of hip hop-related wordplay and poetry slams, but that's about it.  Even really lame college journal-writing mopey singer-songwriters get more play than poets.  So what's the point of poetry?

I wrote a poem for a school assignment in third grade that got published.  I don't remember it; all I remember is that I thought it was shit.  I certainly wasn't inspired by that "success" for a life as a poet.

I started writing poetry for real in college.  I got a poem published in the school literary 'zine the second semester of my senior year ("A Poem, or Almost One"); it was the only poem I wrote that was worth a crap until I was well into my thirties, though I wrote poetry almost constantly.  Wait, did I say thirties?  Hell, I was on the downside of thirty six before I started writing poems that didn't get destroyed.

After almost twenty years of writing poetry, I started to home in on a germ of an idea right around the turn of the millennium.  I had written a handful of poems I could live with before then, but I didn't have clear ideas.  It was an attic office peaking over the floodwall on Quincy that became my workshop, with a rasping computer as my forge, and I stayed up many late nights with a bottle of bourbon hammering away at my keyboard until I couldn't see straight.

At a certain point, I got rid of the bottle.  Not permanently, but just when I wrote.  I had to prove to myself I could write sober.  It was actually touch and go for a couple weeks, but it turned out OK quickly enough.

After 10 years on Adams, we moved over to Goss . . . gone was the office, and the computer took a dump at about the same time.  So, now it's primarily notebooks, even though I'm back online digital . . .

And, as always, poetry is a lonely venture.  All writing is solitary, but poetry even more so, since so few people give a damn.  Not that more should give a damn, really: most current poetry is so completely dreadful.  But I digress . . . I still haven't even begun to answer the question.

*          *          *          *          *

Poetry is my interface with the world.  Or, more accurately, words are my interface with the world (aren't they everybody's, really?), and poetry turns out to be the purest form of word.  With words, I can build images, camera like, except with the plasticity of sculpture.  For these words to truly reveal what they are beyond their craggy, worn faces, they must be scarred, cut up, rearranged.  Fresh surfaces must be buffed out from underneath worn exteriors.  Images must be radically critiqued, language must be broken, the very patterns of thought, stultified and stultifying, must be destroyed and discarded.  Poetry is uniquely qualified to do this - in this respect, it is only rivaled by music (which is why I have such interest in both).

If you've been paying attention here at the death of everything, you can see theme coming out: reality as a whole is due for a reset, due for a cut up.  If there is anything that the current American Political Morass (tm) puts into stark relief, it is just how seriously we need to destroy the current narrative(s).  The larger school of thought must be blown the fuck up.

And so I write poetry, taking snapshots and scrawling over them with sharpies, writing philosophical treatises and covering them with cartoon window stickers of pissing Calvins.  In general, taking words and beating them into new purposes.

*          *          *          *          *

Ah yes, that is the wonder of poetry to me.  But, like music, poetry is rarely called upon for any kind of destructive/productive gesture.  

And so I sit on the sidelines while we are fed bonbons of rhymed and clever irrelevance, verse fit for the smug enjoyments of summer days, for the self-absorbed loss of petty emotional wounding, for the boutique renderings of esoteric nonsense.

The day will come when I will expand on this exposition, but the hour is growing late, and it is time for me to rest up for my next encounter with the trivial.  Have a nice day, and a sincere thank you for spending your valuable time reading my scribblings.

*          *          *          *          *

In Rotation: The Poetry Bookshelf
Antonin Artaud: Watch Fiends and Rack Screams
Basho: The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Basho: On Love & Barley - The Haiku of Basho
Wendell Berry: Selected Poems
William Blake: Selected Poems and Letters
Andre Breton: Selections
John Cage:
Wanda Coleman: African Sleeping Sickness
Wanda Coleman: Heavy Daughter Blues
Robert Creely: Collected Poems 1945-1975
Edward Dorn: Hello, La Jolla
Edward Dorn: Gunslinger
T. S. Eliot: Selected Poems
Vicente Huidobro: Altazor
David Jones: Introducing David Jones
Erin Keane: The Gravity Soundtrack
Robert Kelly: The Loom
Jack Kerouac: San Francisco Blues
Yusef Kommunyaka: Dien Cai Dau
Yusef Kommunyaka: Magic City
Comte de Lautreamont: Maldoror (plus Complete Poems)
Robert Lowell: Lord Weary's Castle / The Mills of the Kavanaughs
Stephen Mallarme: Collected Poems
Todd Moore: Dillinger's Thompson
Charles Olson: Collected Poems
Willfred Owen: Collected Poems
Brett Ralph: Black Sabbatical
Eric Rensberger: Blank of Blanks
Rainer Maria Rilke: Duino Elegies
William Shakespeare: Complete
Patti Smith: The Coral Sea
Jack Spicer: Collected Books
Wallace Stevens: Collected Poems
Vergil: Aeneid
Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass
William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems
William Carlos Williams: Patterson
Catherine Wing: Enter Invisible
Araki Yasusada: Doubled Flowering
Various: Contemporary American Poetry (1962) ed. Donald Hall
Various: Anthology of Mexican Poetry ( 1958) ed. Octavio Paz translated Samuel Beckett
Various: The New Poetry (1962/1966) ed. A. Alvarez
Various: Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (1999)  ed. Alan Kaufman
Various: Poems for the Millennium Volume One (1995) ed. Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris
Various: Poems for the Millennium Volume Two (1998) ed. Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris

NUMBER 200 DOWN . . . THANK YOU AGAIN FOR READING the death of everything.


Angie said...

thanks for this, bill.

Matt said...

congrats on 200 - keep at it. This is a revealing entry. All of them are; this one more so.