Thursday, January 10, 2008

Moralizing vs. Experimentation 2

The next question that came up in the attack on my new poetry was along the lines of: How could I ever expect this sort of poem to be published anywhere in the established print media? i.e. it was doubted that the poem would get anywhere in any edited literary journal.

Well, the first error in that criticism is the assumption that I care to be published in such poetry venues—which tend to be inherently conservative, regardless. The second error was in thinking I would be so stupid as to bother submitting to any venue I already knew would reject the poem; anyone could recognize what a time-waste that would be.

So, pay attention now: the criticism about publishing is quite correct.

The poem under question (which may be found here, titled Kenosis) will very likely never get published in the establish(ment)ed poetry journals such as Poetry, Paris Review, Antioch Review, National Poetry Review, Ploughshares, or Prairie Schooner. (Ignoring for the moment the inherent editorial conservatism of most of these journals; and the implied conservatism of the viewpoint that assumes they're even the best place to publish poems.) I never expected it would. Nor did I ever intend to submit it to them. The assumption that I would even bother to try submitting to those venues is amusing; I'm far more cynical about the poetry publishing mainstream than you could imagine—because I've worked in it, as a typographer, designer, and jack-of-all-publishing skills. I am far more likely to submit an "experimental" poem like to a smaller, less well known journal—one that is fundamentally more open-minded to the unusual and non-mainstream, even to the orthographically unusual. At the same time, since the poem has "meaning" and "content," it's also unlikely to be accepted at any of the "postmodern poetics" journals—but I wasn't planning to submit it there, either.

The third assumption underlying the criticism was that I aspire for this poem to be published—which is not at all certain. But that is not at all why I wrote the poem.

Considering how many times I've stated my personal truth, that I never write for publication, or for a journal (unless directly commissioned), or even with publication in mind, I confess to being frustrated at having to repeat myself yet again:

When I write, I'm not thinking about the "destined future" of what I write—frankly, to me that seems incredibly calculating, and rather arrogant—when I write all I am doing is writing.

It happens in the moment, and it is about the process of creativity in-the-moment. The artistic product that results, be a it a poem or artwork or piece of music, is an entirely different matter. Similarly, revision and editing are entirely different processes from writing, and are processes that I only think about later, not when actually writing. Submitting a poem for publishing is a process taking what I've already written, and trying to find it a good home—not about forcing what I write to match what has already been published, even in the "prestigious" poetry journals. If I do have a philosophical bias with regard ot poetics, that's it in a nutshell.

As to the poem's "future," if it even has one, and assuming I give a damn, the criticism made several unwarranted assumptions not only about poetry in general but about why I write poetry, and what its purpose is in my life—again, one can only surmise that the objection was a moral one, beacuse it consisted of some other poet projecting their own values onto my poem.

If you think about it, that evaluative projection in its essence can be summarized as asking: "why didn't you write this poem more formally"? which can be reduced to: "why didn't you write this poem they way I would have?" or perhaps "why didn't you write this poem in a way like other poems that I like to read, and understand?" To address the last point, which does come at it from a slightly different angle, I might once again quote Jean Cocteau:

We are inclined to judge what is beautiful by what is familiar.

In other words, "making it easier for the reader" doesn't really have anything to do with the style or orthography of a poem. A complaint about legibility, comprehension, or readability may be a valid complaint, but it will fail the instant one tries to use it as an apparently-objective mask pasted over a personal prejudice.

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