Friday, April 11, 2008

The Practicalities of Critique & Criticism 6: Passion

A wise man once said: Passion for science is a good thing. Passion in science is not a good thing. I think this also applies to creativity, especially perhaps to writing.

I'm in a passionate mood tonight, and I'm feeling emotionally honest. So, here goes nothing:

I've been feeling homeless as a poet. In the recent past, the poetry boards that I thought were my home, where I had developed friendships and peer-groups, have fallen dead or self-immolated. There are whole groups of folks who were my friends that refuse to talk to each other anymore, or refuse too talk to me. I was on the phone with one of them a few weeks ago, during the immolation, and he actually hung up on me, and never called back. Well, that's okay: we all have lives to lead, and there were a lot of hurt feelings during that particular immolation.

Yet now I feel homeless, rootless. It's not that I miss the poetry critique interchanges so much, because I had been feeling for months that I wasn't getting useful critique anymore, anyway. My new poems were just too different for even most of my regular critique-exchangers. When you go through a series of life-changing experience, you have to expect your art to change, too. The mistake was in thinking that my tribe would cheer me on, instead of giving me all those change-back messages. So, I was already withdrawing. Still. Nonetheless. It's not right, and it's the best anyone could do, and it has to be forgiven, and it is forgiven, and forgiveable. Even understandable. It's also the refiner's fire, the forge that makes us who we are. It was probably doomed to happen, and it was probably my wyrd to go on, despite.

But I miss the discourse. The discussions I used to have with these poet-friends I knew, that were on a very high level. They are all smart people, they all had genuine insights.

Truth is, I need, actually need, smart people to bounce ideas off. We don't always have to agree, and we don't always have to come to the same conclusions, or even start from the same premises. The process of discourse really helps me figure out my own strategies and ideas. It's a process I need. you bounce ideas off a wall, and eventually you all augur in on the truth, or some version of the truth. This was the passion of discourse, passion about poetry.

I may be an introvert at core, but the past many months of real-life change and challenge have made me understand how much I really need discourse, how much I really need other people. I've had to learn to ask for help, especially when I didn't want it. That was often a purely practical necessity. It's a select group of people that I need. Not a large group of strangers, but a small group of people who really can listen to each other, take it all in, not take it personally, and talk about the ideas, not each others' personalities.

I'm not willing to give that up. I'm not even willing to give up all those poets who have become friends with me, even if they don't like each other. Somehow, I'll make that work; I don't know how. If you hear a fierceness and loyalty in my tone, that's exactly right; that's where I'm coming from, and I can be a force of nature about it.

All I can see passion in poetry cause right now is break-ups, hardships, and tough times. Writing is not a social club, and shouldn't be expected to be. I think a lot of us have been stupid, online. I think we have gone into poetry boards, and email listservs, and blogs, assuming all poets were grown-ups who could be passionate about poetry, but remain level-headed otherwise. This is patently not true. Online, personalities are magnified. It seems that very few of us strive to be the same people online as offline: as honest, as direct, but also as cordial. Online, lots of people let out their "monsters from the Id" to play; they say and do things they'd never do face-to-face. The filter of relative anonymity lets out the dark side to play. (Hardly a new insight, nonetheless a relevant one.) I've made all these same stupid mistakes, too, beginning with assuming that people online are basically altruistic and empathetic. That mistake can cost.

But passion about poetry needs to constantly resurrect and renew itself, to keep feeding itself on those fires of belief and desire and disagreement. It's the classic oyster-pearl analogy: the pearls are produced by irritation, not by comfort. Nothing ever comes from total agreement. (Which is why totalitarian board-moderating usually kills poetry-boards: if everyone agrees with you, there's no life left.)

As another wise person once said: Life would be a lot easier if we just didn't take it all so personally.

Be passionate about your art. But don't take it all so personally, and don't tie up your self-worth in getting everyone to agree with you. They never will.

Think about it. Don't take it personally. It's usually not worth your wrath, and it's usually a waste of energy to nail down that sucker who insulted you over your latest masterpiece. Don't feed the piranhas: let them die of starvation. Let it go, and move on.

No actual guitars were harmed during the recording of this album. Although we thought about it. Void where prohibited by law. Always look on the bright side of life.

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Anonymous Dick said...

I'm with you on the need for discourse. There's a drafty gap between the workshop sites with their single-issue fanatics and the write-a-poem-to-this-theme communities in which everybody adores each other. I rely on interchange with a tiny caucus of old friends and the occasional frankness of strangers.

1:29 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hi, and thanks for checking in on this bit of a rant. I briefly scanned your own blog, and liked what I saw.

Synchronistically, I've run across Marcus Aurelius' quoted wisdom three times in the past week. That's usually a sign of some kind, that I need to go review someone's work, when it keeps popping up like that. The Universe is generous with strewing clues in our path, if only we'd listen.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I'm not sure that most people on-line could be described as altruistic or empathetic but the laws of probability tend to argue that there might be one or two of them out there. I'd like to think I'm a fairly empathetic guy about I'm not on the web for the good of my health; if anything the amount of time I spend on-line is definitely not good for my health. I'm on-line to get noticed. I wish I didn't have to because I really would be quite happy sitting in my office writing my stuff and sticking it in my drawer. But that's not the way the world is.

When I first discovered the World Wide Web – that would be about twelve years ago – the one word I used to describe it was, in fact, "Home." I'd never been around other poets before. These were people who actually thought that it was not only acceptable to get out of bed in the middle of the night but it was expected. It was great. But everyone was so wrapped up in their own lives – and most of them were on the other side of the world – that everything seemed to superficial. In fact the whole concept of what a "friend" is on the Web has become so diluted. By on-line standards you and I are friends but how the hell can you be friends with a guy when you don't know what he takes in his coffee or even if he drinks coffee?

I think we all need to put our on-line lives in perspective and be grateful for the good times. There are smart people out there – that's what my last blog was trying to highlight (and I'm really nowhere near as smart as most people think I am) – but most of these people are very busy. I spend hours and hours on-line seven days a week but I still don't have the time to devote to the posts I do find interesting. It's like your post, 'Elytis' To Axion Esti: An Exercise' – I've looked at that several times but I can't get my head clear enough to do anything with it and, what do you know, here's another blog by you. So I do what I can. I'm not going to make excuses but this is the reason I quit the Web eight years ago because there were so many people demanding my attention and there was only so much of me to go round. In the end I wasn't writing anything so I quit, wrote a couple of novels and a whack of short stories and poems and forgot how bad it had got.

At the end of the day you're on your own. It's not the worst thing in the world.

Hey, I've just devoted a half-hour of my life to writing this comment – if that's not altruistic then I don't know what is. (Actually it's not – I'm simply trying to promote myself as a nice guy so people will come and read my blog).

11:04 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I've always thought that it was possible to be both selfish and altruistic at the same time, of one follows one's own needs as they reflect those of the highest good for all concerned. it's not that one doesn't still put everyone else's needs high on the list, even first, it's just that one doesn't ignore one's own.

If you think about it, altruism is being true to the highest needs of all—but most folks forget that they themselves are part of that "all." The needs don't need to contradict each other, or be in conflict.

11:32 PM  

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