Wednesday, July 02, 2008

New Directions

New Directions refers to two things in poetry: the exploration of uncharted territory; and the venerable poetry publishing house, responsible for introducing many new poets into the literary, and keeping alive the flame of much great poetry of the past century. The venerable publishing house is not out subject here, though.

Rather, here's a question that's worth asking yourself every so often: What are the new directions in your creative work? Where do you want to go? I mean: sometimes you must ask the question, and shake things up; get out of a rut; change direction because you've locked into a groove; divert the momentum of your work away from its usual tendencies and habitual patterns. In my opinion, this is artistically healthy, as well as mentally healthy: but it can be scary. It can be threatening, scary and difficult, upsetting to the status quo.

New directions in poetry often gets us quickly to that dreaded condition known as "experimentation." Lots of readers, and more traditionalist poets, get very dismissive of this sort of thing: to them, the word is pejorative. But children experiment till they discover their lives: they creatively explore who they are, and their options, until they discover what truly means something to them. How should creative work be any different? Think about it: we create our lives, we create art, we create children, we create everything around us. Of course, to the hardline control-freaks, playfulness itself can be a suspicious activity. But play is a spiritual activity, too, in some of the world's traditions of divine play.

That isn't necessarily an act of will, although it can be a state of mind. There is a choice involved, but it's not always a conscious choice. Perhaps that's because fear can cloud us, when we face an unknown.

Where are we going, with this? The truth is: I don't know. I am aware that my own art has gone in completely new directions in recent months: unexpected directions, after a series of life-changing events. Would I have chosen this change in my art, that I am now faced with? I find that I choose it in retrospect, although at the time I was not conscious of having made a choice. Sometimes the mind is the last part of the overall system of Self to know what's going on. I have always been willing to follow where the larger self leads; and I am doing so again. So, here is my own self-assessment:

I find myself writing almost no poetry. There is no fear of poetry not returning to me, later. There are several reasons for this lack of productivity, some negative, some positive. Cherry-picking referents, I could say that one negative reason is the collapse, amidst great suffering, of the online poetry forum I once thought of as home; and I could say that one positive reason is that I am much more focused on music than anything else, right now. The life-changing events of the past year have had an impact on what I want to write about, if anything, and how I go about doing it. So, one more positive reason that could be listed is that I am doing things with poems I've never done before; and one more negative reason is that what I have been doing with poems has brought me under a lot of attack from more conservative poets. The truth is, even if I were writing much right now, I wouldn't be posting anywhere for critique, because I've outgrown and left most of the venues that I used to go to for critique; and rightly so. I've been discussing following one's inner compass as an artist, recently; the truth is, I've been talking about my own creativity, and what I feel I need to be doing. Another negative reason that could be listed is that I don't really expect any other writers to care, or understand, where I am lately, as a writer; the flip side of that, which could be another positive reason, is that I'm not writing for anyone but myself. If I share anything I write, it's not because I need validation, it's because I don't need validation. I find that my self-confidence and self-awareness as an artist have rarely been so high; of course, I could be deluding myself. Faith is about trust; and if you don't start trusting where you art leads you, you are truly, deeply lost.

So, that's a short summation of my own new directions. I've left a lot out. I haven't mentioned a few things I'm doing; and I won't just yet. Talking about something before it's ready to be discussed can rob it of power, and dissipate its momentum. I am starting a new life, and new ways in which my arts will fit into my new life: I trust the process to lead me where it will, and I trust my own inner compass enough, just now, to not need either praise or damnation. I'll just keep going on.

What's your own new directions? Where would you go from here, just now?

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Anonymous suzanne said...

once again, Art
if you want me to do some
thoughtful reading for you
I'd be happy to

I can guarantee
I'm not a conservative
neither in my poetic taste
nor in my writing

you have my email address . . .

7:37 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks for the offer, Suzanne. I might take you up on it at some point.

Please also feel free to comment on poems on here.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

My current project is a novel. I expect it to be a novella in all honesty but we'll see. It's unlike anything I've ever written because a) the protagonist is a woman and b) it deals with a subject I am painfully familiar with, i.e. coping with the death of a parent. It's not autobiographical but it inevitably draws on my own life experiences. This is new for me. Unlike a lot of writers I've not seen the need to plunder my own past for ideas. It's harder than I expected.

It's also c) a serious novel. All my others have had a lot of humour in them. All of them deal with serious issues including death but I've been able to add humour as leaven. It would be inappropriate to have too much in this book and what little there is needs to be of a certain kind.

Additionally, for the first time, d) I'm using the protagonist's voice as the guiding principle; I have to hear her say the words in my head to know they're right. Although there were chunks of the third novel in the first person this is e) the first time I've set out to write a whole book that way.

Really what I'm doing, bearing in mind our recent interchanges about poetry, is setting rules for myself. It's a challenge to restrict oneself. I don't however think of this as restriction, simply as the right shape for this piece of work.

Lastly, there is an underlying structure that no one will probably ever see and that's the layout Koestler used in Arrival and Departure, i.e. Preface, The Past, The Present, The Future, Epilogue – this is also f) the first time I've planned an entire novel's structure from beginning to end, even though I'm still not 100% certain of how it will end.

Is that enough new directions?

6:37 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

That's pretty good, Jim. A lot on your plate, most definitely.

I'm actually a big fan of the novella length for fiction. I think it's a terrific length. I also think a lot of full-length novels are, frankly, padded, and could afford to be trimmed. It doe depend on the material, and the writer's ability, of course. I've recently read some Successful Writer's opinions that dismissed the novella as an aberration, and frankly, all their objections were foolish. It also didn't take much time to notice that each of these Successful Writers was guilty of more than one Bloated Novel, which could have stood some serious trimming.

One of the best practitioners of the novella today is Robert Silverberg. He has a couple of story collections that are all novellas. A few of Mark Twain's best stories are novella length.

I think it's an underrated form, just as is hte prose-poem.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I have one of Silverberg's collections, Born with the Dead and the first novella is a favourite.

I'm a great believer in saying what you have to say and getting off the page. I love short novels, always have. It's like computer programming. I had a ZX Spectrum and it had 48K of memory and it was a real challenge to see what you could do with that. Nowadays there is so much available that what we end up with is bloatwear.

I picked up a copy of one of J K Rowling's Harry Potter books and my first thought was, if she hadn't been under so much pressure to get this done before the child actors get too old this could've been trimmed in half. I've never read any of her books but I do wonder if the quality slips in the later ones.

4:42 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I've always been a fan of concision and elegance in programming, and elsewhere.

I rather like the Harry Potter books. One reason is that it's got kids reading books again, not just watching TV or being on the computer. They're not as badly written as some judge them to be. If any of the series are bloated, it's the middle of the series. The child actors had nothing to do with it, I think. The pressure from her publisher was more likely a factor, and all best selling authors are given more a free hand by their editors. The last two books in the series bring the suspense to a high pitch, and the ending was in fact very satisfying.

So what if it's not High Art literature? That's not all I read, anyway. Certain favorite novels get re-read regularly.

9:21 AM  

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