Looting Versailles

Looting Versailles
My first book of poems, just released by Alabaster Leaves Publishing

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Taking Aristotle's Lead

(From an email responding to a fellow poet-friend who commented about the difficulty of finding meaning in a rather incoherent poem of mine recently)

K, 

Glad you enjoyed the poems! I've thought more recently about poetry - function, outcome of reading it, meaning... I've come to some heady conclusions that I'm not sure would be embraced by others. I think the important point is I believe art is a chance to manifest the impossible (function) and that the outcome is wonder and finally inspiration, and that inspired feeling let's the reader feel more alive, more perceptive and attuned to his surroundings, and like nothing is impossible. I think art, like other great things, can inspire us to self actualize. The reason autobiographical / nonfiction poetry seems to have meaning is because it does, but only by virtue of life itself having meaning, meaning being some sort of tangible knowledge. But what is knowledge but experience? For me, I procure knowledge from my personal experiences by reflecting and journaling, which I feel others do in lines and call it poetry. Is it not poetry? That's a matter of opinion, but I'd argue what really has power is the impossible, and that writing something possible and probable risks being everyday and boring. The impossible made manifest is never boring. 

I actually teased this idea, inspired by Aristotle, a bit further: 
1) The possible-probable art work has little effect but clear meaning, the way a hug in a poem means love and a mom hugging a daughter can be interpreted as the love between child and parent (interpreters look for the universal in the particular, but to do so from one experience-poem seems risky; my universal-ish ideas of life come from a lifetime of experience, and there are always outliers, exceptions to the rules). 
2) the possible-improbable makes great comedy (the ridiculous behavior of comedic characters in sitcoms, the stupidity of cartoon villains ie getting caught in his own trap) or horrible drama like a villain with a gun being struck by lightning letting the hero get away (the audience groans "that would never happen!") I thought humor might hinge on local customs since that is what makes certain behaviors improbable ie farting at a fancy restaurant is funny because it's so "uncivilized" and no one would willfully do it except an absurd comedic character
3) the impossible-probable is art / poetry: the witches and madness of Macbeth (people in impossible situations but the events being considerably reasonable despite that ie lady macbeths suicide), my other example is giving your loved one the moon - it's impossible but probable since lovers give large impressive gifts to each other. Another example: the Grand Canyon loving water: it's impossible for the Grand Canyon to love but reasonable if it did it'd love the Colorado river for making it.
4) impossible improbable: I could only think of children's movies and books ie toy story where toys do comedic things or cars where cars act like funny people. 

I think this is a practical way of breaking down made things with no clear function like a tool (hammer for building) aside from being their for man to experience (art). I take life / experience as my source of meaning, art as my source of inspiration (nothing in this beautiful world is impossible!). 

I hope this clarifies the "why / intention" of my work. I'll put this on my blog today if you want to direct others to it. I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you look up the Wikipedia article on "naive physics" it explains experiments where infants became habituated to an event and then would stare for a long time after a seemingly impossible version of it occurred. As if captivated by something beautiful. 

Jake

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I was thinkin' about Alicia Keys (Good Art Makes You Think)

As a goof, I quoted a silly Bob Dylan lyric in the Post's title (I included the part in parentheses for its simplicity and with the hope that someone would Google that phrase and find my blog). 

*** From here you can skip down to the other section buttressed by triple-asterisks if you want the impetus of this post - the two paragraphs leading up to it are really just prologue ***

Anyway, I'm thinking often about how critics like to "interpret" art / poetry, and how there is even a specialty in journalism called Art Journalism (thank you, Art in America). Today, I synthesized that knowledge with my own experience of art and poetry, and came up with this "quality" ("requirement") of great art. 

Before espousing any kind of "rule" of great art, I'd like to state clearly here I never attempted to make any "definition" of poetry until I came up with a foundation, that foundation or most-basic of definitions being "Poetry is an object made of words." That was a major moment for me because I shed then the idea of "universal truths" and the idea that poetry therefore must be made of biographical information and state (directly or indirectly) a meaning that at least I, the poet, am aware of and can restate in prose. 


*** The essence (of the art object) is unfamiliarity, but the effect of experiencing it is 1) you feel it grab your attention / capture your imagination, and 2) (here's the new part) “it makes you think.” The pleasure then comes from having your mind go places within you that feel deep. Maybe, contemplating the poem or piece of art, you come up empty; that is, you don’t find sense, you can’t relate it exactly to your life experiences. But you are happy, happy to have gone deep, and to be seeing and feeling within yourself the depths your consciousness does not normally plumb or reside in. ***

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Couple of bobo-LINKS

This is a great article - I would've benefited from reading it when I first started getting interested in poetry. Of course, it all seems so obvious now having read so much since then.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/246914

Thank you, Poetry, for publishing it. Would've been better if my poems were in the issue as well, but that can be forgiven :)

The other was this link:

http://www.kenyonreview.org/kr-online-issue/2011-summer/selections/on-poets-on-teaching-a-sourcebook/

The link itself doesn't matter, although the book reviewed sounds really interesting. This portion I think would've benefited me when I first started digging deeply into poetry:

And the next time a student praises clich├ęd writing as “easy to relate to,” I’ll have Mark Yakich’s response on the tip of my tongue: “If your main claim to a poem is that you can relate to it, you aren’t reading it sufficiently. Poems are not meant to be related to; they are meant to offer you something you didn’t know, experience, or imagine before.” I’ve muddled through an explanation along those lines countless times; it’s not a new idea. 


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My aesthetics briefly

A friend and I were discussing a poem - http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175608 - and it led to a discussion of our aesthetics. She said the poem didn't "make a point," to which I said poetry is not language employed for that matter. She essentially then broadened her definition of point to mean just about anything, and followed by inquiring indirectly into my aesthetics. Here's what I said:

I agree with Shelley that poetry - art for that matter - makes the familiar no longer so. For me, the experience of any art, including poetry and this poem, is strange, and I come away from it with a heightened awareness of my perceptions, of the world. The poem, to borrow Ezra Pound's words, is "charged with meaning" because (in my words) it contains new knowledge. This is why I love Picasso for saying art is the lie that lets us see the truth. I'm not currently big on Rimbaud's poetry, but I understand perfectly how deranging the senses creates "news that stays news" (Pound again).

The poem had beautiful diction and evocative images, the rhetoric kept me listening, it just didn't take any risks. It didn't risk a "close call with nonsense" (to borrow the title of Stephen Berg's interesting collection of criticism) and for me those close calls are like home runs or touchdowns, they're the fireworks.

Jake

Monday, November 4, 2013

Newly Published Poems Up Today

Three of my poems were published today in "Futures Trading," a poetry journal. (Link below.) One is a pantoum, the other two in a sonnet form I came up with a couple months ago.

Congrats to Howie Good, who is also featured with me in their latest issue :)

http://futurestradinglit.weebly.com/exchanges.html

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Importance of Being Wild

Today I was reading an Ars Poetica by Charles Wright, a favorite poet of mine. It's in an incredible anthology of "Ars Poeticas" by contemporary poets - not all poems are truly statements about the art of poetry, but the poets chose their representative pieces as demonstrating somehow their process or aesthetic, and most are accompanied by some prose statement (though not always clear) explaining their selection.

It's a great book: What Will Suffice http://www.amazon.com/What-Will-Suffice-Contemporary-American/dp/0879056924/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383492765&sr=8-1&keywords=what+will+suffice

Anyway, what struck me this morning about Charles Wright's work is the overwhelming heaviness and seriousness of it. This immediately clashed my recent valuation of having fun in life. Without getting too into it (because this is a POETRY blog...for now) I've recently felt I am most satisfied with my being if I'm trying to have fun. The exception of trying to have fun would be if someone's suffering before me, or if I'm mourning, grieving - but even then it feels there should be a limit on the funlessness, as I can easily imagine some fun helping to heal someone's suffering, and I can imagine myself mourning a loved one, then reflecting on the meaningful times I had with the dead, which would be fun and help me heal.

When my observation about the seriousness of Wright's work clashed with my fun-loving values, many things came to mind. First off were some other poets I love - Terrance Hayes and Bob Hicok (relatively young examples), John Ashbery and Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams - they all seem to be having fun with their writing. It's fun to read - equal parts fun and meaningful. TS Eliot's work that I'm familiar with is this way as well - the black humor of Prufrock, the wry humor of Tradition and the Individual Talent, some of the tongue in cheek shorter works, the playfulness of his cat book.(I think the abundance of references to "great works," esoteric works, and biblical symbols, can sometimes obscure the humor.) Auden was definitely having fun (which may be why he detested the last line of Sept 1 1939...call that line what you will - saccharine possibly, bathetic).  Paul Muldoon is DEFINITELY having fun - playing with form, within form, at times immoral sexual exploits, diction off the wall. Dickinson and Whitman have fun. Geoffrey Hill, a heavy Brit I don't hear much about more but once read was the premiere English poet - his book is loaded with Eliot-like Christian symbols, but man, there is no dark humor, it is just serious to the bone. Another poet whom I greatly admire and really appreciate is Ezra Pound - he seems to suffer from being too serious. And when he did try to be funny or "light" such as that golden toilet poem, it fell really flat.

Then of course some makers always seem to be having fun - Bob Dylan with his mid-60s triumphs and those outrageous interviews and press conferences; John Ashbery today in interviews. They aren't insincere, they're just having fun - it may be at someone's expense time to time, but usually that person is only the butt for being too serious. In fact, with regards to Bob Dylan, I'd say it was when he started playing and writing to have fun again - Time Out of Mind up to the most recent The Tempest - that was when he was at his best again, no question. I'm sorry, but nobody can convince me John Wesley Harding is good as the three preceding albums, and the JWH album is SO serious. The religious themed album (BIABH was America themed, Hwy 61 had a death / horrorshow motif, BoB was the love themed album). The real fun was had making the basement tapes with the Hawks - unfortunately that work suffers from lack of meaning, and is actually a good example of writing that's fun without meaning.

Ultimately, I called this post The Importance of Being Wild because I think fun is a necessary element to immortal work - Shakespeare is fun, Keats is fun, Chaucer and Spenser tremendously fun! Pope is wickedly fun. Coleridge more fun than Wordsworth but Wordsworth more meaningful. The Cavaliers are fun, Donne one of the greatest in that sense (not sure of those other metaphysical guys). Dryden isn't fun at all, hence nobody reads him anymore. Ovid is wicked fun, same with those other oft translated Romans!

My mind just came to Poe - I'm not sure what to make of him. He certainly was different, and along with Emerson took American poetry in a new direction. Poe is deadly serious tho, and I just don't like his poetry at all. His short fiction is undeniably fun tho! And I think that's what he'll be remembered for. Of course The Raven is fun as hell - I can't forget that landmark poem.

I recently purchased Zukofsky's "A test of Poetry," and afterward read some of his work. I couldn't really get into it - but I know he influenced Creeley, whom I sometimes enjoy, and when I think about, it's his fun poems I love (drive, he sd) more than some of his sincere statements of love which hardly strike me as poetry. And I know George Oppen was an objectivist who has been influential...I like the poem with the deer, and the men on the beam of the building being put up, but those poems strike me as a bit too serious. I'm not sure I can comment on Lorine Niedicker (sp?). Charles Olsen and Robert Duncan - again I'm not sure. I like the techniques of the LANGUAGE poets (i'm not taking the time to type out all the equals signs), but they strike me as too serious, except for Rae Armantrout, who's definitely having fun (i.e. Soft Money). For fun, the New York school is the best - O'Hara chief among them. I think he'll still be read 50-100 years from now.

Wow, I could really go on, thinking who's fun, who isn't. Surprisingly, despite all her anger, I think Plath is / was having fun. Despite the despair of her content, it's so explosively creative, I wonder if poetry was one of the few sources of fun, of happiness for her.

Neruda, Billy Collins, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver - popular poets in terms of sales, all fun.

Rilke seems kind of an outlier - I dont find his work fun the way I do all the others, but I enjoy it, and he's a top seller, critical giant. Celan and Gottfriend Benn are more fun... And Yeats - he kind of oscillated between writing fun pieces and serious pieces. Many of his famous pieces are serious though. Frost was definitely having fun, but it sounds like he took his fun seriously. Perhaps what elevates Yeats and Rilke is a sort of spiritual thread of meaning in their work, not overtly any one religion, but something most can relate to - perhaps they seem to most readers to come closest to unveiling some of life's ultimate mysteries?

Anyway, I have a daughter stealing off my lunch plate and getting close to nap time. Thanks for reading.