Looting Versailles

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

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Critic's Guilt: Get Over It

The truth about art is: Good art is loved, it surprises and makes you happy, sad, or that perfect blending of both; bad art, on the other hand, is repulsive as dog shit or rotten eggs. The fact of the matter is, these outcomes (feelings) are all in the heart of the beholder, but the law is universal: If it repulses you, it's bad art - so don't feel bad for hating it.

That's right. For all of you in "workshops" who feel hard-pressed for something nice to say about a pile of turds dropped in front of you by an eager-for-praise puppy as if it's the newspaper or your slippers (their writing), don't feel bad for wanting to say, "This is horrible," or "This is tripe," or, "You have no talent," or "Why do you write," or, "You clearly are inspired ONLY by what your high school language teacher told you a poem / novel is." Does bad art make someone a bad artist? No, of course not; even Shakespeare struck out once in awhile. The feeling isn't rational - feelings seldom are. That doesn't mean they don't tell you something that's true, in this case, that the art before you isn't beautiful, edifying, strange or mysterious...rather, that it's a thorn in your private areas.

Of course, we want to encourage fellow writers, not discourage, so nobody wants to say, This poem is less interesting than my eczema. But wait, do we not want to say it, or do we know the other does not want to hear it; do we know the other members will chastise the messenger for the message? To be honest, that honesty bubbles and boils up inside me every time I read about a babbling brook or the moon in June. You know what that makes me? (A jerk, an asshole, a heartless know-it-all?) It makes me HUMAN. I am repulsed by something unattractive, something noxious; evolution has given me instincts that drive me away from the source of disgust, and told me to avoid it, at all costs, in the future; this, it is logically assumed, is to my benefit, this instinct. So why do I keep going back?

The friendship. The camaraderie. The shared love of literature, words, the common goal of creating beautiful word-objects, images, sounds, experiences to transcend the daily world. That's why you don't say those nasty phrases burning their holes in the back of your throat or your temporal lobe, to preserve the social support of a writer's workshop.

The moral of the blog post is: If you hate bad art, find yourself retching in its presence and wanting to punch the cliches in their pregnant bellies, fret not, dispel your shame. My friend and fellow sufferer, you are human, pricked and bleeding; smile at that wonderful fact, the fact of your vivacity, and tell your brother-in-rhymes: I really like that you made the roses red and describe the birds as feathery.

I felt, to prevent counterargument to the fact, that it's important to consider taste. In order to trust one's feelings of repulsion versus love (or its components) one must first refine his or her palate, must first view multiple and variable individual pieces and acquire a sense of what's right or wrong in the art form, prior to gauging Good versus Bad; a degree of intelligence is probably required as well (unless I'm wrong and Duck Dynasty is truly Great Art).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

American Buddhist Poets (and a thought on "favorites")

Every time I read her, I appreciate more and more the art of Jane Hirshfield. I own "Given Sugar, Given Salt," and I've read her countless times in the past when she's appeared in Poetry. She is very much a transcendental writer - she writes about mysterious things, shares a mysterious knowledge that I think can only be created. It's hard to pin down, but it feels like matters of the soul, the animas of religion.

This morning I revisited W.S. Merwin, who in the past has been a bit too gentle, or genteel, for my taste. I like things to explode a bit off the page, and I especially did a year ago - think the fireworks of those NY writers: O'Hara, Ashbery, Koch; think of the Beats, especially Ginsberg. My taste, my aesthetic sensibility, has refined a bit, and has actually become MORE inclusive, and today I really appreciated nearly every line I read in my rediscovery of Merwin. I own "Migrations: New and Selected Poems," a National Book Award winner.

The American Buddhists - Merwin, Hirshfield - transcend our five (actually six) sense experience (the sixth is proprioception) and create new knowledge, mine the mystery they create, providing a beauteous wonder. Last night I lay in bed reading about God, people's thoughts about God throughout history. I can accept God as existing in the mysteries of life, residing in the unknowable, residing in art. I observed recently in my life, art is what occupies my mind in between study and survival, in between my time with others and my time at work (as a physician), which includes study time, reading up on contemporary scientific discovery and innovation. There are those moments of solitude - after waking, before bedtime, a lunch break - that are filled, decisively, by art; experiencing art or pondering art, or both.

Paying attention to my own attention - meta-attention - I notice my "favorite" pieces are those I relate to. So often their subject matter are young, sensitive men: Keats' Ode on Melancholy, Stevens' The Snow Man, Hamlet, and most recently, Willa Cather's "Paul's Case." (Apparently, according to this link, "A Study in Temperament.") http://www.shsu.edu/~eng_wpf/authors/Cather/Pauls-Case.htm. I read it during a lull in my nursery call. What this means to me, as a writer and reader, is that "favorite" should evolve as you evolve, and really doesn't speak to the quality of the art work. I'm not sure of the other repercussions; I haven't ruminated much yet on it. But I think it is important to note. And I don't think it's faulty to have favorites, not at all. Perhaps I'll write more on this in the future.

Recommendations: Hirshfield, Merwin, "Paul's Case"