4 Mar 2014, 12:08pm
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A Little Personal History, part 6, poetry in three centuries

It’s not exactly untrue that I’ve lived three centuries. What is contemporary here except what you experience? I grew up reading books, novels, scrapbooks, and poetry bought at estate auctions from the 1880s to 1930s. Old Encyclopaedia Britannicas. Even in the 80s I was offset from other people’s now because Sundays were 8-track player bluegrass.

Is there any coherent patterns in the data coming in now? I can see how one thing led to another. And how much happenstance rules. Randomness of timing. Making what seemed like an informed choice at a time. Working with what there is to work with and ending up with something good, even if unexpected. As Oriah said it shakes your faith in yourself to not know where to trust. What is valuable? What is true?

There’s “common knowledge true” but that’s based on community and those truths by history show conventions are way off base compared to the next wave, like animals being lesser than people, or some family trees of people being lesser. And shifting true like boundaries of a country.

There’s direct experience vs. what is taught. Taught is that history was a bunch of rich men sending poor men to fight and steal in places not here. Direct experience, or close to it, was country drives in back roads and dad telling the story of the creamery that was there and the guy he knew who gave the place the name and then after a meeting years later, that name being put on the official sign.

As in grade 9 when the geography teacher showed for one class a map of our county with places I’d been on it. I thought maps were for other places and other people. I didn’t know people would record wee here. It was radical to see what I knew reflected on a map. Likewise in the late 90s when I first read Brockwell’s Wire in the Fences there was my own life in poetry — haying, mowers, stoney fields, bones, Jersey and calves, pig being hit. That was permissible. It was a radical shift.

When I walked into a used bookstore, probably 8 years ago now, beelining towards the poetry section, the clerk recognized me and zinged, “there are things other than poetry you know.”

Sure, there are. There’s biology. There’s cooking. There’re friends. Those are more for experiencing than reading about although reading helps.

My interest in poetry has always been there. I was making chapbooks in primary school of my “best of”. Poetry was a place to go rather than a being present where I was. I was head-hopping to senior’s heads, to runaway teens, to being the dispersed perception of the forest.

A lot of narrative poetry seems the Naïf Art of the story of self, which isn’t tied to an era in the same way although I suppose if it were written a century ago, it would be more likely in rhymed doggerel.

The style is a surface. Any ideology can be shoehorned into any form but then form forms content to a degree. It shapes the admissible possibilities. The dialect or language of it shapes who you can hear or who can hear you and what gets mentioned and omitted.

I was filtering very differently before I met rob mclennan, not rm as a general presence, or organizer, or as a blog to read, but in person with him saying, read this, read that. For probably I year it all washed over me with no way to get a handle. Then a click. There was enough data to perceive a new possibility in pattern.

He too my poems and put a slash thru most and said, “this line’s good. I haven’t heard it before.” or “this [circled bit] is interesting”, or he crossed all out but the last line and saying, “the poem starts here. It might be interesting to see what would happen if you write, starting from there.”

Although flabbergasting and humbling, it was real feedback which despite being part of writing groups for 20 years, I’d always got warm vague pats or little nits of typos generally. This was more the orientation I didn’t know I was looking for.

Now interest leans into poems where sense is broader and less linear. The idea of craft and language rather than clarity in relatable story that causes an awww, works in different thought-forms, assumptions. The map of unstated rules is always there in any style or form. To change the base presumption changes more. For example, if you never answer my questions I am freed. I don’t have to conceive of a question to ask what you might answer. I can ask anything and therefore we can go new places.

In a Railroad Reading the Q&A asked, does poetry need to make sense. Brockwell answered, do we ask Mozart to make sense. Why do we ask it of words? It isn’t a useful question.

What matters about making poetry and making a personal history? The process rather than the ends? The implication is that going to Hell in a handbasket is good so long as your process was engaging. Not good enough.

There may be no such thing as a dull life but telling your own story isn’t enough. Telling something well isn’t enough. There can be a fascinating story told of an uninteresting topic or a fascinating life told in a poor way. There needs to be a match of need to tell and someone who needs to hear to complete it. Maybe that full loop, speaker and listener is the same one.

  
 
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