Hello. Once again, it’s been awhile since I blogged, and I apologize. My New Year’s resolution is to blog once a month. My excuse is that I’ve been doing A LOT of reading of various kinds of subjects, and writing up a storm. I just can’t keep up. I’ll try to do better.
I did a poetry reading in Aurora, IL in mid-November. It went well: I read for thirty minutes, and read only stuff (not all I’ve written) I’ve written in 2016. The audience was attentive, and seemed to enjoy it. I had a blast. I’m going to try to attach a picture of me in my “poetry work clothes” in this blog. I’m not sure how to do that, but we’ll see what happens.
One of the things I sent out this year was a short story, “The Dewey Decimal System.” I wasn’t sure whether to send it, and so far, no one’s taken it. But some editors have given me some personal feedback. Most said the same thing in different ways: it was a pretty good story, but it lacked some “tension.” I was uncomfortable with the story, and that seemed to be an accurate assessment. It did lack tension. So now I’m going to put it aside, and let it ferment, and then have another go at it. Or scrap it, and reapproach it. As I write this, I have some ideas about how I might do that.
Yeah. That’ll work.
Tension. I’m mainly a poet. Most of my poetry is free verse; I also write the occasional piece of short fiction; sometimes I mix genres. One of the things that’s been happening is that my writing–content, form–is going new places, although my poet voice remains intact. I’ve written a couple new pieces that can’t really be read aloud by one person: it works on the page, but a single voice isn’t enough. So, although I like the poem very much, I didn’t read it at the performance. But I think if I can get enough willing members in an audience, I might organize a multi-voiced, almost choral reading of it. Folk singers get their audiences to join in; why can’t a poet? We’ll see.
But tension. I don’t know if that’s quite the word for what goes on in a poem. I suspect it does, but works differently because it’s a different genre. I was thinking about this for a long time, and then what came to me was “transparency.” On one level, a poem is transparent: it is no more nor less that what appears on the page or resounds in the ear. On another level, there is more to it: a crafted moment; to borrow a phrase from Christian theology, there is a sense in which the poem is “begotten, not made”: the poem is, and always has been, waiting for a voice to pluck it out of time, and give it body. Yet it is ultimately beyond time, which (I like to think) is just stuffed with words waiting to be shaped to human terms. And those human terms vary from writer to writer; my own particular terms often concern place, how place shapes people and how people shape place.
Some poems on the first encounter (and perhaps over many encounters) seem dense, difficult to read, to speak, and to understand. They’re hard to “get your head around,” You have to find the writer’s voice and rhythm. And then, once you’ve read and re-read, spoken again and again, like the snap of a bone, suddenly you KNOW, and a kind of (hard won) transparency emerges. As St. Hilary of Poitiers, a father of the early Church, says in speaking of the Trinity, that it is ultimately a mystery that no human can understand. And yet, being the humans we are, even knowing that, and precisely because we are human beings, we won’t be satisfied with that. Rather, St. Hilary says, “we will venture, we will seek, we will speak.”
And every poet–I’d hazard a guess that this is true of all literary writers–in a sense is doing precisely that: venturing, seeking, speaking the mystery of being human in this world, so much greater than we can possibly begin to understand.
Yet we all must, some of us are compelled, to keep writing, trying to understand as long as we live and breathe.