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4.23.2010

Poetics (Which I Don't Know About)

To paraphrase Faulkner (I think), all novelists are failed short story writers. All short story writers are failed poets.

I am a failed poet. I gave up on it after I sent my poetry to a magazine and they told me never to write again, or else they'd have to hunt me down and beat me with my own metaphors. Not true, but at some point every rejection feels that way; partly it's a dagger to your heart; partly, you just really really wish it was a nasty letter directed at you instead of some form letter, because it takes time and energy to write a nasty letter; and you feel special.

I still do write poetry, I write because it's the only way I know how to make sense of the world (I self-diganosised myself with social anxiety disorder [among other things; it makes me more interesting] after hearing about it on a news program, and ever since I have an excuse to write it all down). But I know nothing of meters or feet and thus have no clue what I'm doing; I only know that it feels right--to me at least. I also use the same technique while writing short stories because still: the poetics are the reason I write. The way the word feels in that certain area of your brain. The way the words are like a song.

David Jauss was onto something in his essay "What We Talk About When We Talk About Flow," where he says we have to see syntax as soundtrack. He quotes Stuart Dybek: "There's a story, and the writer then finds the words that serve as beats and notes to capture the invisible music. And like all music, that soundless thrum, now represented in language...conveys deep emotion." That's the poetics all writers of any genre are looking for, or should be looking for (I doubt James Patterson is looking for poetics; Danielle Steel however at released a book of poetry, which I am too afraid to read). I think that's why writers frequently listen to music when they're writing. JCO I heard plays the piano (but according to her, she's great at everything!). Poetry is music. Nikki Giovanni is all about this; when you read her poem, you're reading hip-hop:



Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)
by Nikki Giovanni
I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
   the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
   that only glows every one hundred years falls
   into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

I sat on the throne
   drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
   to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
   the tears from my birth pains
   created the nile
I am a beautiful woman

I gazed on the forest and burned
   out the sahara desert
   with a packet of goat's meat
   and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
   so swift you can't catch me

   For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son hannibal an elephant
   He gave me rome for mother's day
My strength flows ever on

My son noah built new/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
   as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
   jesus
   men intone my loving name
   All praises All praises
I am the one who would save

I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
   the filings from my fingernails are
   semi-precious jewels
   On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
   the earth as I went
   The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
   across three continents

I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission

I mean...I...can fly
   like a bird in the sky... 



But it's everything else too. It could be social statement; for example, Staceyann Chin:



It can be a story, a feeling, a thought, a mood....

Anyway, it's National Poetry Month. I know because Knopf keeps sending me emails about it. I don't know much about the subject, but it gives me reason to post this:

On Reading Poorly Transcribed Erotica
by Jill Alexander Essbaum

She stood before him wearing only pantries
and he groped for her Volvo under the gauze.
She had saved her public hair, and his cook
went hard as a fist.  They fell to the bad.
He shoveled his duck into her posse
and all her worm juices spilled out.
Still, his enormous election raged on.
Her beasts heaved as he sacked them,
and his own nibbles went stuff as well.
She put her tong in his rear and talked ditty.
Oh, it was all that he could do not to comb.

Another favorite poem of my is by Ocean Vuong, a young writer (my age) who has lots going for him (mainly I hate him for that). Here is his poem, "The Masturbation of Men" (he has a way with writing about sex), and anyone who likes it should defintely check out his chapbook, on his website.

The Masturbation of Men
by Ocean Vuong

After he beat my mother,
my father went to kneel in the bathroom
until we herd his muffled cries
bellow through the walls.
And so I learned: when a man
climaxes, it is the closest thing
to surrender.

A kind of forgetting—the face
twisted in its exorcism of animal,
the body shuddering
from the shock of release.
And if this is the remedy
to our masculine miasma, then forgive

the ones who sit in blackened booths,
confessing to screens lit
with impossible bodies, forgive
the priest who remembered
to remove the rosary,

and the man waiting
in shadows, his hands itching
for the curves of a body
but decides to turn home, crawl
into cold sheets and reach down
into the warm exhale of his sex.

Because when we fail, all we have
is this immediacy of pleasure: to close
our weary eyes, rediscover the heartbeat,
and like stupid boys, flee towards
untouchable beauty.

And of course, NPM would not be complete with my girlcrush, Andrea Gibson:


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Happy National Poetry Month!

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