Saturday, August 25, 2007

Fast Track to Dementia

Well, I ain't a doctor and don't claim to be, but believe obsession with the position of greatness is a real sickness.

There's the concern for the work, to make it the best it can be -- nothing wrong with that. I don't know many poets who stop and say "good enough!" when a poem gets to a certain point -- not if they can figure out a way to improve it. It's not like cleaning, when I'll get to a point and say "clean enough!" when I know damn well there's dust bunnies behind the TV stand and Cheerios under the sofa cushions--cause if anyone starts white gloving my house, they're never getting another invitation back.

White glove my poems and I'll listen. Whatever I conclude, I'll consider it.

There will always be the taste and cannon-makers, ones who deem a poem good, but not great--or--going over an entire body of work and saying, "she wrote a few great poems, but she's not a great poet." People will do it in passing and a few will make it their life's mission to create arbitrary ranking systems--and sure, there's some uses for such systems. We use them to decide what work to include in magazine and books, what to teach and what to read and re-read ourselves.

We can do our best to present our work, ourselves, well. But we'll never going to control what people say or think.

I'm a babe, I want you to love me, but I can't make you love me.

And why is that *the* measure anyhow? If someone asks me who are the great poets writing today, if I'm not totally exhausted by the question, I'll throw out some names of people whose work I really admire. Usually the response I'll get is "Well, they're good, but not great" and then there's the follow-up "Who's going to be read in 50 years?" Well, I haven't a clue who will be read in high esteem 50 years from now and anyone who claims that they do know is full of shit. It might be fun or interesting to try to predict such things, but keep in mind, it's a game, that's all, not a formula or science. It can't hurt to make some predictions, if that's your thing, but don't base your work and your life on it. It's like guessing while you're six years old who you'll grow up to marry. Unless your parents are arranging it for you, you don't know. Maybe you will grow up and marry your kindergarten sweetheart (hello Iggie, where are you?), but what are the chances?

Who did I know I was going to grow up and marry when I was six years old? Iggie? Hell no, I was more sophisticated than that. Paul McCartney! He looked sooo cute on my aunt's album covers, I had no idea he was a thousand years old. Or already married with children my age. Where would I be right now if I was still working towards that? Alone, living in a one room apartment/Paul shrine.

But I hear he's single again, so there's still hope yet.

Thinking about my education, what so many "professionals" of the field said to me and thousands of other creative writing students regarding this idea of greatness, I'm bothered. It's like telling the kindergartners that these are things one must have and do to make it on the Homecoming court in 12 years and that's the goal. How many flaws can you count in that? What bizarre little children we'd create. And what would they be like as adults?

I stand by my earlier assertion, I could give two craps about achieving greatness, I'm more than satisfied with being merely fabulous.



At 4:46 PM, Blogger JimK said...

To the adage
'all politics is local',
'all poetry is personal'.
(sending and receiving)
See the dozens of "best" collections.
Look close: there it is.

Is there a
"Best Art of 2005"?
No. They know better
than to say that.

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Talia said...

Indeed...merely fabulous!

At 7:54 PM, Blogger Didi Menendez said...

Well I think that the best writer/poet right now is a 28 year John Korn but he does not believe in himself. So the world goes la la la goes around around....I also thought Kemel Zaldivar was a god blessed poet. And where is he? I do not know. One day he was my editor in chief and the next day he was gone with a word.


At 7:55 PM, Blogger Didi Menendez said...

that is without a word.

I am listening to mellow yellow now...


At 1:18 PM, Blogger Marcus said...

Yeah, I was about to say - Sir Paul is both available and (if I recall) dates in your age range. ;-)

At 12:14 AM, Blogger Glenn Ingersoll said...

I recently read a biography of Sylvia Plath. I'm currently reading Middlebrook's version of Sexton's life. What did they have in common? Talent? Suicide? Craziness? Obsession with the perfected poem?

Yeah. But they were also both relentless marketers of their own work. (Without Plath I don't think hubby Hughes would've ended up England's Poet Laureate, cuz she marketed him, too.) Sexton could barely take care of herself (or her kids) but she knew how to shmooze & flirt (& loved it). Plath & Sexton kept their work constantly circulating (neither let a rejection stay a resubmission) and both cultivated poet teachers & acquaintances for their publishing connections.

Robert Lowell was one who, according to Middlebrook, frequently ranked poets and loved bestowing (or withholding) the "great" adjective. No women need apply (Elizabeth Bishop accepted?). Is he the giant he once was?

Were there poets the age of Plath & Sexton who were as good or better (or greater?) but whose work was/is ignored, whose poems appeared (& disappeared) in a few tiny journals if at all? I suspect so. The talent/predilection for marketing does not necessarily coincide with the talent for creating art.

Anyway, what I'm saying is, I, too, get fed up with those who Great this or Great that. What you get to see isn't all that's out there. Like what you like. See what you can.


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