Friday, August 6, 2010

From the Desk of Santos L. Halper

I'm writing this blog post over against another piece of writing I need to be working on (though it may not be as important as this).

In the era of socialized media (and not a socialized society) via the internet, I find I tune in on poetry news quite a bit. Poetry groups are very interesting subcultures to both be a member of and to try to understand from an objective distance. Tuning-in on poetry news is fun because poets are very talkative about what is upsetting them, at least the ones who write about such things. Poets have a need to speak. I am one of them, simply because I've felt that speaking well, after I learned the basics of the language at age .5, is a very difficult thing to accomplish. When reading, writing, learning about and telling other people about poetry became the number one activity in my working life (and I'd also say the larger activity of writing, reading literature are there, but poetry seems to be the center of the whole activity), after a while the way poetry saved my life and how my liberation came to me through poetry & the way poetry is such a goddam fun way to play became harder and harder to locate in the daily dark woods of life where my environment, employment, interpersonal responsibilities and needs all shaped my life differently, vastly differently from those three semesters I had in college when the tuition was paid, I easily made enough money to eat, buy clothes, pay the rent, and all I wanted to do was read, write, listen and learn. People talk about leaving poetry, or that poetry left them, but what it really amounts to is a recognition that making poetry the grounding for society (one's community) is not a very good idea. Because, for better or worse, the idea that poetry-making-in-concert-with-others can gain (and provide) a more cohesive perspective of the larger, mixed, multitudinous society we live in, and form the ideal community, is to fail to see just how plainly poetry is only one of the colored pixels in the great vidscreen of our bespectacled/beleagured society. To be a poet doesn't require one to live poetically. By the nature of the art, most poets who are dedicated and not children of the wealthy are working very hard at teaching or any number of other writerly and unwriterly jobs that have very little to do with poetic composition, honing an aesthetics, practicing the poem's performance, making sure the magazine looks good and keeping track of all the poems. A very small number of poets can do this. Of course, I hope to be one of them, and have lived on a very fragile economic margin in order to maybe do so. But I don't feel that I'm at all culturally marginal. I am so happy when I see poetic manifestations (attention to language, its slippage, its accidental profundity, its deliberate intervention into the humdrum or status quo) showing up all over the place, when I can recognize that we are poetry people, that people are poetic by nature, culture or what have you, that thought has gone into the way words work, can be broken, and how we can read things closely or haphazardly depending on what we're looking for.

To expect poets to be more perceptive, kind, caring, receptive, smarter or more interesting than other people is, I think, a huge mistake. Serious, accomplished poets can do something truly amazing--they can make serious, accomplished poems, and say brilliant things in and about language. But to ask them to do more than that--solve gross inequalities in the social sphere, end exploitation, return us to a culture of trust and gifts, and any number of other very noble and worthwhile things--is to ask too much. Poets aren't more pure than anybody else, and whether they make a point of poetically acting crude and foolish or bravely standing up to tyrants and slaveholders isn't going to make their poems any better. It may make their poems historically important, but it might not make their writings interesting moments/epochs in the language, the mind, or even our feelings. I have seen truly beautiful and humanitarian poetic innovations crudely co-opted by the worst human impulses and ideologies: used. To think that poets won't be idiotically sarcastic, cruel or sadistic--driven by ridiculously crude motives of self interest to see other people as a means rather than ends in themselves--is to think we live somewhere else, at some other time. I know a poet who would say "we must hold the poets accountable for societal decay more than others, because they have a deep obligation and unquantifiable stake and responsibility for the health of the common psyche," and I would agree with him to the extent that the artist and poet does understand the potentials for the imaginative, flexible, resilient response to life's ever-erupting catastrophes (microbial, individual and collective)--but that I must introject that poets are often poorly-trained helmspeople. Poets are 99.9% just part of the stream: not the cybernos or antennae or live wire in the current. The ones who have pointed us the ways out often had no idea they were doing so. The ones who appointed themselves as guides and guardians often lost their chips, if not their ships.

Anyways, that I see a lot of poets seriously finding it impossible to make poems (and myself, too, a lot of the time) means that what a poem was, for them & me, has to change--as it has for me--and that the idea of continuously ongoing productivity is the kind of myth we're better off getting disillusioned about at some point. I am glad to read about the bellyaches of Mark Nowak, Jessica Smith, Daniel Nestor, Aaron Lowinger, Ron Silliman, Jim Behrle etc., etc.--not because I at all want people to feel hurt and upset, but that we have the means to communicate these things, that we have a right of complaint, and we can complain so eloquently.

Literary culture & all its many related social ties and tie-ups is fucking fucked up!

Though each one has LOVE printed all caps on its side, Cupid is indeed shooting fucking ARROWS.


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