Poetics (with a nod to Nic)

Over on Nic’s blog, there’s a post that refers to two articles that discuss the theories that attach to poetry these days. One is written by Reginald Shepherd, who’s answered her 10 questions this week. The other is an interpretation and a clarification of what Shepherd wrote, by Chris Tonelli.

Now I wouldn’t normally get worked up about this kind of discussion. It has to do with titles and movements and a bunch of stuff I thought I’d left behind when they pinned the hood on me that allowed me to use the title “Dr.” without committing fraud.

But Nic brought it up, and so I’m pursuing it.

In brief, it’s a discussion of types of poetics, ways of defining oneself in a broader context. It’s an academic discussion, one that probably has more meaning for those poets who reside in academic circles — and who want to be published in the journals that are connected with academic circles — than for pretty well everybody else. And I wouldn’t have taken it up except for the fact that Shepherd refers to “inside” and “outside”, and where one falls in relation to “inside” and “outside” has fundamental bearing on one’s impact in this world, even beyond academics. Witness the discussion about Southern writers further down this blog.

The trouble with the whole discussion is that it is pretty largely irrelevant to what I think is happening in the world of poetry today. What one calls oneself — which, as I say, has a whole lot to do with carving out a niche for oneself and one’s style or focus in an academic world — really doesn’t seem to matter to a whole heap of very interesting poets, who are not only writing, but who are communicating through media that are far broader and less controlled than they ever have been before. Granted, it’s going to be a while before this shift is reflected in the establishment — among that group of people who think of themselves and their work in terms of schools and theories and titles — but just how long that while is going to be is unclear. For those of us who are beyond the academy — and I say “us” even though I have qualified myself to be in the academy, because I qualified myself in the wrong thing, and even there (anthropology) I tend to regard all the schools, the posts and the symbols and the whole shebang as window-dressing. And it’s more important window-dressing in the world of anthropology, which exists really only within the academy; there are very very few amateur anthropologists of any great worth. In literature, which interacts with the public on its own — well.

But I digress. As I was saying, for those of us beyond the academy, for me, I cannot think of anything more stultifying to my work as a writer than trying to squeeze it into a box that reflects a particular literary movement that may or may not fit me. The latter’s more likely than the former, anyway; how many Bahamian writers are there in the academy anyway, and when has any of them affected a school or a movement? I’ve been there, done that, and shaken it off. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life chafing because I’m not a full-time writer, even though I want to be. (By that I mean because nobody PAYS me to be a full-time writer.) But I cast off cloaks of expectation when I slipped out of fundamentalist evangelical protestantism. And I don’t intend to go back again.

So here’s a thought. Here’s what I’d prefer to do. Rather than trying to master the divisions and the fences in poetic theory (because thank heaven, no university is paying me to have to try), I’d much rather write what I need to, the best way I know how. I’d rather let what I have to say tell me how it ought to be said, rather than having some school of thought tell me what I’m supposed to be saying and trying to squeeze into its contours. I’d rather be part of a movement that sets critics trying to find a word to describe it, rather than squishing myself into shapes other people have already defined.



2 thoughts on “Poetics (with a nod to Nic)

  1. Well said.

    I always think people can be divided into three groups: those who do; those who comment on those who do; and those who have better things to do than worry about what the folk in the other two groups are up to.

    I need a holiday!

  2. “I’d much rather write what I need to, the best way I know how.”

    Absolutely. If you look at all the great writers – Eliot, Stevens, Pessoa, Celan etc – they knew the tradition inside out, but they couldn’t have cared less what contemporary trends they fitted into. They stuck to their own vision no matter what anyone else thought.

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