Wednesday, January 27, 2010

She doth protest too much

Brooklyn Copeland wrote a very flattering post about my po-po blogging in which she says, "I'm finding that while we prefer different styles, her posts are helping me to define my preferences, and forcing me to articulate them to myself." I find it interesting that she so adamantly believes we don't like the same kinds of poems. And who knows, maybe we don't. (If you've been following the comments, she's been on the anti side of the (very friendly) idea debate.)

I had only read a little of her work, so I sought out a little more. While I wouldn't describe it as idea-driven per se, I do think Brooklyn traffics in ideas (to good effect). Here are some selections from the chapbook Reunions (Blue Hour Press):
Rings possess fingers.

Fingers remember
what the eyes have

blocked. The blindness
in this

case is figurative.
The figure in this

case is


Milled, folded,

Inlaid omen.
Mokume gane.

Ifs as hinges.
Ands as pins.

Rings as
This bit from a sequence in TYPO uses the same motifs, rings and pins:
Sat down just now
to write my requiem
on a hairpin

let's see how much I can get
for this (with this

ring, thee, I)
See, I think these are ideas. Metaphors don't always qualify as ideas (how a ring is like the moon, O), but this is an extended (very, across multiple manuscripts) metaphor with intention.

I really like "Sat down just now / to write my requiem / on a hairpin / turn." I just sounds good, but the artfulness isn't forced. The "on" (as opposed to "for") makes it ambiguous. Is she literally writing upon a hairpin turn? A bobby pin? Why is it underlined? I don't know. I thought at first it was a link. Maybe she writes on a typewriter that can't italicize. I find Brooklyn's poetry to be unabashedly pretty, a style which isn't usually my fave, I admit. But I don't dismiss it, and in fact I like reading it, because of the obvious thinking going on behind it. It's not just flowers and kiss-stains. And I like when poets have obsessions.

This could all be totally fallacious of course. What one prefers is not necessarily what one writes. Do we write the kinds of poems we prefer, or do we only hope so?


  1. Ha!

    Okay. You know what thought struck me last night before bed? That someone could read MY poems and find "ideas." :)

    I don't always write the kinds of poems I prefer to read. I absolutely have the "pretty" thing going against me, for one-- I tend to dislike reading it, myself. However, I think because I'm so carefully non-political, non-aggressive, and non-symbolic (though I might only be "hoping" I come across that way), the "pretty" objects in my poems are still in keeping with my desire to merely "document," not "judge." I do see things in a pretty way. It's hard for me NOT to find beauty in something and want to tell all about it. I realize I risk coming off as airy-fairy about it. I wish I had the patience to practice any other kind of art. I'd take Polaroid pictures or write neo-psychedelic-New-Weird-America-freak-folk songs. :-)

    I don't think we're at odds, necessarily. The more you talk, the more you show how there are probably lots of crossover poems between "idea" and "objective." I thought WCW was a great example.

  2. Also-- (and this came to me in between mascara applications just now) --might there be some difference between "this is what I think" (taking a line or two to state an idea) in a poem and "read along as I sit here and think it"? (taking an entire poem to "unpack")

    I can find examples of this, I think, when I'm not rushing out the door. :-)

  3. I think there's absolutely a difference between just stating an idea and sort of guiding a reader through/to an idea via the poem. I think both can be effective. The first method is hard to pull off without seeming like an ass - it has to be a really *good* idea, and be surprising without feeling phony. One famous one that springs to mind is the James Wright hammock poem that's all neutral-seeming, nature-y observation and then at the end he says, "I have wasted my life."

    The second method takes more effort, probably, but it's less obvious when you fail.

    I should probably reiterate that it's not necessary and sufficient to have an idea. You still have to write a good poem. :)

  4. Interesting reference to Wright's poem (which I love for that ending) in that the power of the idea is not so much its content but its contrast to the proceeding imagery. Put the statement at the beginning of the poem and, as you mentioned, Wright looks like an ass.

    Personally, I like to think of ideas as engines: they don't have to be visible, but without them the vehicle has a hard time getting anywhere.

  5. The poets and poems I with which I feel the most affinity are those that take me the closest to how and what I want to write, that shape my notions about the poems (and the kinds of poems) I want to write.

    By "notions" (in the above sentence) I mean some kind of vague hybrid of ideas and feelings and intuitive impulses, for which I don't have a more convenient word at the moment.

    When I've talked with other poets about which poets we like to read, or that have been important in shaping our notions about our own work, I've found it quite common that poets whose own work I'm not especially drawn to will however like many of the same poets I do, and -- the other way around -- that poets whose work I especially do like will not necessarily like many of the same poets I do.

  6. Jeremiah: I love that engine/vehicle analogy.

    Lyle: I find that many of the poetry books I've read and loved in the past few years are not (superficially at least) similar to mine...I tend to fall in love with hybrid, "experimental" work by women (Anne Carson, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Maggie Nelson, Jenny Boully) whereas my own poetry is more superficially "traditional" and discrete (though not discreet). Closer to, say, Brenda Shaughnessy. This gave me some trouble when it came time to ask for blurbs, because I was kind of afraid to ask "heroes" and find out they weren't interested in my poetry.

  7. Anybody know this poem Didactic Elegy by Ben Lerner? Typo has a copy here:

    I just read it on the bus this morning. It's made of ideas, flatly stated, and even goes almost so far as to posit itself as a kind of anti-lyric which will assume relevance under a certain set of social conditions bla bla.

    And it's maybe the most thick-with-music poem I've read in recent memory, but/and I would never (could never) be able to write that. This is my favorite kind of poem to find -- something so far beyond what I'd be capable of. "The Paradise Lost Rule"

  8. John was just saying this weekend that he's always most enthralled by things he feels he never could have written.

    I don't trust my judgment in that area. When I look back at certain poems I actually did write, or like, philosophy papers from college, I can barely believe I wrote them. Not to mention calculus. How the hell did I do that?

    Also, I really like how idea-rich Ben Lerner's poems are.