April is poetry month, so the local morning radio show had a poet on to read some of her poetry. I’m not going to mention any names, but the poems and the discussion of them annoyed me so much that I had to shout at my radio and then get out of bed to rant about it here.
First thing on tap on the radio program this morning: the presumption that real poetry, real art, comes from some sort of unconscious muse, not from any rational purpose or thought. Why is it that we believe (somehow) that beauty can’t be rational, or rationally created? Fractals are beautiful and are incredibly rational, after all. Aren’t the best forms and most beautiful shapes in the world mathematically perfect? I’m tired of the idea that somehow the real writer is buried inside you, underneath everything you’ve learned to be and say in an ordered society, and that if you just step back and unburthen yourself in some kind of “uncivilized” and “pure” way you’ll find true art spewing forth. Art is craft as much as anything else is, it’s a skill you learn and have to hone. Most honest writers will tell you this. Those who suggest otherwise remind me of anxious 19th century Englishmen getting taken in by the savage nobility of E. Pauline Johnson and mourning their own tamed inner beasts. If you’re writing for your own joy and self-expression, please, don’t let me stop you, but if (like the poet on the radio this morning) you intend to make your living at it, ie, you expect me to give you money and read what you’re written, you damn well better have thought of something valuable to say to me. This is an argument I’ve had with my artist sister for years; you have my attention now: say something! Say something interesting! Tell me a story, tell me a moral, tell me to do something for the good of humanity or make me feel sorry for something, provoke me, but dear god please make me think. And don’t say something trite. Cripes.
Paraphrasal from the radio: “Yeah, when I first wrote that it just dropped out onto the screen and I was like, omg, what’s going on here? But then after a bit I realized that it’s genius.” NO ITS NOT. IT’S VERBAL SELF-STIMULATION. IT’S JUST SOME VERY LAME WORD ASSOCIATION GAMES. But thanks for playing.
The second poem had this as a basic thrust: nature is pure and good, and non-competitive, and gentle, and wonderful, and we’re part of nature, so this whole digital communication thing is just unnatural. And cold. And too fast. And inhuman. We should remember who we really are, pure beings made of moonlight and sea water.
You know what else is human-created, fabricated, not springing directly from sunshine and sea salt? Language. GOD FORBID language take on new forms, and woe betide the day when difficult concepts become digital visuals, because that would be a real departure from our TRUE SELVES and would only CUT US OFF from our SAVAGE, ARTISTIC, NATURAL, GENTLE and WONDERFUL inner artists. Bleh. Poetry needs a big smack in the face from postcolonialism if you ask me.
In honour of poetry month, however, I give you my favourite poem by Dorothy Livesay, and the sexiest poem in the history of the world, The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje. Now there’s some art for you.