Tuesday, November 25, 2003
English 911, Poetry Workshop
This course is designed to introduce you to one of the most ignored and bewildering art forms there is out there. It is not for people with heart conditions or for people with "their own ideas about things." A lot will be expected of you because poetry writing demands our most self-serious exertions. The body is preparing itself for either flight or fight. Poetry should make your testicles light up like a jack-o-lantern.
Poetry is an indigestible form of word arrangement and cannot function as a source of fuel. Poetry helps to prevent constipation and gives a feeling of fullness, but too much poetry can reduce the uptake of vitamins and actually increase constipation if prose consumption is not increased at the same time.
Why is the need for poetry wired into our mammalian brains, like the need for jobs you can't be fired from, Quaaludes and cheap wine? Why do other mammals often write better than humans do? Since humans have been speaking, writing, and torturing each other with poetry since William Shakespeare started it all, what's the reason? What is it about poetry?
The weave of poetry is perfect. It is perfectly and harmoniously balanced. Poetry is The Law. It flows through everything that is in existence, every stone, every plant, every animal, every being every man. How can we hope to write poetry well when we haven't read any in twenty years? By giving people what they expect, that's how.
I've learned that you cannot make someone love your poetry. All you can do is be a poet who can be loved. The rest is on them. Poets are encouraged to purchase merchandise featuring their poetry. For me, poetry is not self expression, though it may be spelt regression. Poetry harvests the fact of it's own banality. It is spectacularly and excruciatingly inept, which doesn't mean it isn't famous, though it isn't, and in order to know anything about it you'll have to learn about your own powerlessness and dismay, the language of The Masai warriors and Native Indians, successful slave revolts, new ways of approaching dialectical materialism, how to instigate a nation-wide general strike, the way mountains collect social security, and how to survive in the wilderness with only a collection of Jonas Mekas movies and an obscene deck of cards.
Whatever poets see they unconsciously imitate. It comes from somewhere, perhaps sailboats or desk lamps or genuflecting to Gloria Steinem, and is a gift from our lord, God and all these great chemical substances that we've taken over the years.
The best way to write poetry is to write like you've never been hurt. Middle-aged people with an increasing distance from social reality would be mad at you if you completely ignored them. Don't take this course if you're not ready to believe that poetry is in serious trouble. True-hearted poets, even in the humblest station in life, who are energetic doers, may give an impulse to good works out of all proportion, apparently, to their actual station in society. This is especially good news for the poets' landlords and bosses.
Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful fears. The thing that distinguishes poetry from other segments is that there is no room for error. In large poetry application deployment there is usually a small army of poetic people and consultants available to help smooth out the bumps. Auden wrote, for example, that "poetry makes nothing happen: let's keep it that way." In the small poetry segment, poets tend to rely on words that cost relatively little, so the poetic payroll is not at stake.
To me, the most alarming thing about poetry is that there is a lot to choose from. Poetry's status economy depends on a knowledge-gap. Try relying on resellers you trust to find poems that are easy to install, use and, most importantly, maintain.
Poetry is the power of deflating the indefinable in terms of the unforgivable. There will be channeled readings on poetics as well as sessions in which student poetry will be summarily dismissed. Grades will be based on quality of the work, disingenuousness, commitment to Christianity, generosity of spirit, and articulation of a poetics to ride in on.