Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Please, Hate It.

I stuck my nose into an interesting discussion in Kelli Agodon's journal, concerning Ted Kooser's advice to keep your audience in mind (from The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice For Beginning Poets). I do subscribe to this notion, as I think expecting people to take an interest in something you wrote purely for yourself is narcissism of the highest order. But I also agree with this great (possibly paraphrased) quote, attributed to Marvin Bell: "There should be at least one person in the room who hates/dislikes your poem. If it has a little sugar, it needs a little salt." I don't find these thoughts mutually exclusive.

Poetry is never going to be universal. Done properly (and this includes all forms and schools and clans and workgroups and whatevers), poetry is language distilled into art - concentrated, impactful, sometimes warming, sometimes disturbing. It's like a very strong cocktail; these have their fans, but they have their haters as well. But this does not mean you can throw any three liquors together, give it a name, and expect anyone to want to sample it.

My poems reflect the things I find powerful. It so happens that my artistic mission is to find extraordinary moments lying about among ordinary things. Because of this, I think many people can find something to latch onto in my work. But many of my poems have met wrinkled noses and been greeted with questions, and this is fine. I should be concerned when the noses stop wrinkling, as I'll know then that I've stopped stretching, that I've stopped challenging myself to find something better, more meaningful, more memorable to say.

No comments: