Thursday, November 09, 2006

Reader's Diary #185- Adrienne Rich: Your Native Land, Your Life (up to "Contradictions: Tracking Poems")

Rich's "Poetry: II, Chicago" could almost as easily be titled "Poets". I read it as a gift from one poet to another, and I needed it right about now.

Last week I went to my first book club meeting. It went okay but at the end, when it was time to vote on the next book, my poetry selection (P.K. Page's Hand Luggage) wasn't even considered. I can't say I was shocked. Not even when I heard a few mutters that they "never read poetry."

Then on Tuesday I went to my second writer's club meeting. Again there were some mutterings, almost bragging, that they don't read/like/understand poetry. Even amongst the literati, poetry doesn't get respect.

The whole thing has gotten me down. And it's made me question what I'm doing as a poet. I've criticized many poets in the past about their over-reliance on Greek references and words like ephemeral, ethereal and gossamer. I've argued that poets have no right to complain that they aren't reaching the people if they continue to stick to such stereotypical pulp. Yet, when I get "advice" from metrophobes, that my poems aren't coherent after a single read, I get defensive. Can such people really critique a poem? If they can't appreciate Frost, Rich, or Page for example, should I care what they have to say? Basically, I started to question who I want my audience to be; other poets (or at the very least, other poetry lovers), or common-folk? I concluded that I'm writing for myself, for poets and for poetry readers. As for the others, who needs the disrespect? Someone else can bring the poetry to the people. I think people should go to the poetry. Does this mean I'm going to allude to Adonis in my next poem? Definitely not. Poets writing for poets is no excuse for cliches.

Does this mean I'm not able to take constructive criticism? Maybe. But, in my defense, I can appreciate valid comments. At writing club, one man in particular, a non-poetry reader even, reminded me as I wrote about the smell of spruce trees, that "smell" often has connotations of stench, offering up the word "scent" instead. That I can appreciate. That is why I'm not giving up on the writing club. It's the "I just don't understand" said snidely under one's breath that irks me. There's not a lot of poems that I "get" right away, after a quick glance over in 2 minutes or less. This is the fun of poetry. Multiple meanings to words and phrases, instead of just the literal. Inventive ways of expressing an idea rather than a straightforward essay. Different possible interpretations. Basically, all of the reasons people dislike poetry.

It's a lonely existence for a poet and the void has really made it's presence felt this past week.

Fortunately Adrienne Rich came to the rescue. To paraphrase a few lines from the poem linked to above, she let me know I was not alone, that poetry belongs to me, and I have the right.

"Poetry: II, Chicago" isn't Hallmark, and that's precisely why I like it.


Street Wise Guy said...

My name is Dan and I'm moving up to Iqaluit Sunday.
Saw your book site and thought I'd say hello since I'm a writer and would like to get to know some of the book crowd up there.
Drop me a line at if you'd like.
See ya.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I don't get the poem!

I actually thought it was extremely evocative, and while it's far too late at night for me to ponder the last part of it right now, I received a lovely visual image from it, and an oddly comforting feeling.

But it's true; most people (including myself) are too lazy to spend a lot of time poking deeply in the nuances of a word. Keep poking, John.