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Thu Sep 5, 2013, 11:34 PM

Rumination on the Poetical Process


I just recently finished re-reading Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est(topical poem right now: if you haven't ever read it you should, although it will not improve your day), and it has set me off into a rumination with which I have struggled off and on for the past decade or so. To whit, can a poem be so personal, so painful, so brutal that it profits no one to read it, and should it thus be exiled to the writer's trunk forever? I have struggled with this because my two best poems, in my own opinion, are exactly of such a nature, though speaking not of my own pain and anguish, but that of a loved one, giving voice to her fruitless rage against what had been done to her by those who should have protected her. They are not nice poems. But if they can only rouse fruitless rage, then cui bono? Lieutenant Owen wrote his poem almost 100 years ago, and yet the lie against which he railed is still very much with us, and the specific horror he addresses in the news quite recently. Who has benefited? Not even Lieutenant Owen, since he was dead by the time the poem was published. And yet...

The first of the two poems in question saw brief circulation in another venue around 10 years ago, and I received heartfelt (and tear-filled) thanks from a couple of readers that I was so able to express the feelings that had been so long pent-up within them.

So perhaps there can be some benefit after all. In a way, the manner is moot, since I did send the first out for publication and was turned down, so obviously whatever merit it has must really be limited.

Yet recent discussions on outrage and what might be thought of as "good taste" or "good form" lead me to lean in the other direction. While we are not talking Naked Lunch-level obscenity here, the subject is indeed obscene, and the feelings expressed not for the delicate of heart. And again, what purpose is served by inflaming rage about a subject that is both 30 years in the past and incapable of rectification anyway?

I really have not been able to come to a satisfactory determination about the question. We are enjoined to write what we know, that the best writing is from the heart, that powerful expression is its own best excuse. But somehow, I don't buy it. And even though I must confess to a creator's conceit that his best (possibly) work be seen, especially by those I would fain have as friends, yet that very conceit cautions that some sleeping dogs are best left to lie alone.

Any thoughts, Lounge?

-- Mal

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Arrow 7 replies Author Time Post
Reply Rumination on the Poetical Process (Original post)
malthaussen Sep 2013 OP
CaliforniaPeggy Sep 2013 #1
malthaussen Sep 2013 #2
CaliforniaPeggy Sep 2013 #3
MiddleFingerMom Sep 2013 #4
malthaussen Sep 2013 #7
nolabear Sep 2013 #5
Tuesday Afternoon Sep 2013 #6

Response to malthaussen (Original post)

Thu Sep 5, 2013, 11:39 PM

1. Well, this is just off the top of my head, my dear malthaussen...

Poets need to write, no question. But what good is it if nobody sees, or better yet, hears it? It's like the tree falling in the forest.

I recently read 9 of my own works before a group of riveted listeners, and I brought down the house. I was at the top of my form; I had never read better.

I moved them.

It needed to be done, and I did it. Maybe you should try going to some open mics and reading your stuff. You might be surprised at the reaction...

If you only speak for one person............it is enough.


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Response to CaliforniaPeggy (Reply #1)

Thu Sep 5, 2013, 11:52 PM

2. A good thought, Peggy...

... but if the poem has already spoken for the person intended, is that enough?

While I've gotten tolerably good reactions from people who have read my poetry, doing open mic has never appealed to me. Not from fear of public speaking, I have no problem there, but from lack of conviction that anything I'd have to say is of sufficient interest (to say nothing of beauty) to warrant demanding an audience's time.

-- Mal

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Response to malthaussen (Reply #2)

Fri Sep 6, 2013, 12:00 AM

3. If the poem has already spoken to the intended person, then maybe you're done........maybe not.



Open mics are fun!

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Response to malthaussen (Original post)

Fri Sep 6, 2013, 12:11 AM

4. One of the questions (probably THE question) that I just HATED hearing from listeners or...

.
.
.
... readers was, "What did you mean by this?"
.
.
.
Although sometimes it was tempting to tell him or her, my stock answer was, "Oh, no -- I've
done MY job in writing it... now it's time to do yours and READ it."
.
And I would ask how they interpreted it.
.
I LOVED doing this as their answers very rarely had anything to do with what inspired my
poems in the first place, but they were almost always excellent and fascinating interpretations
and would often reveal things about my poems that I had been unaware of -- kind of shine a
light on my unconscious muse.
.
My unconscious mind, btw... is a gifted fucking genius!!!
.
.
.
You are not simply telling a story as with prose; you are sinking a well for their emotions to
come bubbling up from places even they may or may not have known existed.
.
As far as not being accepted for publication, here's something no poet likes to admit -- maybe
your poem just sucked. I very rarely "knocked one out of the park" (although when I did, it
smashed half the windshields around the stadium). Equally, maybe it was something that
particular venue/outlet had no interest in as it was not "their thing". Another thing, even more
likely, is that since the poetry of which you are speaking is so personal, it is probably not a
part of the universal weltanschauung (I'm your MFMom, go look it up), so what are the odds
of any ONE specific editor recognizing what you were saying?
.
.
.
And, um... excuse me ---
.
"The first of the two poems in question saw brief circulation in another venue around 10 years
ago, and I received heartfelt (and tear-filled) thanks from a couple of readers that I was so
able to express the feelings that had been so long pent-up within them."
.
.
.
And you have the gall (or just plain ignorance) to ask your question?
.
.
.
Go to your room... and don't come back until you have a REAL problem.
.
.
.

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Response to MiddleFingerMom (Reply #4)

Fri Sep 6, 2013, 10:20 AM

7. The unconscious mind is always a genius.

But what did you mean by the rest of your post?

-- Mal

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Response to malthaussen (Original post)

Fri Sep 6, 2013, 12:17 AM

5. Mal...

First, Dulce et Decorum Est is one of the most powerful poems ever written, and in fact changed the practice of poetry forever. Prior to Owen writing it, the poetry of war was a kind of flowery panegyric, a patriotism driven and idealistic call to battle. No one had ever let the average reader in on the horrors of war, and the realization of what an actual mustard gas attack wreaked on soldiers might not have stopped chemical warfare, but it stirred anti-war sentiment and led to the work of many others who sought to depict its horrors and give voice to those who are against the endless wars we wage. Look to Sam Hammill's Poets Against the War, a book he put together and edited after he and a host of other poets turned down Laura Bush's invitation to the White House during the Iraq War. It's an outstanding legacy.

As to your work, only you can say whether it should be published or given light and air. Delicacy is not a requirement. Charles Bukowski can curl your nose hairs and he is a great poet. There are certainly questions: will it harm someone? Will it specifically cause another human being pain, shame, fear, etc., not through association but by being about them? Then I come down on the side of either changing it to disguise that or burying it. But if you're afraid your subject matter is too rough, then you suffer from what many poets suffer from. The real question is, is it good poetry? A good poet can make the most dreadful subject matter resound, create an aesthetic sense that elevates it above simple confession or rage. Only you know if you have done the work to do that.

And btw, one rejection does not a bad poem make. Trust me on that one.

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Response to malthaussen (Original post)

Fri Sep 6, 2013, 01:46 AM

6. I wrote one &

Posted it a long time ago. The Mods removed it.
It was written for a college. Lit class. I made an "A" on the project. It was pretty bitter and there was one UnPC word in it.

Not sure what to make of all that but, there it is.
Make of it what you will.

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