Friday, August 31, 2007

Working class poetry heroes

Ok, enough eggheady stuff for the moment, and on to two blog pieces that I think compliment each other well, though they're each quite different. They address the matter of who the heck poets are and think they are: what do they do, what do the think they're doing... and what do they do for a living? Writing as a craft or art has been so reified that maybe it's in some danger of getting itself detached from what used to be called, when we were human, the Human Condition.

Reginald Shepherd's "Working Class Hero" is a bitter outcry, worth reading as a reminder of the distance between earned experience and every book, blog, and review. Here's a sample:

"I know that there are many smart and talented young people in the ghettos who haven't have the luck I had, the opportunities, or just a mother determined that they would be something more than a statistic, but I also know that sometimes the system that puts one in one's place and keeps one there with an iron-toed boot pressed down on one's throat can be circumvented, though hardly defeated. Indeed, if one doesn't come from privilege, one has no choice but to circumvent that system if one wants to breathe at all, and I have always insisted on drawing on my own breath. I am living proof of both the possibility and the precariousness of such an escape. I was not meant to survive this world. Many people have tried to crush me, sometimes with the best of intentions, as I know they have crushed others who have refused to know their place. I consider my survival a form of victory, however tenuous and conditional."

Robert Archambeau's "The Poet as Specialist" on his samizdat blog, addresses the specializing and professionalizing of modern life, poets included. Its great opening line is that "Sir Walter Ralegh was not a poet." He elaborates that today, for example, in academic departments, "most poets seem to look at the writing of poetry not as an activity but as the basis for an identity. The act of writing poems comes with a whole set of associated behaviors and attitudes (elements of bohemianism, eccentricity, spontaneity, etc.) most of them inherited from the history of how poets have lived over the past century and a half or so. [...] Poetry writing people, generally speaking, have come to internalize the notion that poetry isn't something they do, it's something that constitutes who they are." Of course, it wasn't always this way: "Walter Raleigh would have been a bit freaked out."

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