Thursday, May 20, 2010

Contradicta and Shangri-Las

Some of us have been asking whether blogging is dead. We probably ought have been clearer; it could be that - to be more specific - poetry blogging is dead. It is chastening to read this, from "Cuba: A Way Forward," in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books:

"The prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez—whose posts comment on the daily indignities of life in Cuba—has three times been refused permission to leave the country, twice to accept international prizes and once, in March 2010, to attend a conference on the Spanish language. The emergence of a nascent blogosphere has been heralded as a sign that Cuba is opening up, yet the government systematically blocks critical websites and strictly controls access, forcing bloggers to upload their posts using thumb drives and illegal back channels. Because an hour’s use costs roughly one third of Cubans’ monthly wages, and since there are few connections outside of cities, the average Cuban has no access to the Internet. Although Yoani Sánchez was named one of Time magazine’s one hundred most influential people, most Cubans on the island have never even heard of her, let alone read her blog."

Blogging and comment-box hideola are luxuries for Anglo-American poetry folks, but there are those for whom this kind of writing involves great risk and takes incredible courage.

On a lighter note, see Katy Evans-Bush's vision of a poetry Shangri-La, in which she asks the musical question, "if you hate poetry that much why the flippin eck are you writing it?" Here's the heart of it, forgetting that Shangri-La is a place of forgetfulness -

"Less kvetching about “why no one reads poetry.” First of all, they DO, and second, just shuddupaboudit. It’s like having a party and buttonholing your guests about why nobody came.

A vast expanse of expansiveness. Why are poets, of all people, complaining that too much poetry is being published? Let’s have less of the hyenas round the dried-up old watering hole trope, and more of the old spirit of plenty. The kind of plenty that comes from within. Generosity.

More and better criticism! This is vital to distinguish what’s really good in all the hive of activity. Robert McCrum is right. Publish all you like – and then think it’s important enough to talk about. This is what keeps culture alive. Deep criticism. And lively, NOT boring, reviews. Criticism should be interesting to non-poets, too: it is how they find out about poetry. When I worked in bookselling, people – general readers – came in clutching wrinkled book reviews, or talking about a review they’d read on Sunday, and asking for the book. I used to read the reviews so I’d know what they were going to be on about.

Less gatekeeping. Less obsession with ‘power’. This goes both ways, by the way: I mean less obsession with gates, I suppose. Those poetry editors who go to publishing events and never smile or look at anyone, they would be made to smile and look. Talk about the poverty-stricken medieval king! A poetry fiefdom with starving serfs at the roadside.

But by the same token, the serfs would not be standing there obsessing about how the king never smiled, or only opened the gate every other Saturday. Come on, serfs! Are you men, or mice??

Manners. Poets would be nicer people. (No; this is just silly. Nicer people than what? Than they are now? Than other people? Sorry, I have no idea what I was thinking. I’m not even sure a Utopia full of nice people would even be very fun to be in. As you were.)

Less emphasis on categories. Women and men have more in common than not. The mainstream widens and narrows and incorporates different things within it at different times; it’s only a descriptive term, “mainstream,” and refers to factors that are peripheral to the poetry. Time passes: “young poets” grow old very quickly, and contemporary writing, in a flash, is the writing of the past. Who reads Stephen Spender now? There are too many excellent writers who don’t fit any of the trendy categories. It’s a small island and it’s feeling very parochial.

More fun! An innate assumption that poetry is enjoyable. It is for pleasure. It comes to something when it’s the poets who are complaining because the Tories might ask kids to learn to memorise – er – poems. If taught right, they ARE fun – and not just silly-fun, either. There is such a thing as deep, serious fun. And if you hate poetry that much why the flippin eck are you writing it?

More adventurous writing – not gimmicky, I mean inwardly adventurous. Accurate, faithful, linguistically precise, minute. And technically adventurous. Instead of arguing about why they shouldn’t have to know certain things, poets would want to master their art.

Less anti-intellectualism. And on the same note, less intellectual snobbery. In reverse, this means more intellectual play (and rigour), and more non-intellectual play. This corresponds to less fear. Right now it strikes me there is a general atmosphere of fear. Fear of failure, fear of the things you think you’re not good enough for, fear of people who know more than you, fear of the gatekeepers, fear of looking silly, far of success. (This strikes me as the heart of the piece; no time to expand on it right now, but I think this is it. Mind you, this is existential fear, really. We all live by it.)

Less confusion of poetry and its technical elements with class war. Rhyme is not “heirarchical,” the past is not evil, dead white men were probably quite nice (since so many live ones are), and liking metre doth not a reactionary make.

A place in the general intellectual discourse of the day. Poets would be interested in other things besides poetry. They would stop ghettoising themselves in little poetry magazines that only poets read, similar to stamp-collecting or anorak-spotting. Then the general readers would be less afraid of a closed club. Poets would regain some of their place in the popular imagination – not all of us, to be sure – and the status would rise. There are some who aren’t poets who treat poetry in this way: Bryan Applyard on his blog, or the Guardian (for all its faults), or the 3 Quarks Daily blog, or the New Yorker, or the TLS or LRB. Poetry would smarten up. Hobbyism would turn to dilettantism, which is a far better thing.

Theatre; liveness. Why has poetry lost its immemorial connection with the theatre? Why do theatre people all know Shakespeare by heart, while many (even established, “successful”) poets admit to never really having read him? What’s THAT about? Theatre came from poetry. And theatre is more fun, more engaged and deeper than stand-up.

Better poetry readings. Poets would learn how to talk. Poetry reading would be about either the poem itself, in a compelling way – George Szirtes has said that a really good poetry reading is like listening to someone who really wants to tell you something – or about entertaining the audience, not necessarily by shouting or being like stand-up comedy. Lots of people hate stand-up comedy. And shouting."

Photo of Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, Havana, May 2008, by José Goitia/The New York Times/Redux

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Hideola? Hideola!