Friday, July 9, 2010

Ten Years Later

I first started taking writing seriously—poetry particularly—about 10 years ago. I was 25 and wanted more than anything to be famous. Poetry was how I would achieve that goal. Possibly academia also. But mainly poetry. Because fame, to my mind, equaled greatness (though I knew many famous contemporary poets weren't that good, and some out right bad). If I was a famous poet I would by default be a great poet. And not your run-of-the-mill-great. I'm talking Rilke great.

I remember turning 26 and thinking, by this age Keats was dead. Springsteen had recorded Born to Run. I, on the other hand, hadn't even been published. I was failing.

Years passed. I moved to NYC. I turned 30. Got married and started a career as an advertising/marketing copywriter. It was around this time the poems that would make up my first book started coming together. The feeling I had then was best expressed by the Beastie Boys off of Check Your Head: "I got nothing to lose because I don't give a fuck."

It was also around this time that I went to my first AWP conference. At that point I still clung to a pretty idealistic view of poetry. All the latest trends sucked. Poetry that wasn't trying to be great in the traditional sense sucked. Basically, if you didn't have aspirations to be Milton or Keats or even some insane figure like Lowell or Berryman, you weren't going to be anybody.

But at AWP in 2006 my mind was blown by all the amazing things poets my age were doing. They were just writing, embracing the scene for what it was. Making the scene what it was. That's when idealized that to have any chance at being a real artist you had to risk losing your soul in the current trends. You had to risk selling out and being irrelevant. You had to finally say fuck it and do what you were going to do, be who you were going to be.

And fame, well, I was beginning to see that fame was dying. No one was famous any more, not even musicians. Or if they were they were totally irrelevant. The best artists seemed to be regular, approachable people quietly pursuing their lives and art. The stakes were suddenly so low and exciting. It felt like freedom. That's when poetry became for me less a goal to pursue for gain (I still had naive notions that a book or two would equal a tenure-track job somewhere). That was when poetry became a way of living and thinking and experiencing the world. And still is, despite the comparatively limited amounts of energy I now have to put toward writing and reading it.

I'm in my mid thirties. I have two children. I own a home and a minivan. I'm woefully out of touch with most of what's going in music, poetry and art in general. I read more magazines or books about political campaigns or the financial crisis than I do collections of poetry or critical theory. I used to think I would always be a poet, but I don't know any more. So many things I used to think are no longer true. I can't imagine much beyond today. I have to accept that there may come a point (besides mental incapacitation or death) where I simply stop.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Be Awesome and Do Dope Shit

In the interview I'm constantly having with myself in my head, one question I often ask is: What's my aesthetic? What the hell is it that my poetry does, that I try to do with it, that makes it interesting, different; or is it just the same-old-same-old?

The conclusion I've come to lately is that my aesthetic is: Be awesome and do dope shit. Arrogant? Yes. Pretentious? Maybe. Retarded? Definitely.

Some thoughts: Be awesome and do dope shit (BAADDS) is perhaps most closely related to the anit-lyric tradition of Spicer and co. By which I mean I am not interested in the mainstream lyric (though I do consider myself a lyric poet, or, short of that, am lyrical/draw on the lyric tradition).

I draw on the ridiculous but awesome shit me and my friends say to each other in person, email, over the phone, text, Facebook, Twitter, etc; conversations and emails from the office. To this end my poems can feel elliptical or associative. I want to surprise, but at the same time not necessarily be nonsensical. I want to make a different kind of sense. I want to entertain, be clever, imbue my work with novelty, but at the same time make something beautiful and that (hopefully) lasts. A kind of reverse idiocy (like Iggy Pop maybe).

(That last point is difficult because I have no control over that, so it may ultimately be just wishful thinking on my part. I touched on this, kind of, in an artist's statement I wrote for some poems I had in the Tusculum Review)

(I'm tempted to say that I want my poetry to sound cool, though that often invokes jazz and the beats, and that's not what I want).

In many respects, BAADDS is influenced as much, if not more, by pop music--specifically "indie" and "alternative" rock (god I love scare quotes)--and culture than it is by western literature. (THE BAADDS might make a cool name for a band.) The lyrics of Modest Mouse, The Pixies, Wolf Parade and many others have had enormous influence on me. Then of course there is the internet and social media, but really, who isn't influenced by that these days?

Others, off the top of my head, who might unwittingly be joining me in the BAADDS aesthetic: Sampson Starkweather, Paige Taggart, Dan Hoy.

Some of BAADDS' cousins might be: Elisa Gabbert, Chris Tonelli, Dan Boehl, Dan Magers

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Long Time...

It's been a long time since I blogged. There are multiple reasons for that, but none that would be interesting enough to go into here, though I feel as I write that sentence that I will indeed go into some of those reasons.

Here we go: For one, I've never been that good at blogging, in my opinion. I always used my blog to promote my book and writing in general. I never felt like I had much "to say," or more accurately I felt that I had to be "clever" or have some rigorous argument to work out. But in the end, it was all fear of sounding like a schmuck.

What I realize now is that I just want to communicate, even with only myself, to journal really (regardless of my inevitable schmuckery).

A lot of things have been building to inspire me to give blogging a real shot. Elisa Gabbert's blog, The French Exit, for one, but also the work she does on the Wordstream blog; and just this morning this handsome piece by Dan Boehl.

Also, the realization that I simply don't write enough.

In recent months, though, I've had to do some "professional" blogging at work, which has been fun, but what's more I got a much better sense of "how" to write a blog.

I'm rambling. The point, I'm back (as if anyone noticed I was gone), and am going to try to post much more, because having a job and two 1 year old kids leaves me no time to be involved in the poetry world, and I miss that very much. I need some sort of contact, people.