I read this thing, on the internet of course, about race and poetry (sorry, way over simplified). In the essay the author feels trapped between embodying his identity in his writing and using a language of privilege to do so. I feel he forgot a very important aspect of poetry and writing and, more generally, life: it's all a performance. Our race, our gender, our sexuality, is all performed, internally and externally. Some of us perform according to roles assigned by society, self, or biology (society is what other people want us to be, self is what ourselves tell us to be, and biology grows us to be). We play the roles of husband, wife, student, teacher, lover, worker and we play them as close as we can to other performer's expectations. We play them subconsciously. We play them hyper-consciously. These roles make us who we are... Or we can play them. In writing, we can play them all day long. In fact, that's all it is: Play.
I got into a little tiff with someone on the Montevidayo blog once about risk, or danger, or something to that effect, in poetry, and really I don't think anything in American poetry is dangerous or risky. It's a terrible thing to compare something that is truly risky, like sky diving or unprotected sex with a stranger or war or participating in protests against corporate greed, with anything that happens in a poem. Poems are play-lands where we say things for fun.
What's the worst that can happen to us from a poem?
The next, and most bothering, thing I found wrong with the essay was this statement:
"The privilege of whiteness in America—particularly male, heteronormative whiteness—is the privilege to speak from a blank slate, to not need to address questions of race, gender, sexuality, or class except by choice, to not need to acknowledge wherefrom one speaks. It’s the position of no position, the voice from nowhere or from everywhere. In this, it is Godlike, and if nothing else, that’s saying something."
The reality is, that whiteness, maleness, and heteronormativeness do not mean godliness or a position of a blank slate. I can't ignore my whiteness, maleness, or my sexual preference. I know my position, and it is not blank, and it is not Godlike. Knowing from where one is writing should be an important part of writing. The most important. If you're going to perform, know your role first, know the roles of others, know how to slip in and out of character. Ignoring the normal societal roles is the only way to subvert hegemonic demands for easily identifiable and correctable norms (see what I did there? I just played Marxism). I know that I am white and male and it's terribly hard to justify my own presence in poetry world. I get sick of all the white dudes that run presses or have books or run reading a series. It seriously makes me sick. Why is my voice that important? I think it's because I know that I am aware, that I don't like the status quo, that I can support other subversive voices. I know that I want to ruin worlds through words.
There is something I agree with, and I think a lot of people would agree with:
"I don’t possess a vernacular English that’s significantly different from that of plain old Midwestern English. As such, it seems I’m able to write from a perspective that doesn’t address certain realities about myself, and this makes me queasy as anything. The voice in my head is annoyed with the voice in my writing. The voice in my head says I’m disregarding difference, and this feels like a denial of self, of reality, of a basic truth."
Oh man, language is flawed and broken? Yep, that's true...
I guess the last thing I should say is that in the hierarchy of cultural capital, poetry is on the top, especially when compared to its monetary capital. Visual, musical, and performing artists make way more money than poets. Even other writers make way more money. Poets are the CEOs of cultural capitalism. Being a poet is, in itself, a position of privilege. This is also a realization that gets made in the essay:
"It (the previous quote) isn’t exactly intentional. It’s a product of being privileged."
But really, it's a great essay. It makes you think, makes you feel things, makes you want to write things. That's what good writing is and does.
Well, yeah, writing a poem is rarely as risky as, say, unprotected sex (unless you live in a country where you're not allowed to make art or say anything that challenges the government, etc.), but we can still talk about risk in poems, right? Some poems take risks, relative to other poems, not relative to playing Russian roulette.ReplyDelete
I'm having a hard time even thinking of when I would use it and I immediately cry foul when here it. I know it gets used a lot to describe confessional and experimental poetries, but even that falls short of "risk". I mean, what is at risk? That it will be a bad poem? If that's the case, then every poem is risky. I don't know, maybe you can write "in favor of 'risky' poetry" on your blog and I'll write a "against 'risky' poetry" in response here?ReplyDelete
Actually I think some poems are so bland they can't even be bad, they can only be mediocre and forgettable. I'll blog about it this week if I can think of anything valuable to say.ReplyDelete
i've always kind of wondered what "risk" in poetry really means. i've been told to take risks; what i did in response to those comments was to write poems that made me uncomfortable because they covered new territory in terms of subject matter or used language in a new way (for me). but that was my interpretation, months and years ago. it's a risk for me or it was a risk for me, but it won't always be, and it certainly won't or wouldn't be a risk for another poet. i think the word itself is thrown around a lot in workshop, especially, and i think what people mean by it is one of two things: 1. write better poems because these are boring 2. you keep writing the same good poem over and over againReplyDelete
"1. write better poems because these are boring 2. you keep writing the same good poem over and over again" = legit complaints both! :)ReplyDelete