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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beware What You Read

I recently finished reading Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle (essays), and instead of saying something inconsequential about this fathomless book, I will put a few quotes below. But I do want to say this one thing: this book was so perfectly written that when I finished I felt there was no reason for me to ever write again.

I also recently read Katherine Larson's Radial Symmetry (poems, winner of the Yale Younger Poet Series Prize this year, or maybe last). I had been looking forward to reading this book for awhile, and after I got it, I let it sit on my shelf for a month just to further anticipate reading it. And this book is technically brilliant: Larson moves from image to image without explanation, and the mystery of the connection fills the void. Her descriptions are immaculate. But I was deeply disappointed by this book. One reason was my own fault: I had expected more science in it, and I am wild about science imagery in poetry. The other disappointment for me was the sense of privilege (I recently heard on a broadcast that it's a privilege to use the word privilege, a kind of hypocrisy, and I agree, so my reaction is deeply flawed but still was my visceral reaction) from which the voice of the book speaks, the privilege of a well-educated well-traveled person that puts the reader at a distance the reader doesn't deserve. [And this reaction comes from someone with more education than was probably good for me and a travel history that, while largely based in Asia, is still not unimpressive.] But I felt the poet's preciousness in her rich experiences (which I don't blame her for having (the experiences, not the preciousness) and probably, truth be told, envy her), and I did not like that sense of preciousness. But I suspect that was a first reaction and that in further readings of this book (for I know I will read it again to see what I can absorb of her flawless imagery) I will not have this reaction. It is an early and immature one.

Nonetheless, here's what I find remarkable. Reading Larson's book makes me want to write, immediately. To pick up my pen and try myself at the craft, despite her level of craft being so much above my own. While reading Ruefle's book made me satisfied that I did not need to write again as she had already done it all (though this did not frustrate me, but freed me). A writer needs to be so careful about what she reads!

Okay, as promised, excerpts from Madness, Rack and Honey:

"Keats said only one thing was necessary to write good poetry: a feeling for light and shade. I like that he had the sense to call it one thing, and not two things." p. 38

"...I should have said a very different thing; I should have said, "It is also the nature of poetry to determine or affirm one's relations to the incomprehensible condition of existence." I say "existence" because it is different than identity. I say "determine or affirm" because there is an option here: the great sculptor Giacometti once said, "I do not know whether I work in order to make something or in order to know why I cannot make what I would like to make." Perhaps when one makes something one affirms, and when one tries to make and knows they cannot (another kind of making) one determines. One determines that they cannot, one determines this by endlessly attempting." p. 132

"...wasted time cannot be be filled, or changed into another habit; it is a necessary void of fomentaion." from p. 136, about the amount of wasted time it takes to write poetry

"An asylum is a benevolent institution affording shelter and protection to some class of the afflicted. It is also an insane place, full of shouts and cries an cries and whispers. An asylum is a place of hopeless suffering and endless misunderstanding, a place of restriction and desperation. I like the word asylum. Poetry is an asylum to me. Do you know what insanity is? Insanity is "doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results." That's writing poetry, but hey, it's also getting out of bed every morning. The argument over madness can be reduced to this: madness is excluded from thought vs. madness is "one case of thought (within thought)" (Derrida). The whole history of poetry could ensue from such a discussion. I don't want to have it." p. 305-6

3 comments:

Mari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adele daney said...

Nature Poems
Picnics poetry offers a lot of beautiful nature poems so if you want to write your own words you have a lot of sources of inspiration to choose from.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Adele.