Listening to: Lorelei-- Cocteau Twins
Reading: Disquisition on Government: John C. Calhoun
The deadline for submissions to our school literary magazine was midnight tonight. I sent in my five poems with minutes to spare. Five was more than I wanted to send in. I'm not sure why I sent that many, ultimately. Five different emails, five different times I clicked send and felt that little jolt of mortified anxiety I used to feel before showing anyone my work. That wondering how good is it really. As if there were some accepted yardstick of poetic excellence by which Ior the editorial board for that mattercould measure it. In short, I regressed.
I'm no longer on the editorial board for the magazine, and haven't been since freshman year. I didn't submit any poems last year in some vague and wholly ineffective attempt at protest because I didn't like the way the organization was run. As it happened, the magazine from last spring was filled with the writings of only a handful of people whom I personally would not term particularly talented. I don't know if that pleased or offended me in the end.
So, if the quality of writing was so thoroughly mediocre last semester, why would I worry about how my own poetry would be received? Well, I'm not sure what the answer to that question is, to be honest. It seems to boil down to this unending engagement I have with my ego; I'm never certain that I'm winning that particular war, or even what it would mean to win. But let me tell you what I think it is. I think that every poet has artistic vanity in droves and that, underneath all their protestations of modesty, poets truly think that their contributions to the field are original and somehow significant. No matter how trite, how maudlin or how startlingly uncreative the poem might be, the writer feels an emotional weight within the piece and a maternal attachment to it. It's difficult not to.
But then, when the warm glow of creation has faded and the emotions which inspired the poem grow cool and distant, the poet rereads her work and wonders where the merit she so recently found there has gone. There's this conflict I experience asnot a writer, I wouldn't say, but someone who writesbetween repulsion at my own inadequacies of expression and the unshakable conviction that somehow the poems deserve praise. And, in the end, why do I write poetry if not to parade my intellectual and emotional status before the eyes of someoneanyone? How low it seems. But at the same time, don't I read some poets and think, Thank God, oh thank god they wrote this poem? Is there true and inarguable artistry, and where is it? How can I attain it? Will I know if I have? How is The Red Wheelbarrow a masterwork and my short poetry abstractist shit?
I submitted an updated version of Profile for the Criminally Insane to the magazine. Doing so raised questions for me about what poetry actually is. My first thought was that they would never accept it because it wasn't in the format of all the poems they published last yearit didn't look like a poem. It wasn't long and it didn't talk about feelings. It didn't even rhyme except in a little burst at the end. But is it a poem? I thought so when I posted it here, and some part of me still thinks so now. And what about the other fits of typographical ecstasy that I have here? Are they poems? Are they art at all, or are they self-indulgent semantic games played with myself?
Self-indulgence is the hallmark of most poetry, I find. You have to believe your perspective is a meaningful one to undertake the endeavor of writing; yet poetry seems, more than many other media, to demand humility and skepticism of its creator. Is it possible to reconcile the two, or are we stuck on the one hand with sometimes-brilliant, sometimes-insipid ramblings and on the other with complete creative paralysis?
No answers tonight, just questions and more questions.