Friday, May 29, 2009

on poets, gods and monsters

When a poet (or any artist, really) creates something that connects, inspires, touches, changes the way another thinks or sees, that's something I refer to as divine energy. The poem, art or the performance evokes a powerful response. This might be someone's requirement for "greatness." Whatever. There's something undeniably strong and moving that is conjured.

What happens sometimes, is that the poet confuses himself to be this divine energy when instead he is the conduit of the divine energy. He is not the source, it does not reside in him, he is not it. He is the thing that connects with and channels this energy into something recognized as divine by others. That is not to say that a poet is just some lucky slob who merely vomits up divine poems. Clearly it involves talent, skill, hardwork, etc. It's not a common ability. The ability is indeed valuable and special. Those who possess and utilize this ability are certainly worthy of acknowledgment, whether it's an award, a job, royalties. They deserve admiration and respect -- like any other human being who does something notable and important. These poets deserve all the human perks and benefits.

But gods are not poets. People are poets and poets are people who are no better and no worse than any other type of people. Poets are not higher beings. Poets are flawed, just as likely to cheat, steal, lie, etc. as the next slob. Poets, as a group, do not possess a higher level of self reflection or even compassion. These are qualities that vary among individuals. So in this respect as they are human beings, people, we should not expect any more or less of poets. Lest we'll be disappointed.

We hear terrible stories about poets, who they are and what they've done. It can be pretty awful stuff. It can ruin our enjoyment of their work. We should be no more shocked that the poet did this as opposed to the truck driver doing it, and we should never give any poet a pass for abuse because he's a poet with the ability to channel divine energy into amazing poems. Just as we do not give a pass for abuse to the HERO who committed an exceptional act of bravery. Yes, its wonderful, laudable that he saved 100 lives, but that does not give him the right to then go home and abuse his wife or his child, or even his dog. There's no free pass for one person abusing another person. No matter one's talent, accomplishments or station in life. The pass to commit human sacrifice (in any sense) is not a perk that should be given to any human being.

How do we even get to a place where a poet is given a pass to abuse another? Because we too confuse the divine energy in the poem for the poet. People project this divine energy onto artists all the time. I don't say I'm a fan of Jeff Goldblum's work, I say I'm a fan of Jeff Goldblum. I loooooove Jeff Goldblum. I have the steaming undies for Jeff Goldbum. I want to have 20 of Jeff Goldblum's babies and name them all Goldbloom.

See, I'm projecting the divine energy from his performances onto him. If I'm a disturbed person, I confuse my real connection to his work as an actual connection to him. While it's quite possible that his work speaks to me, Jeff Goldblum, the human being, has never spoken a word to me. I have no connection to Jeff Goldblum the man. I might not even like Jeff Goldbum the man. In fact, I hope I never meet him. One stray nose hair could totally destroy all it all for me.

Sometimes artists, poets, buy into the projections put onto them. It's easy to do. If enough people tell you how amazing and special you are, you are liable to buy into. Then you're the asshole diving into the swimming pool screaming "I'm a golden god!" Then you destroy a hotel room and you somehow get away with not being labeled a criminal. You screw 300 people and nobody suggests you're a sex addict, or even a total skeezer. They gave you a pass and you're taking advantage of it!

Of course, these passes often expire, sometimes without warning.

Here's the deal. I have no problem with Gideon dancing to a Michael Jackson song. The song is the song. But I'll be damned if I'm gonna hire MJ to be his dance coach and I'd be mighty chagrinned if he was honored at the Nickolodean Awards. I don't care if they assure me he won't be within 50 feet of a child. Not even 30 years from now. It sends a really fucked up message to children. Do I really have to explain how fucked up that message is? Do I have to remind you that children are human beings? I would hope not.

I would never knowingly send Gideon to a school where there was someone known to harass and extort students. I would never tell Gideon to get used to the idea that some people, based on their position and accomplishments, get a pass to abuse him. I would not tell him that is his lot as a child. Also I would never tell myself those things. I do not have a middle finger big enough to flash to those who say I need to get used to such things or that sometimes a blind eye is needed. I don't think it's any less terrible because it's common and frequent. I think that makes it worse. Drunk driving is common and frequent. So are its victims. How does that make it more tolerable? Being more common and frequent just means there's a higher chance it will happen to you or someone you care about. When that happens, will you feel the same?

There's a high profile poet (no need to name) who has long asserted that to be a poet one must live a very specific, rigid type of life. A true poet gives his devotion to only one thing, poetry, absolutely nothing else. This includes not devoting oneself to a secondary vocation or art, a cause or even one's own child. In this scenario Poetry is a jealous demon bitch who will not tolerate, under any circumstance, being shuffled into second place, not for one second. She comes before children, family, any responsibility to others or community. Always. If you wrong her, she takes away your identity as a poet. You can write poems until you're blue in the thumb, channel crazy levels of divine energy into poems, it won't make a bit of difference. You broke the poet covenant. You are not for real.

To follow this reasoning, to be a true poet one must become a MONSTER. It's such a ridiculous line of reasoning it's amazing anyone could take any part of it seriously.

Fuck you starving child. Fuck you man on fire. I can't put my pen down to help. I'm a poet!

Is being a MONSTER divine? Is being a MONSTER a higher calling?

I'm a fake poet. My Poetry is not a jealous demon bitch. My Poetry rides on the same bus with my other pursuits and loved ones. Sometimes I let her sit up front, sometimes I even let her drive, and sometimes I send her to the back because someone else needs my direct focus. I believe my Poetry is more informed, encompassing and rich because of this. I believe everything and everyone on this bus benefits from one another. My poems are better because of this. I am better because of it. Because it's all the same thing. My life can't have Poetry with only poetry.

Or at least that's my experience, which apparently does not count for anything, because it is not the universal human experience . . . dictated by Poetry, the jealous demon bitch.


  1. Dear Reb,

    It seems odd for anyone to suggest that a poet (artist/writer) can only be a poet, and must not be diverted or distracted by worldly pursuits (I know, I am paraphrasing.) Sometimes I feel that this is the motto that hangs on the threshold of the New Yorker Fiction Department. Not good, I think.

    All arts, I feel, require engagement–and (on a selfish level) the wish to preserve experience and (on a less selfish level) the wish to communicate experience to knowns and strangers who might find comfort, joy, revelation, shock, realization or the sheer pleasure of goofiness in identifying (to whatever degree) with what experience you convey with your work.

    A poet who is only a poet is a photographer in a room without light, or a man or woman in a box writing about him or herself, chewing the tail until there is no tail left at which point all you can write about is the tail that used to be!

    Because I am sloppy of mind I paraphrase (again) rather than quote, but I seem to remember Van Gogh talking of the purpose of his work as being 'leaving a souvenir of myself to the world.' The most interesting souvenirs are found outside, either literally or metaphorically, of one's own poetic self.

    I am not a (huge) fan of language poetry for that reason (with many exceptions, like Joseph Ceravolo, for example, whose work I think is gorgeous.)

    I sometimes suspect that the love of language is not what prompts language poetry, but the fear of facing how truly ordinary and mundane one's life is prompts some at times to code the message & experience in order to give it a loftiness and enigma that masks a simple and normal life of messy houses, television, noisy dogs and condo woes. Language poetry can divert, and could be devised easily and readily by someone who decided to devote themselves entirely to poetry, in one house, in one room, with no windows, and hopefully a bunch of books to help out. Yes it can be beautiful, but what does it convey? And to whom? And for how long? And if you want to court someone, comfort someone, share your life with someone, would you whip out some langpo? (god I hate that term!) Anyway, as you might guess, I would not.

    I know that this does not take into account the value of one's imagination, but I perceive imagination as a tool that requires a catalyst. Some might offer the example of Proust as a rebuttal, but it is important to know that he did a lot of living (maybe not so much lovin') before he settled into his cork-lined room. (Maybe the best of both worlds?)

    I will stop now because the subject brings out all the worst of my fussy grumpy ol' coot fussbudgetness. But I mean it sincerely, and I know I might be woefully wrong and/or out of touch (given the choice though, I will choose out of touch, of course!)


    PS – one last note, on the forgiveness of sins: I understand your feelings about Gideon dancing to Michael Jackson. So much of that has to do with proximity, doesn't it? We know so much about MJ because he is close by, historically speaking. Aren't we more willing to forgive (or at the very least be ignorant) of the faraway artists–
    Shakespeare, Lord Byron? Who knows what those crazy goofballs were truly up to back in the day. Still, I forgive them because I don't know, and probably never will. On the other hand, I remember reading Albert Goldman's "The Lives of John Lennon" or, according to Goldman, "John Lennon, Cad Par Excellence" and thinking–"OK, maybe he did these awful things, but for God's sake, he did write 'In My Life'" – and so I forgive him. Can't help it.

  2. it's not for everyone, tortilla. some of us like it. not everyone has to like everything.

  3. I tried to be specific that this has nothing to do with how we consider the work. Nor is about punishment or grudges. It's about not giving the person a pass or a sanction for abuse. This is about people, not art.

  4. What I want to know is how self-Googling and berating people online is part of living the life of a poet.

  5. My belief is that it has something to do with when a poet gets confused and thinks his ego IS Poetry. If one can convince himself of that, one can convince himself that all his malicious behavior is in the name of defending/protecting Poetry.

  6. I never know who anybody's talking about.