I’ll be revising this tomorrow for sure, but something is weighing on me tonight– some preliminary thoughts.
I posted a draft about my stay in a nursing home at La Parola Vivace. I view the poem as an excercise in noir writing. It is meant to be darkly funny in a number of respects more than so tragic, although it does try to be direct about the experience and its aftermath.
It is profoundly important to me as an artist to give my testimony to the things I see that are wrong with the world and with the Self. Sometimes there isn’t any hope or any light. Sometimes all we can do is survive our own suffering and that of others by giving voice to it and enduring it. Sometimes in recasting the tragic in a work of art there is relief, an exertion of personal vision over what is– which is its own victory.
I have always felt that when Robert Bly wrote on the back of my first collection “The most valuable thing to me about these poems is the ability to look at pain and see it” that he might be missing the redemptive aspect of my work— but perhaps it is not as redemptive as I would have it be. Perhaps the very notion of what redemption looks like needs work.
To be good and true, art needs not to cop out to the bucolic; it must be relentless. To write to appease means death to art.
For years I have found myself apologizing for writing sad poetry–and I do not believe that all of my work is dark and sad– but I don’t think I should any more. I don’t think I should honor the point of view that there must always be some kind of redemption, take away or transcendent moment that says it was all worth it.
We write what we know best and some of us have been in that coal mine for many years. We will write of that coal mine and not of the green fields that we might see if we are fortunate enough to escape. I have never shrunk from writing about anything, giving voice to it and trying to call it by its right names. That said, I don’t post my poetry for sympathy, but for feedback as to whether a poem delivers in terms of craft: how does this work as a poem?
Think of the great art that is not at all about redemption: The Diary of Anne Frank, although we see the courage of a young girl and the persistence of her vision. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Bly’s The Teeth Mother Naked at Last, the great epic about the Viet Nam war.
The “naked poetry” of self-disclosure and direct statement most of us write these days doesn’t seem to me to be begging for sympathy. The canon stands as testimony to how hard life really is for nearly everyone.