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A Professional Secret


Professional secrets is the title Cocteau gave to his collection of essays on writing. So I steal from him. I start up the thread with writer types I tend to either dismiss or pity.

~I suffer from writer's block, that type. This one I dismiss. There is no such animal as a writer's block. There are times when a writer has nothing to say. No shame there. Other times when you must go nascent, go underground, go fallow just like the plant world does. But mostly this type forgets that if you have nothing to say good chance you haven't lived, experienced, and are not alive, responsive to experience.

~I cancel out my writing urge, that type. I start out feeling sorry for this type, end up dismissive. We all have a committee of voices in our heads. Its purpose is to correct us. Call it the critical voice or the anti-self. The product of over-socialization. That committee is there to tell every writer that she does not matter, that her feelings and thought make no difference and, therefore, are stupid. At first I feel sorry for the type, having gone through it, then I get bored with the whining, having stood up to the committe, placed it in a conference room a floor down.

~The editing is such a labor, that type. I do not understand this type of writer. How can laboring to get the perfect word, phrase, caption, sentence, paragraph right be a labor? I don't just dismiss this kind of writer, I have no professional respect for her. Writing provides me with 3 pleasures. Conception, execution, and, sometimes after years, getting the conception right in word, phrase, caption, and sentence.

I got two more types of writers I dismiss and feel sorry for.

Tere

     
Feb/14/2013, 8:57 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: A Professional Secret


I should have written a note to myself. I forget the other two types of writers I had in mind. But one type I dismiss I'm sure I wasn't thinking of now comes to mind.

I know of writers, in poetry especially, who are far better than I am in one regard. Far better. They tend to have a facility with the language, both in terms of words and syntax, I will never possess. I read their poems and think: wish I had that kind of comfortable capacity for expression, that kind of ease with the language, that kind of intimacy with grammar. Wish I had it right now while putting thoughts on the screen. I know of one poet, a poet laureate where she lives, a frequent winner of contests, and a professional librarian. She stands as example of the type I have in mind. She is good, deserving of the honors. It needed reading maybe a dozen poems of hers, however, before I got the cheat. How to explain it? Poetry has many properties involving, not limited to, linguistic resources, sound, sense, meaning, emotional impact. One such property, and this I get from a philosopher, involves poetry's transformative actions. Does it trans-form me? Does it carry me over? Take me, sometimes violently, out of habit? The type of poet I have in mind here does not transform me, does not dig me up, carry me across. Rather, she appliques me, she cloisonnes me with her words. I come away from such a poet in admiration and envy. But also with a sense of falseness. My gut tells me such a poet uses language to cover up some sort of existential hole, which would make of the language facility a compensatory act. The Moderns railed against Victorian falseness in poetry. While prosodic tastes have changed since then, and thanks to them, poetry in the hands of liars is alive and well.

Tere
Feb/15/2013, 9:26 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: A Professional Secret


So I'm thinking at random and in tandem. Cocteau, that supreme Surrealist, is my patron saint here.

I got the idea from an Italian, mid 20th C philosopher by the name of Chiaromonte. He faught in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans and against Franco's Fascists. I think he might have flown in bombers with Malraux. For which reason I have tended to give his thoughts credence.

He said something in an essay of his I read back in the 70s. I think he was citing Aristotle or Plato. Speaking of the theater, he said: There is no great drama without a great audience. I took him to mean that great drama requires an audience capable of entering into the dialogue involving performance and response. That actually makes excellent sense. Tragedy started out as a ritual enactment, symbolically expressed, of sacrifice in the sacred precincts of Dionysus. There, in Athens, the audience was key to sacrifice's success, and so ensuring rebirth. Now to extrapolate.

Without the gifted poetry reader the poet is nothing. Conversely, if the poet does not look to communicate with her reader her's is a failed performance. The relationship is essential, vital, symbiotic, or, as they say in natural history to describe the relationship between 2 species benefiting from each other's company, a case of mutualism.

I can't say exactly why I make poetry. In the lizard portion of my brain maybe I know. I do know I want to touch on the brow, make the connection with, the one individual who is also responsive to the whole mandala of experience poetry comes out of and gives expression to.

The gifted poetry reader, I've decided, is a subset of the species. He/she is pretty identifiable. Response always in the gut first. Never in the head first. I don't understand poets, and writers in general, who require the larger audience. The gifted poetry reader is frankly all I care about.

Tere
Feb/15/2013, 10:31 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
vkp Profile
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Re: A Professional Secret


Had to comment. This is so great:
quote:

she appliques me, she cloisonnes me with her words


Best verbing of words in recent history. And I know exactly what you mean.

Other than that, I agree with what you say throughout. And yes, being read well by one is meaningful. Being read by the anonymous masses is probably just an ego-thrill. Not that I'd know!
Feb/17/2013, 9:37 am Link to this post Send Email to vkp   Send PM to vkp Blog
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: A Professional Secret


A small story with a point. I know a man who is 15 years my senior. He has been something of a father figure. Some years ago, in fact, his tongue once slipped and he started to introduce me as his son. He is a teacher, a historian by training, but also a true follower of all the liberal arts, even if with an emphasis on the social sciences. Many years ago, when I was much younger and he was politically a Marxist, he told me my writing was too personal for him. I mention he was a Marxist because of its affiliated literary school of social realism. The kind that used to decry the lyrical/personal as decadent bourgeois lit. I might not have been 21 yet, young enough so that I was in the habit of taking the man's advice too seriously, certainly without critical measure.

The man's comment did my career much harm. It effectively stoppered me, cancelled me out, made me constantly second-guess myself. It silenced my voice. I wrote next to nothing for the better part of a decade. With notable exceptions what I did manage to create was flat, stilted, without conviction, no passion, not at all affective, as Yeats would put it, without "the old nonchalance of the hand." The exceptions were almost always produced in spite of myself, or when I was able to forget myself. I don't know how but I was finally able to kill the seed of his over-voice in my head. I think it had to do with experiencing pain. I do remember one time hearing a poem of mine, one using the lyrical/personal voice, put to music, successfully made into a song. Not sure I could have explained it then, but on some level I got that, in fact, the lyrical/personal can arrive at something universal, something expressed in such a way so that it can speak for something others feel. Goethe said in a poem what I mean here. "Though most men suffer dumbly, yet a god / Gave me a tongue to utter all my pain." I've long since decided this right here is a poet's responsibility: to affectively, successfully express what maybe the majority of the species cannot, being dumb. Success, of course, being measured by how well the expression carries over to the audience and gathers it up.

It is hard for me to believe how stoppered I was back then. But easy to remember. The main of my writing was simple journal writing. Recently having returned to the journals from those years, I find the main of my complaint was that I wanted to feel alive. There is a connection here. The stoppered, silenced poet has no means, since no voice, for measuring whether or not she is alive. But I also think I cannot entirely blame this father figure. I think it possible I was afraid. Afraid of myself, afraid to feel too much, and afraid of standing alone. This last is cardinal.

There is a funny coda to my story. This same father figure now reads me with interest and with a marked degree of engagement. He once confessed that one story of mine brought him to tears. I know that another story of mine inspired him to write a family history. Visiting him about 2 years ago, and we talking the literary stuff, he said that contemporary poetry left him cold, bored him. Out of the blue he then said my writing was the exception.

There is a further, perhaps larger point to my story. No poet can be assured of success, either starting out or further along in the career. Writing is an experiment, as is the poet herself, a field test, no foregone conclusions. This is true every new time pen is set to paper. Not even the promise of talent is enough. For that matter neither is success itself. In a sense the poet has to walk blind or without a map. Trusting only the urge. The prize comes in the profound liberation the realization produces.

Tere
Feb/17/2013, 3:58 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: A Professional Secret


Oops. Kat, Chris, what I just wrote is not profound enough to be posted twice. Please delete the repeat. Thanks.

Tere
Feb/17/2013, 4:00 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Christine98 Profile
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Re: A Professional Secret


OK tere, I deleted the duplicate.

Something William Stafford said re: writers block--something to the effect there is no such thing, just fear of writing badly. So get over that was his advice. I was looking through my Stafford book but couldn't find the exact quote. Anyway it makes me laugh because it's true,

Chris
Feb/17/2013, 5:01 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
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Re: A Professional Secret


Thanks, Chris. Stafford was right, of course, if not entirely. Fear of writing badly, sure. Also laziness, not willing to put in the sweat equity.

Tere
Feb/17/2013, 6:22 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: A Professional Secret


Can't know if this secret will be of any interest or use to anyone.

Robert Graves might have been at the age I am now when he said something I am finally of an age to understand. I don't expect many writers of poetry to get it, neither young or older. Today I listened to an interview with the poet who gave President Obama's inaugaration poem. It was an interview in which he recited several poems. New to me. Last name Blanco. A gay Cuban-American from Miami. I was struck by how perfectly atonal, unrhythmic, without any attention given to rhythms, cadences, meters, and that most effective of all prosodic devices, the musical pause, stop, rest. Not intending to pick on the poet. Merely an example of how thoroughly atonal poetry has become on the American scene. Again why I don't expect many to understand what I mean.

From memory Graves said that, after awhile, word selection in the service of tonal message becomes very difficult, since, again after awhile, every word in the language, every syllable with its stresses, accents, and quiet unaccents, sounds sweet on the ear. The message is mine. The meaning is his. It is true. In my case the difficulty is a function of 4 decades intimacy with the language put to poetic purpose. Exasperated by a taboo against becoming repetitious.

Not certain what the antidote is. One help is to learn from other-language prosodic rules. One hope is to stretch the language in both sound and sense. One possibility is to submit to certain limitations.

As I say, can't imagine this is a secret to interest many.

Tere
Feb/18/2013, 8:05 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: A Professional Secret


My secrets read harsh to me tonight. Funny thing is that poets count as my favorite class of people. Poetry takes so much courage and single minded devotion to a thing at the bottom of most value based sorting systems. Courage to get real. Devotion to get the thing right, if no more than once in a career.

Over the years I've known so many gifted writers, so many born with the natural talent I've long since accepted I myself was not born with. In them there can keep the urge and desire to write. But not the lust, certainly not the need. In the end, maybe that is what it comes down to. The wholly unintelligent, irrational, instinctive need to write. To write and to get it right, at least once. I think this is true, what separates out writers. This need to write in the same way a drowning man stretches out of his skin in order to reach the surface and breathe. Or a man who has come out of surgery, sugar so low he blacks out, comes to somehow, and drinks a quart of orange juice in two minutes. That is the kind of need I mean. I think there is a class of royalty among poets, a lineage to which not all poets belong. They are not marked by greatness or language facility or talent. They are marked by a need to write so great they sport with death, knowing they cannot speak to the essentia of living otherwise. Flamenco poetry affirmed this for me, what I've always known in my groin. It is no accident that, in flamenco, the matador is prized second only to the poet.

We are all such liars. We lie to our family, to our children, maybe most hurtful of all we lie to our lovers. Intention almost always good, not wanting to cause the kind of discomfort resulting in unpleasantness. Most of all we lie to ourselves, but here intention is specious at best. Without the self-lie the alternative becomes entirely too dangerous, too chancy, too stark an assessment. An existential thing. So we live with lies and they become something in the woof and warp of what keeps the fabric of our lives from tearing apart. But of all of us liars the poet who lies is the most damnable. Reason is simple. I'm convinced that, in the end, past religion and ideology and the intellectual stuff, we all come back to poetry for truth-in-beauty. I think poets, and writers in general, are so self-indulgent. Self-indulgence can be a good thing. It is what allows each writer to think what she thinks and feels is worth committing to paper, essential enough to touch to some imperative universal in us all. Self-indulgence in a poet can also be a bad thing. (Every concept has its reverse, Jung said.) It becomes a bad thing when sentiment, emotion, expression falsifies, inauthenticates.

Tere
Feb/23/2013, 9:56 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: A Professional Secret


A follow up on immediately preceding post. The cliche.

There is a misunderstanding among second and third tier poets, the majority of poets, about what constitutes a cliche, actually about its nature. In poetry a cliche does not so much involve word usage as it is a matter of the experience, of emotion especially, inauthenticated for reasons that, in the end, work against poetry. Reasons that have nothing to do with poetry.

Here is a note to myself from several years ago. 'The act of naming cheats us into thinking we know the thing. The act of poetry gets us behind the name, inside the thing.'

If only that was the case at least 25% of the time in poetry. It is not. Poets rarely write to get inside the thing. Usually they do it to protect themselves from the thing. Then there is the problem involving the poet's addiction to the seductiveness of sound, rhythm, just the veritable dance steps that make her look graceful on the dance floor. Myself too easily seduced in this way I know what I'm saying is true.

It is a hard thing and tight, getting that dance step right in the tension that authentic poetry requires between sound and sense.

That is what I know. The cliche is not a word, not a word usage, not even an inauthentic expression of experience. It has to do with experience lived through inauthentically.

Tere
Feb/25/2013, 8:25 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: A Professional Secret


I want to be clear on something. Said again, I've known so many gifted writers. I know I'm not one such. When I write it is not me. It is a daemon using my voice to its own purpose. Socrates said he followed his daemon. So did Goethe. So did Lorca except he was more honest. He said his fight was with his daemon. Fighting with angels, he implied, was child's play. Struggling with your daemon, in earth root, is what produces the thing, poem or story, that carries over, grounds her reader in an ineluctable truth.

I do not trust a gifted writer in the same way I do not trust a flim flam man, a hootchie kootchie girl, an insurance salesman. They all sell the same thing. A prosperous prospect of themselves. Worse, I do not trust the gifted poet or writer who has no sweat equity in what she makes. You always know instinctively when that is the case.

Tere
Mar/9/2013, 11:56 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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