Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Smart enough

It's a strange feeling I keep having, this knowing I am not smart enough to write some of the poems I want to write.  Now, before you get to thinking I am just writing another derogatory and down-on-myself post, I want to tell you I think it is essential for a poet to always try and reach beyond his/her abilities.  It is the stuff good poems are made of, and it is where I like to be most of the time.

Take for example, my latest project---another Springville book of poems.  there are several poems I know need to be written which I have no clue as to how I will actually achieve that thing.  Namely, I don't know how to write some poems for my current book.  I also know several of the poems I have already written will need to be re-written to match better with those poems which I write later.  It is a two way street I drive upon, for the poems I have yet to write need to sound very much like what has already been written because I am writing a collection which will include lyric, narrative, and persona poems, but every poem needs to sound like me, and all the poems need to be elastic in that sense so they may evolve together to create the eventual manuscript I want.

There is of course t he failure, too.  My previous full length book manuscript, Sailing This Nameless Ship, will probably fade away because I was not good enough to write the poems I wrote---both poems and book taking the punishment for my inabilities.  Some day I may have the patience and ability to return to those poems, but I do not have what it takes right now.

So I return to my point, that most often, I find myself lacking only once I have waded knee deep into the poem of the moment.  More times than not I get 75% through a draft before the sudden (and frustrating) realization that I am out of my depths hits me.  I think the water/drowning reference is most correct.  When I can't finish a poem I want to finish, I feel waterlogged.  I feel as if I have taken water into my ears and I cant get it out.  I feel as if I have raced 20 laps in an Olympic sized pool only to come in second or third place.  Even though that feeling is frustrating, it isn't what really makes me upset.

What takes me for a ride every time is knowing I am not quite smart enough, that the poem I want to write is only one or two IQ points away.  I can see it but I cannot reach it.

I am not a poet known for layered and rich use of language.  Most of my poems, make use of a straightforward, simple language.  My poems are rarely extended metaphors for greater, otherworldly strophes.  Nobody needs to remind me that I am not Mark Strand or Dorian Laux.  And I don't mean to imply they or their kind are deliberately opaque.  I know of few contemporary poets who say to themselves I don't want anybody to understand what I am writing.  I am merely saying my strength in writing is not in the rich and textured use of language of many poets.   My conceits are rarely of the kind which inspire amazement.  I like simple themes and simple execution.  When I try complexity I will more times than not, choose a self-aware humor as the vehicle for the subject matter of the poem.  It is not a thing I can easily sustain.

Therein lies the strange conclusion.  I am not unable to be complex, layered, or 'deep.'  It's because I never take seriously my forays into complexity that I often feel unequal to the task when I need to be serious in my writing.  The lack of practice precludes me from practicing the writing of those poems, which in turn slows my progress in becoming smart enough to write the poems I need to write.

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