This is a dangerous assertion. A political statement that “staggers” and “shuffles” and “dislocates,” just as do the poems of Doug Kearney, who asserted this truism about writing and writers at PSA’s Red, White, and Blue : Poets on Politics panel at the Hammer Museum.
Yes, says my writer self who feels guilty for not doing more than just writing (like this). And, hell no, says my other writer self who knows how writing is not just writing, but work (like foregoing summer travel to hunker down and get the manuscript done).
Either way, it is a transformation, as Kearney, Prageeta Sharma, and Matthew Zapruder noted in their discussion of poetics and politics.
Poetry transforms the writer and the audience, even if that audience is just the writer. So it is not just writing, but writing something that surprises you, the writer, surrendering to something other than LISTEN TO WHAT I WANT TO SAY.
For Kearney it’s a stagger and a shuffle, a throwing the audience off-balance, that achieves this transformation.
For Sharma, surprise comes through mocking the authoritative voice of the canon, of the paradox of creativity supported by the institution of academia.
It is not just politics and poetry, but the politics of poetry.
For Zapruder it is inescapable. Poetry. Politics. It is Sappho writing the first lyric poems under a moon reflecting, on paper, her own thoughts and feelings (Zapruder’s image, not mine).
Poetry. Confessions. Politics.
The poem as the only place where they could be themselves (Sharma and Zapruder).
But how can we be ourselves in the institution of academia and politics, in the public?
Particularly when the poetic self is so often not the self the institution hired or the public will like: the anxiety, as Kearney pointed out, of autobiographical interpretation of each poem.
Is this what people will think of me?
Versus the poem as our own imaginative “danger room” where we can crash and fail and flail and be ourselves and not ourselves, as we need, to find that transformation.
Sharma, in talking about art in the institution of academia, called the poem a product that proves success. More specifically, the public poem, the published poem, the poem published in the right journal.
If I am not being published (by the ‘right’ journals) or validated by an institution, can I continue to call myself a writer? What do writers do besides write and teach writing? If I leave behind teaching and the pursuit of teaching college, will I still be a writer?
I simply want the lightness and time to slip into that poetry mind more often, the space of Keats’ “negative capability” where paradox and contradiction exist, where I can stagger and shuffle and go into the danger room of thought.
Reentering that room after a long absence is scary: did I lose my edge? how out of shape am I? where to start training to regain ground? and how, poetically, does one measure the regaining of ground?
Suddenly, the striving for a title or position that seems to fit the writer persona, the proper resume with the right publications seems secondary to the writing and the living. I enter the danger room, pick up a word, and start with one rep, then two, then three . . .
Suddenly, I am a little be closer to being a Poet & Writer.