Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thought for the Day

The third annual HappenStance Story pamphlet arrived today. It’s free to HappenStance subscribers (do consider subscribing or buying a HappenStance publication – mine has sold out, so I say this without any personal hope of gain) and, as ever, looks like highly engaging stuff. The final page contrasts the desire to write poetry and the desire to be a poet. The first of those is a laudable ambition, although it takes plenty of work and reading (and perhaps a degree of luck) for anything memorable to emerge. As Helena Nelson puts it, with just a touch of ironic humour:

“Sometimes, I want to ask the people who don’t write poetry, what’s wrong. Everyone’s doing it these days, it seems. Why aren’t they?”

But not everyone is reading poetry, developing knowledge of poetry, or buying poetry. Just like those who pin all their hopes on winning the X Factor or American Idol, there’s a sense that being a poet, being someone, is more important than poetry itself. The article finishes on a sobering question – whether it would be preferable to have your name and poetic achievement remembered by posterity, or to have lines you’ve written recalled with appreciation, without recollection of who wrote them.


hazel said...

Hi Rob
I haven't read my copy of the Happenstance Story yet but I'm looking forward to doing so.
My response to the question is that it is the poetry that matters more - I've been compiling a list of everyday phrases that come from poems - to try and show that poetry comes into everyone's life, even when they don't realise it.

I also believe that living the life of a poet is important - Stanley Kunitz said it for me - when he was asked why he didn't write more political poetry, he said that living the life of a poet was in itself a political act. And I suppose that is why I choose not only to try and write poetry but to live as a poet...although no doubt there are lots of different ideas on what kind of life that should be.

Rob said...

Interesting comemnt, Hazel, particularly on 'the life of a poet'. I'm not sure that I agree with Kunitz because there are so many different poet-lifestyles. Is it meaningful to suggest that they are all political? Or do only a few poets live the 'life of a poet' as it should be lived?

I'm tempted to post on this - if I can think things out a little more. I feel a Belle and Sebastian line coming on too.

Anonymous said...

Similar ideas on writers and fame here:



Hazel said...

Yes, I've wondered myself what Kunitz meant by 'Life of a Poet'. I believe it as a dedication to writing your poetry and working to continually go deeper and communicate better with it.

I had a read at the link Anonymous, but I didn't agree with the basic statement "Writers write in order to be recognized." I suppose some writers write to be recognised but most of the writers I know don't have this is as their motivation. A few of the comments touched on this. And it certainly couldn't have been Emily Dickinson's motivation...luckily for us or she might have given up writing.

Rob said...

Still thinking about a post. Maybe on Monday.

Great link, Andy. I'd read it before, but good to read it again. Kirsch likes to wind people up, but he's always thought-provoking.

deemikay said...

Thanks for the link.

Poetry as lifestyle seems far more important to lots of people. And we're in a world where lifestyle books sell (lots) more than poetry books. And fame is seen as more important than talent; doing more important than experiencing; etc.

Hopefully just a phase the western world is going through.

AS for the "life of a poet"... to me it should be a life of writing poems and not much else.

(And a comment here about your Talking Heads clip - people seem to accept obscurity in most artforms except literature. Why? Wish I knew...)

Anyway, I ramble...