Monday, May 23, 2005

Blog Dogging

For the most part, I enjoyed Peter Campion's essay in the June issue of Poetry magazine "Grasshoppers: A Notebook." The last section in particular gives and important 'answer' to the questions I (and I'm sure many others) have pondered lately, "Why write poems anyhow?"

Earlier in the essay he bemoans (and who doesn't) that poetry has become a "guild" system, that young poets are constantly worried about their 'careers' and looking to experienced poets for advice. He then says you can see this if you spend more than an instant reading poetry blogs, where "the you-know-whats spew down the screen with a kind of poisoned earnestness."

I see no reason for this view. For me at least a blog is an area to spill out informal ideas, observations, foolishness, and yes, even some--gasp--earnestness. On occasion some real insight creeps in through the back door. I don't see a problem with this, and I also don't understand why anybody cares what poets write about on their blogs. I think that for some the blog community is another way to find friend and mentors--poets have been doing that forever. I don't think there's any shame in looking for support in this type of environment--the readers who want to sympathise will. The readers who don't can look elsewhere.

I realize that anyone can read what you write on a blog, and respond, even, if you have set up you account that way. But I think, with very few exceptions, it is misleading to quote from a blog and present that writing as representative of a poet's style, thoughts, ability, whatever. I'm writing this before I brush my teeth--I'm not too worried about spelling.) Yet in this essay Campion quotes from a blog--I'm pretty sure it was C. Dale's--in which the author is encouraging another poet who has become discouraged about rejection by referring to poems of his that went around many times before getting accepted. The reason I remember this conversation is because I found it encouraging. I also was touched (there's that earnestness again) that a more well known poet cared anough about younger writers to share this information in a public forum. I would never do that--I'd just pretend that everything got accepted on the first try.

Campion does not attribute the lines to C. Dale, which is just plain wrong--as though he is doing the author a favor by not connecting him publicly to those lines. It's not his dissent I have a problem with--it's the way it's presented.


At 12:47 PM, Blogger David Vincenti said...

Haven't gotten to the Campion piece yet (my latest Poetry is under a pile which, by the way, includes my recently arrived Zydeco Tablets!), so I'll probably rethink this in a week or so, but for now:

I think the blogospere is a less-immediate, wider-reaching writer's group. Groups do tend to provide encouragement, to review rough work, etc. That's what they're for.

But rather than the apprentice system alluded to here, I think there's been a great equalizing through the poetry blogs I follow. Just last week, there was the equivalent of a 10-person shouting match in the comments section of Ron Silliman's blog. You can like or not like his poetics, but Silliman is an incredibly accomplished poet, and in a true guild system would be a master not to be trifled with.

It's probably true that some avenues (some journals, some reading series, some writers) require an offering or apprenticeship before considering you a poet. But I think it's equally true that there are more avenues to becoming a poet than there were 25 years ago when I first became aware that such people existed, most of which reject entitlement as quickly as they do bad poems.

Now, if Campion's referring to academic writing programs, that may be a different issue....

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Suzanne said...

Whoa--what's the answer to that question?! I would love to know. :-)

At 6:34 AM, Blogger Charles said...

What's that attitude about? "Don't be invested in writing poetry?"

I left "playing it cool" back in high school.

At 7:20 AM, Blogger Alison P. said...

David--He doesn't get much into the MFA. Thanks for buying my book--maybe one day I'll pull above the million mark on amazon!

Suzanne--The answer, well, he gives a great analogy about grasshoppers. But when you get down to it, it's the same answer I dole out to my wee ones after giving them earnest answers to questions like why do people have feet, why? Why we can't (jump on sofa, eat fire, trow mud in the kiddie pool . . . .) Just Because!

Charles--Are you referring to Campion's attitude? If so, I don't get it either. People apperentice themselves at conferences and readings--why throw blogs to the fire? I don't get it.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Suzanne said...

Campion reminds me of a few other people who seem to get really bent about blogging. It's really strange, I mean, what does that say about them? And why do they get so worked up about blogs? Thanks for the answer--I'm going to use it around here, too. ;-)

At 7:59 AM, Blogger Alison P. said...


I don't know why people get so worked up about blogs. If you think it's a waste of time, don't do it. Period. Whay would anybody care if the blog poets are taking quizzes or talking about hairstyles or whatever. We can't be serious all of the time!

At 6:40 PM, Blogger EvangelineStarn said...

I read the Campion essay in Poetry. Yes, he no like the blogs. But while I found that section of his essay kinda tetchy, I don't think he was saying anything against mentorship or giving advice. I mean who could be against giving advice? I think the dig, which no one her has mentioned, was about the idea of calculating your submissions-- that that's kind anal, and shows a fixation on petty stuff.
And then he makes fun of himself for reading them. All in all, seems like nothing to get worked up about.


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