A proud shout-out to beloved Harlot editor, contributor, and all-around tech wizard Kaitlin, for the recent publication of 3 of her poems in PANK Magazine. Read and/or listen here to get a taste of why Kaitlin’s recently been accepted to San Diego State University’s MFA program. Please join us in wishing her good luck as she departs Columbus for sunny California!
"Creepy Magnetic Poetry (Healing Words)" by MousyBoyWithGlasses', flickr
It’s April and that means poetry. Since 1996 April has been recognized as the National Poetry Month in the US. You see, here at Harlot, we believe that the production of frabjous rhetoric is just as important as the analysis of that rhetoric. So, that’s where the creative writing spectrum comes in and, right now, poetry. In honor of NPM, I would like to challenge y’all.
1. I’m going to challenge your conception of what and where poetry comes from by sharing this link from io9.com with you. The article, “Poet Encodes His Masterwork In Bacterial DNA,” explains one writer’s attempt to form a real, actually-makes-some-sense poem from nucleotides, and proteins, and other things I haven’t studied in years. Super-duper cool!
2. Harlot is about creating and being aware of our own rhetoric just a much as it’s an analysis of others’ rhetoric, and with that in mind, I challenge you to write me a poem. Write whatever you like–subject matter is not for me to decide–and address it to Kaitlin at email@example.com. I’ll draw you a pretty picture or write a note back. This is just for fun and for me to read all y’all’s frabjous poetry skills, so I don’t want to hear any excuses about feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness. This is an opportunity to practice, create, and exercise your own persuasive rhetoric. (Of course, the more unique the tactic of creation, the more creative response you’ll get. 🙂
That’s what Olena Kalytiak Davis asked when she blogged for the Poetry Foundation last September. So, are poets bad motherfuckers? Are they different from anybody else? Call me an optimist, but I think we all have our “poetry.” We all have our thing that we are intrinsically interested and invested in. And by that definition, rhetoricians are bad motherfuckers too. We’re all bad motherfuckers. As long as we invest ourselves in exploring the things that truly interest us, hell, geek out on those things, then we are some bad motherfuckers.
But poetry specifically. Let’s talk about that. Olena (oh yes, I’m going with the first name [attribute it to being a bad motherf______–my mother doesn’t like it when I say that word]) asks in her post, “are we living our lives differently? better? or are we just making stupid poetry ‘moves’?.”
Is it not those “stupid poetry moves” that contain the persuasiveness of poetry? James Longenbach writes in his book, The Resistance To Poetry:
[T]he marginality of poetry is in many ways the source of its power, a power contingent on poetry’s capacity to resist itself more strenuously than it is resisted by the culture at large.
Throughout this entire book, Longenbach emphasizes that the audience of poetry interacts with that particular genre because we find enjoyment in the challenge. Yes, poetry can be difficult, but, to quote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, “the hard is what makes it great.” (Heck yeah, I just dropped an eighteen year old movie reference on you.)
So, aren’t those poetry moves absolutely pertinent to poetry? If poets stopped choosing to persuade their audience in the way that they do, then, at that moment, wouldn’t they stop being bad motherfuckers?
Audio vs Text. That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. Specifically in conjunction with creative works. Let’s do a bit of a case study, shall we?
One of my absolute favorite poems of all time would be Richard Siken‘s “Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out”. Now, the way that I read this poem–in my head, that is–tends to ebb and flow. I speed up and slow down at various parts. The point being, that I have a specific rhythm that is innate to me and how I perceive text. This rhythm forces me to hone in on specific aspects of the poem that I, subjectively, find intriguing.
But when a poem is heard and not seen, then I’m forced to comply to the rhythm of the reader. I find it even more interesting when it is the author him/herself who reads. In this particular case, I can find two readings by Siken of this particular poem. (Apparently, I am not the only one who enjoys this one.)
Apostrophe Cast contains what we’ll call Reading #1. This particular reading is more serious and melancholy. It’s slow and simmering. Gruff. Intimate. What sticks out to me in this reading is the fairy tale motif. The princess, the dragon, flames everywhere. And even more so, the despair and desperation stick out.
But with the reading he gave at Loyola University New Orleans [correction, it’s a 1718 Reading which is brought to you by Tulane University, University of New Orleans, and Loyola, as Alex McG has informed me], which we’ll call Reading #2 (available on iTunes), is a bit more upbeat. It’s read at a faster pace. It’s frenetic and bitter sweet. Snarky and sarcastic. In fact, Siken himself calls this poem “the fun one.”
You can compare the two. For example when he comes to the lady. This passage:
You want a better story. Who wouldn’t?
A forest, then. Beautiful trees. And a lady singing.
Love on the water, love underwater, love, love and so on.
What a sweet lady. Sing lady, sing! Of course, she wakes the dragon.
Love always wakes the dragon and suddenly
And listen to the way Reading #1 approaches it: siken1
Juxtaposed to the way it’s confronted in Reading #2: siken2
Reading #2 contains a vitality that isn’t there for Reading #1. It’s like a wet cloth got thrown over Reading #1. Consider the way he speaks the very fist line of this excerpt. In print, there are two sentences: a statement and a question and, to my ears, #2 conveys that, but #1 makes the statement sound like he’s half questioning you. As if he’s merely guessing that “you want a better story” rather than telling you that you do.
Consider the lady as well. Both readings do present a sarcastic kind of address to her and her function, but each feels like a different kind of sarcasm. #1 sounds like the speaker has given up. He just doesn’t care about what she has to say anymore and the consequences of her actions should’ve been foreseen–predictable. #2, on the other hand, sounds provoking and antagonizing. That lady, you know she just had to go and do that.
Now, these differences. These different experiences, I suspect they lead to different speakers and ultimately to different poems. The poem that exists in Reading #1 is one of passiveness with a speaker who’s ready to roll over in bed and ignore the whole situation. Reading #2 has a passion and fervor that makes the speaker into someone who’s going to sit across from the coffee table, stare you in the eye, and plead with you to stay.
The one in my head, though. The rhythm that I come to when I read this poem, points me in a direction of middle ground with a speaker who sometimes wants to turn away and other times wants to stare you down. A speaker that confronts you with the things he really cares about–(ie, more applesauce)–and allow you distance when he’s swimming around and trying to avoid things–(ie, saying he’s not the dragon when he is the dragon).
Can you imagine the difference this makes, though? This ability to change the speaker can change an entire poem. With each new reading, the entire poem can change, the speaker can change, and the meaning can change. It has the ability to connect with people differently each time. Someone who wouldn’t connect with, say, Reading #1 might connect with Reading #2 or vice versa or not at all, but only with text. I find that exciting and perplexing.