Thursday, December 27, 2007

unheard maladies

Reading poetry submissions for my workshops, manuscript conferences, and for the magazine I edit, Perihelion, often puts me into a state of reverie that is related to the kind of state I achieved when reading poetry in my youth—that is, I am transported and moved—except where I am transported to, and what I’m moved to do, has changed. For example, I am often transported from my couch to my kitchen by a mighty wave of boredom and moved to shout obscenities as I go. And if a poet walks across my path at that moment, then don’t wait up for that poet because I’ll be busy disposing of their body in my backyard, digging a hasty hole, or I’ll be burning the poet with his or her manuscript taped to the chest for a burning booster. It makes a lovely light.

Poetry rage is an under diagnosed condition among editors. The symptoms include: involuntary head shaking, bitten finger tops, auditory or olfactory hallucinations (e.g. a constant sense that something smells bad), restless sleep and, last stage, unexplained weeping and tearing of paper. Why do people write such awful poems? The question haunts me.

I used to believe that becoming a poet had to do with necessity of expression, a need to convey thought and emotion so ineffable that the usual speaking and writing channels just couldn’t handle it. Now I think it’s something else: an incredibly accurate diagnostic instrument, more informative than a brain scan—only in a poem can someone impart such banality of concept, such disconnected thinking and flatness of affect so quickly and effectively. Economy of expression allows instant exposure of one’s interior landscape, and puts me in the role, not of editor or even something so worthwhile as therapist, but rather as unwilling witness to the same terrible thing the poet must undergo on a daily basis: the sense of nothing at all to say. Is anybody there? the poet seems to ask. Can anyone see a worthwhile thought, a flash of originality, somewhere here, back here, behind this wall of clich├ęd babble about my relatives, my lost love, my incredibly ordinary life? How about over here, behind this hastily built stack of nonsensical utterances and clever-sounding lines that don’t connect to one another? Am I here? Am I still alive? Help, please help me, tell me you can read this, it’s my last chance of communicating my existence, that I was here.

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