There seems a current trend among poets - performance and page if you are fickle about distinctions- Wait, let me start again. There seems a current trend amongst poets nowadays. And by nowadays I don’t mean that today I have seen this, I mean that over the recent months there has been a trend towards- towards the thing I am leading up to, just be patient. There seems a certain propensity towards the poet nowadays. Oh, now I’m muddled. There seems a certain tendency, propensity whatever, I’ve just had to look that word up – it means a natural inclination. There seems a certain - well when I say certain, I do not mean it is a sure thing. I mean it as a signifier of reliability. There is a reliability to poets nowadays. “What I mean is” (Agnes Lehoczky) there is a dependable, reactionary stream of blustery snot-noses. Poets I mean. A reactionary stream of bluster boys who seem quite content to classify their personal journal entries, specifically not their entries but a random quish-quash of thought which they’ve had that day, and turn them into a list. No, let me redefine that because it is unfair. Many great poets thrive on the thoughts that they’ve had on that, or any other, particular day. Take William Carlos Williams for example, who enriched American poetry just by the grace of a plum in an icebox no less. No divine mystery there, no magic hoo-do. This is not a war against the requirement of mystical energy in your plum or your poem. Please do not make that mistake. We can do direct talking, and I’m not interested in drawing myself into that woozy polemic anymore than I have to. Poems work in all variety of measures, meters, forms and failures – the world contains multitudes. To paraphrase Whitman.
No, the argument is thus- people’s engagement with poetry seems to require that they are, by their very unique and gratifying position as audience/critic/anonymous blogger, given over to wanting things explained. Quite Simply. In Big Letters. “What I mean is” (Agnes Lehoczky) there is a certain kind of brainwashing that occurs through academic study – there can only ever be one or two interpretations of a poem, and god help you if you don’t get it on the first drop. Now there is nothing wrong with a direct poem, we all like them – they are a bit like pop tarts, or hot dogs, or ice tea, or a roller coaster ride. It’s enjoyable. However, your life cannot function alone on hot dogs, pop tarts, ice tea or roller coaster rides. It would be great, certainly, but you would probably get pretty bored of a diet of hot dogs, pop tarts, ice tea and roller coaster rides. In fact your mind and body would become hideously bloated - craving nothing but endless streams of additives, punctuated with short bursts of adrenaline and possible cardiac arrest. Perhaps it would be best to seek these things in moderation eh?
Back to the brainwashing effect of academic study- “What I mean is” (Agnes Lehoczky) the disorder whereby if something is opaque or not immediately apparent then it suffers dismissal on grounds of pretension. If something is direct, then it is accused of being dumb. You are in a sticky trap, that’s for sure. It’s too easy, in these days of canny self-awareness, to ape everything. Let us assume the hubris and rhetoric of irony and wear it like a big brass badge – that way we can be picky without fear of recrimination. Or something. The notion of commitment. Or something. “What I mean is” (Agnes Lehoczky) there is this ugly feedback loop- something I’ve appropriated from a recent interview with Alan Moore – whereby the audience are not challenged, so consequently their expectations are lowered, and then the writer (or performer or whatever) produces work that is less challenging…ad infitum. The absurdity of the situation is this- hmm the situation isn’t absurd. What is patently absurd is the facile attempt to even grasp the situation. We are not talking. We are on speaking terms certainly. But we are not talking. What I mean is (Agnes Lehoczky) perhaps you do study and consume every word as it was gospel and all the rage. Perhaps you do.
There is a propensity to shrug it off. Or take it all too seriously. I am currently uncertain which is better, so hence I gawp and slack-jaw myself into invisibility.
(SIDE NOTE - Agnes Lehoczky's work is some of my favourite contemporary writing. Please don't mistake the (over) use of her name as anything other than a wayward tribute.)