Thursday, March 18, 2004
your original post on this a week ago at first may not seem like an examination of community until the direct art mill statement later, but for me at least, it was just that. but what i see as something very similar between our own stories is our being people coming from isolation in writing poetry and walking into this large body of people and all those varying and complicated branches branching further into poetry with each body we meet. and i feel we'd also agree that it was that very isolation which gave us the time to absorb and hone some very important skills in writing poetry. and frankly, these stories are actually --it seems from my experience and connecting with other poets-- pretty much how many poets come to writing poetry.
and it's very interesting to look at "how" poets make that introduction for themselves into that larger community of poets. those who choose to go to universities to study writing poetry begin that introduction into community for themselves in a very different way from how i've experienced it for instance. it's simply a fact. and space to talk about that is always so limited, it seems, because of all the feelings which surround the topic. usually when it's brought up around someone who has a degree in creative writing, frankly, they tend to become slightly awkward or maybe even defensive. i experienced this in particular at The Philly Sound Festival immediately following the 9for9 panel. one of the 9 questions for the panel was about creative writing degree programs, and i was looking for an emotional reaction from the panelists, and had anticipated reaction from the audience as well. one poet (no names are necessary, it's not about that) walked up to me and accused me of stacking the panel with panelists who only brought criticism against the degree programs. another later told me that it was wrong of me to ask that question in the setting of the Penn campus. but why? because it was bad manners, or something, to have anything but positive things to say about the institutions of higher learning in the confines of higher learning's own walls? i thought university was about (especially at a graduate level) bringing the world (and universe(-ity)) into question in one way or another? anyway, and i'm not even judging what was said from several audience members who were clearly irritated with me, i'm simply pointing out how touchy the topic is, and how we need (or maybe just i need) to make some space somewhere, somehow so that it can be talked about. maybe some poets simply don't care about the topic and would wish i just shut up about it. not that i'm going to of course, but just acknowledging them, sort of a wave, hi.
and by the way, it might have seemed like i stacked the panel, but one of the panelists who has a degree in creative writing was Prageeta Sharma, who is vocal about her opinions, and who not only defended the programs, but pointed out what now seems the obvious yet wasn't being discussed whatsoever, and that was that many people go into the programs to afford themselves the time. time to write. and that was a great answer, one in fact which, when it was finally spoken, dispelled, at least for me, any of the negative things which might have come up. so if anything, Prageeta put a heavy weight on the scale with her argument, and tipped any amount of seemingly unfair advantage back to something more balanced in the way of defining what these programs are for, or are doing. which really, in the end, is part of the very argument for defining what the community is.
it's impossible to avoid anymore, this particular conversation, since there are literally thousands of poets with degrees in creative writing. we're going to encounter one another constantly, and do. and i admit my earlier fascist tendencies about the whole fucking thing. seriously. i mean, we're talking, really fucked up insecurities about it. which of course stemmed from all my working class issues, and my weird drunk family. and once i was able to sift through all this and put all the feelings where they belonged, i was able to have a much more inclusive and rational idea of what this idea of community is about. i've had too many friends (is what it comes down to) who have now gone to universities to get these degrees for me to continue not evaluating my feelings closely. i owe it to them as well as myself.
for me, all this conversation about and post writing about community and all other emotional subjects is furthering my idea that words themselves hold the emotional content and that that is what we're working toward, creating space for the emotional content of words to come alive, and to not be so afraid of the explosions we know are of course possible.
so lets keep exploding, or imploding, if you're in an isolated mood.
don't worry, i understand.
p.s. oh, and i'm not agreeing that it was the Outsider Art part which sparked my original post as part of this ongoing conversation/argument as you suggest. it really was the "our little artmill" bit. but since you've brought it up, i'll say that in my above post i point out that i believe we are all (or at least most of us are) coming from isolation, or from being Outside. and the thrust of this examination of definition for me lies here in that idea of Outside, meaning that poets either STAY outside, which is Emily Dickinson, in other words, those we never really wind up hearing about until after their deaths (Henry Darger as writer and artist as well, but ultimately, few others). or varying degrees of entering community, which is no longer Outside, but bringing in fact an Outsider feeling into a larger companionship. or we can choose, i guess, to enter the community and continue to believe we are in fact Outside the community we speak from and address. this may sound harsh, but i really do believe that if you're in the functioning community of art, making art, producing art, that you are most certainly not any longer actually classifiably Outside but Inside, at least to some extent. we either admit it, or, well, we lie to ourselves about it. there's nothing wrong with being in a community having come from isolation, especially if that community tends to include similar bodies.