Perusing Poetics: Why I Write and Other Passionate Rants

If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you know a couple of things–I hope. The thing pertinent to this discussion, however, is that I have no problem trashing the readings that I do for this class a lot of the time. So when I say I enjoyed William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All, you know I’m telling the truth.

This is an entire long work, so there were a lot of things that spoke to me in here. However, one thing that I want to talk about is this quote right here:

“Complete lack of imagination would be the same at the cost of intelligence, complete.” (28)

This is one of many things that Williams says about the relationship between intelligence and imagination–one of the more succinct and easier to understand without context. However, the basic gist of the idea is that intelligence cannot exist without the imagination. If you have no imagination, you can’t get smarter.

Right about here, I put the book down and smiled.

See, the thing about being a Writing and English double major is that you get a lot of flack–especially with the Writing portion. At least when I say English people say, “So you’re going to try to be a teacher before you start collecting unemployment.” When I say writing? Hahahahahaha that’s funny.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify what I’m not saying. I’m NOT saying that if you are in some kind of technical field you have no imagination. I’ve seen my brother building a computer and I know that would be IMPOSSIBLE without imagination. Scientists have to be able to dream, etc. But what I AM saying is that I’m sick and tired of being told that because I have an overactive imagination, I’m not smart.

Perhaps one of the biggest things I’ve learned in my readings so far (relating to my own personal life; the scholastic portion is gigantic) is that people have spent THOUSANDS of years recognizing the power of the storyteller and then tearing them down. Thanks, Plato. You can’t say “writer” and have people recognize that you sit there and create up realistic people who are not real who, in their plots, can explain something about humanity to you or illicit some kind of emotional response. No, you say “writer” and people just think “…oh.”

So when Williams says that intelligence depends on imagination, I feel just a little bit more justified. I have another set of quotes for my quiver of arrows to shoot against Those-Who-Need-To-Shut-Up. When ever Plato is scared of storytellers, you should know something’s up anyways, but sometimes people forget that. People write “apologies” and justify their craft and don’t stop to think for a second, “Hey. Plato banished poets because of how much power they had. That’s pretty damn cool.”

I’m not saying that I write to change the world. I’m not saying that you could. What I am saying is that if you deny the talent and the intelligence of a writer, you’re denying a human tradition. You’re denying how our stories are what connect us and explain our humanity. You deny your own personal story.

So maybe I, as a writer, will never make as much money as a neurosurgeon (sadly). I didn’t become a writer to do that. I also didn’t become a writer because I wasn’t smart enough to do anything else.

I became a writer to tell our stories.

Perusing Poetics: All the World is Speech (and Humans are Really Strange Creatures)

When I was born, my parents got one of those dumb baby book things. Under family resemblances, my father wrote “Worf from Star Trek.” I HAVE A BIG FOREHEAD, OKAY?

This has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post, except for the fact that this week I’m talking about Benjamin Lee Whorf’s Language, Thought,and Reality and I keep thinking of Whorf from Star Trek instead of this really smart linguist. So now you know something really weird about me.

How I arrived at my topic for this week’s post is also kind of weird. It’s a convergence of three things, really. Firstly, there’s Whorf. One of his essays in this collection is titled “On the Connection of Ideas,” and it’s basically him writing to this compiler of psychological terminology asking for a better term for connected words and ideas than “association,” which he finds lacking for a multitude of reasons. The takeaway here is that he, a linguist, is asking for help not from another linguist, but a psychologist. Kind of weird, right? (Not to me, as you’re about to see.) Then, there’s this craft class I had today with poet Li-Young Lee. He said today that he thinks that art is really just another version of psychology, since all art comes from an inner psyche. Finally, there’s me, and my now three-year-long maintaining that if I wasn’t an English and Writing major, I’d be a psychology major.

When I first had a little wonder, as a freshman, if I should major in psychology (preferably educational), I threw it out of hand almost instantly. “I’m not science-y!” I said. “I’d never survive. The connection makes no sense!” So I continued on my merry English-and-Writing way. And I’m glad for it.

Me. Doing science.

But the thing is that there is a major connection between art and psychology. A BIG ONE. I’m going to focus on writing here, because I can’t art in any other way, but I’m sure an artist or musician–for example–would probably have a connection to make as well. What is a writer, but a creator of character? When you’re in a writing class, one of the major things you are told you have to figure out is “What do your characters want?” Writing–especially, for me personally, fiction–is simply accessible psychology. (The good stuff, anyways.) You sit down, you read a story, and you understand step by step why a person or a group of people do what they do within the story. You learn how people change, grow, fail or succeed through story arcs. To me, it’s pretty bloody magical. It’s why I write. The human brain fascinates me. Psychology is only one access point to the crazy questions humanity poses about WHY. Writing is another.

Whorf, however, is a linguist, so we have to break this down a little bit further. Sure, the connection between stories and psychology might make sense, but Whorf is operating on the word level. He’s seeing a connection to humanity through not just whole stories but single words and syllables. He suggests this hypothesis about how someone’s language is a major part of how they understand reality and behave within it. This collection basically admits that this hasn’t been proven, but it hasn’t been disproved.

To me, what he’s saying just makes sense. (Okay, well, not some of the time. But what I can understand from him, I like.)

It’s why I still wish I’d gone into psychology sometimes. It’s why I want to find some way to get a PhD where I can explore the links that Whorf talks about, between language, society, culture, etc. It’s because when I engage in my area of specialty (the young adult book world), I see the connection between cultural norms, young adult reception of these stories, and society at large. YA novels work in massive trends, but it’s fascinating how the slightest shift in language can make or break one vampire novel to the next.

At the reading by Li-Young that I attended tonight, he said that he was currently engaged in a massive back and forth with a minister friend of his because Li-Young is trying to convince him that all the world is speech. Well, that’s the world I choose to see, too.

speech-bubbles-world-map-vector-306917

Perusing Poetics: Sadly, You Didn’t Get Murdered Like You Wanted

This blog is going to be a combination of that title, the Futurist Movement and my trip to Italy last semester. (Specifically, Venice. Read more about that here.) How, you might ask? Hang on to your hat!

First, our poetical beginnings. This week in class we were reading about the Futurists and their CRAZY AS HELL movement of art. If you want to know how crazy, go ahead and look up the Manifesto as written by F.T. Marinetti. That’s what I’ll be quoting from.

These guys had a lot of crazy, cool, and crazy-cool ideas kicking around. Among the stranger ones was their desire to destroy “museums, libraries, [and] academies of every kind” (22). This is not to mention “moralism, feminism, [and] every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice”, but that’s another blog post for another time (22).

I want to focus on the word “museums” here, but first a little bit of context. One, this manifesto was written in 1909. These young men were glorifying war and violence, among other things, but they probably had no idea about what was coming around the corner for all of Europe. Second point of interest–and where I got my blog post title from–was that they were so into new ideas that they hoped that “other, younger and stronger men” would come around when they were forty or so and “hurtle to kill” them so as to become their “successors” (23).

So there’s your picture. Young, frenzied men in 1909 with a lot of wild ideas that actually go on to have a lot of impact on the world. They want to knock down every old edifice that remains in the world and make it new. They look forward to being destroyed by their successors.

It’s funny what they got and what they didn’t. A lot of their thinkers would be killed in the war that was to come, but not in the way that they wanted. A lot of old things would be destroyed and made new after the war, for better or for worse. Successors would arise and carry on some of their ideas, but not in the way they would have preferred if they all lived.

How can I say that? Well, when I visited the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, their special exhibition was on Futurist art. Some of the most famous pieces of their movement were there.

Futurism Art1

In a museum.

Futurism Art4

Photo credit: Samantha Guter

On display.

Futurism Art3

Photo credit: Samantha Guter

Sure, The Peggy Guggenheim is a modern art museum. There are no dusty Greek or Roman pieces there, but rather Dali, Pollock and Ernst. Yet, as far as the Futurists were concerned, anything past was old. Even their work, now, is “old” because it isn’t now. Hanging that art there, exhibiting it like that … all those artists were probably turning over in their graves.

It’s just fascinating how the world picks and chooses what it wants to remember about movements and ideas and people. There are plenty of Futurist ideals that many artists still carry, like themes of destroying the old or violence in art, but this one they forgot. The Futurists were murdered, all right, but the radical movement they hoped would continue on after them did not–or it would not be the pieces of Marinetti’s contemporaries on the walls, but rather those young, vicious murderers for which they prayed. Now the only violence they can enact is the one which Marienetti lambasted museums for containing: where “absurd abattoirs of painters and sculptors ferociously [slaughter] each other with colour-blows and line-blows, the length of the fought-over walls!” (22).

Perusing Poetics: The Best Equal Person

This week I’m talking about the well-know Walt Whitman, who I keep confusing with Walt Disney even though they are not the same person. You’re welcome. We read his (Whitman’s) preface to Leaves of Grass this week and WHOO BOY

‘MURICA

This guy was a crazy patriot. A. Crazy. Patriot. We’re talking the kind of ‘MURICA loving redneck that is made popular on TV kind of patriotic. But, I mean, he was also really smart and had some good ideas.

Except. What he said didn’t really match up with what he was saying.

I’m going to paraphrase here, because Whitman isn’t exactly the easiest person to quote. Basically, he believed in an American where everyone was equal and the same kind of everything, and through our poetical prowess we would lead the world into a new age with a new religion led by “poet-priests.” Cool, right? Except Whitman keeps talking about poets are the same as everyone yet are the only ones who can see this, the only ones who can guide, the only ones etc.

Er. You can’t be the best of the equal minded.

I give Whitman his patriotism. In the time of Manifest Destiny, Americans had earned it. Honestly, I’m kind of glad no one is as overtly patriotic as him these days. We get ourselves into enough trouble as it is. But the idea of the poet as the best equal person? Make them the best or make them equal … but they can’t be both. It creates a kind of tension in the piece that its angering and ironic.

It was an easy read. Because I skimmed a lot of his list metaphors. Otherwise? No, Whitman, no. I’m sorry there pal. You tried.

Perusing Poetics: The Stories We Never Tell

I have considered that that title sounds rather ominous. It does. Oh well. Soldier on and I don’t think you’ll regret it! (Unless you have issues with either the destruction visited on Native Americans by white settlers or non-Nazi Germans. Those topics are about to independently come up here.)

This week, I’m talking about an essay by William Cronon called “A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative.” Now, though I’ve found all of the readings so far interesting, I dare say this is one of the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most. Maybe because I understood it. Maybe because it got me thinking. Or both. Both is good.

This long essay is about narrative, why humans use narrative to structure their lives, and how each narrative is really just a choice on what to include and what to exclude (since telling a complete story is impossible)–just to brush over a few topics. I want to focus on that last one–namely the exclusion–for this particular, personal blog post.

One of the issues with narrative is that, as Cronon says, “it inevitably sanctions some voices while silencing others” (1350). For his example, he uses the lives of Native Americans in most of the tales about life in the Great Plains around the time of the Dust Bowl. Such stories of pioneers and free land could only be written, of course, if they obscured “the conquest that traded one people’s freedom for another’s” (1352). One of my classmates brought up that, although we are taught about this in schools, what we are taught does not directly link the actions of the white settlers to the destruction visited on the Native Americans. In this, schools deliberately forgo narrative in order to leave these events as unconnected as possible.

The problem with these kinds of narratives is that they can create their own power, since they draw on stories we’re already familiar with. The erasure of the Native American-white settler connection has been ingrained in our society for so long, it’s almost unnoticeable unless you choose to be consciously aware of it. Certain stories have a certain power that “not even the historian as author entirely controls them” (1352).

My professor asked us all at the end of class what similar narratives we told–or did not tell–in our lives that we cut or mangled in order to tell something better. You could think of embarrassing memories you want to forget, the story of the fight with your sibling where you leave out how mean you were in return–those are simple examples. For me, though, it’s the story of my grandfather’s life.

I don’t remember running into this so much before college, but the last three years … woo boy. When we talk about heritage, I state proudly that my grandparents are German–right off the boat German. They both worked really hard to achieve a dream that my family still keeps alive today in the form of a 25 acre resort and retreat. I love them both very much, though my grandfather is now dead. So I say it, and don’t think a lot about it. Almost every time I’ve said this, someone in the vicinity of me has said something to the effect of “Well, I’m Jewish.”

Usually it’s said like a joke, but I don’t find it funny. I tend to omit that my grandparents

No. Stop. Right now.

came over right after World War II ended, but people know enough of history to guess. The funny thing is that I have nothing to hide. Yes, my grandfather navigated a bomb sweeper in the English Channel during the war. He was trying to escape to America at the war’s start when Nazi officers put a gun to his head and convinced him otherwise. My grandmother was a nurse, constantly being bombed by Allied troops. Both of them were so disgusted with the war that they left and never looked back, and when my grandfather was awarded the Iron Cross (kind of like the Purple Heart), he refused to accept it and instead left it to the German government. He spent his final years writing a handwritten novel about how Hitler screwed up Germany.

This is the first time I’ve ever put that in writing. It’s one of the few times I’ve ever said it. It is a narrative that I never tell, because I can’t start it without someone applying a better known narrative on top because they think they know what I’m going to say. German grandparents who are not Jews mean Nazis. Make another incinerator joke, I’ve heard them all. I honestly can’t tell which of us this is supposed to be more offensive to. Also, the irony is, these interactions are always happening between two people who weren’t there–these are not own our personal life stories.

I’ve gotten better at tackling these encounters, and they’ve become less frequent, but mostly because I don’t talk about it anymore. I introduce myself and leave people to infer whatever they want about my heritage. I tell other people I’m related to the captain of the Mayflower (it’s true, on my mom’s side) because that’s easier. The World War II connection is apparently calm enough to make jokes of, but not enough to completely erase the “othering” of the Germans of the time, who were all made into an enemy we needed to fight.

Now before anyone gets freaked out, I’m not saying that World War II was wrong or something or that I don’t like Jews or … whatever. I’m only saying that I have a story I can’t tell, because people assume the ending before I’ve finished the beginning. They hear my name and apply to me a narrative that is out of the control of either of us.

My favorite quote of the entire piece is Cronon’s assertion that “we tell stories with each other and against each other in order to speak to each other” (1373-1374). Well, here’s my foray into the field. It’s not a scholarly work or a vast study of behavior. Just me, personally, telling you a story–one I refuse not to tell this time.

Perusing Poetics: 50 Shades of the Sublime and Other Stupid Trends

Before you freak out: yes, I’m going to be mentioning 50 Shades of Grey in this post. No, it’s not because I like it. Get ready.

BUT FIRST, time for my poetical entrance into this topic. This week, one of the readings was from On the Sublime by this Greek guy named Longinus. (This is hopefully the last Greek guy I will be blogging about.) What he actually means about the definition of the sublime is something I’m still not 100% clear on (I’m like somewhere between 70-80) but where I am up to speed is what is NOT sublime. Specifically, this quote:

“All these ugly and parasitical growths arise in literature from a single cause, that pursuit of novelty in the expression of ideas which may be regarded as the fashionable craze of the day.”*

Ugly and parasitical growths coming from stupid, crazy trends? Of course I’m thinking 50 Shades of Grey.

To be fair, I’ve never read these. I’ve read sections online. I’ve watched the movie trailer. I’ve read the criticism. I’m on Tumblr. I’m not sad that I’ve never read these, and I never plan to. I DO know, however, that the author got her original idea from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and this is actually a really bad riff off that.

I hate to agree with Plato, but this kind of imitation is really annoying. What’s ever worse is that it’s something that I, as a reader of primarily YA, have to deal with ALL THE TIME. One of my most popular blog posts was actually on this, specifically about the amount of love triangles that popped up after Twilight (otherwise apparently known as the root of all evil).

Okay, that last parenthetical statement is a lie. Twilight did cause a lot of crap to come out onto the market, but it’s hardly the only one. How many wizarding school books followed Harry Potter? Did you, like me, get hellishly sick of dystopians after The Hunger Games? And yes, of course, there were all those vampire books that erupted after Twilight. More than any other genre, YA is full to the brim of trends that produce a handful of good gems around a bunch of hastily and/or badly filler.

Where I have to disagree with Longinus, though, is his use of the phrase “a single cause.” For him, I admit, this was probably true: writers followed the examples of other popular texts because they, too, wanted to be popular and “fashionable.” These days, the attempt to be “fashionable” is a side note. After all, if we wanted our literature to be “fashionable,” 50 Shades of Grey wouldn’t exist.

The push towards trends in YA has nothing to be with anything else but money. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight–they’ve made a lot of people very rich. These books have ranged the spectrum to books written exceedingly well to flat and dead inside (I’m looking at you, Twilight). There literally isn’t one particular thing that has worked as a formula to create the huge fan bases around these books, so the book world is constantly scrambling. Trends you see on the shelves now were decided months or even a year ago by publishers trying to create the next big cash cow.

Again, I’m not going to say that everything inside a trend is terrible. Some of them are really, really good books that deserve to be published on their own merit, and there are books being published against the trends. (I even wrote a post about love triangles done right for those curious.) This is a large, generalized observation that is, unfortunately, true more often than not. (And I haven’t even touched the trends of book covers. “Girl in dress” or “half close up of girl’s face” anyone?)

I guess the reason it makes me so angry is because I feel like there are certain books that have love triangles shoehorned in or otherwise being forced into a “trendy” mold that actually does their book a disservice. There are also books I’ve read where I wish the editors had taken a bit more time with them, at least, instead of shoving them out while the subject matter is hot. Also, as a writer of YA, I want to feel like my book(s) could be published someday because they are good, not because I magically managed to line up with tomorrow’s trend.

50 Shades of Grey just makes me angry because it exists.

Have you noticed the latest trend in YA literature? Or has “trending” created a certain kind of book or trope you can’t read anymore? Let me know!

Perusing Poetics: Plato is Annoying, and Other Reasons I Want to Apologize to Poets

You may or may not know this, but this blog was originally a poetry blog. DO NOT GO BACK INTO THE TAGS AND FIND IT. It was bad and it’s all really old now, like pre-college, beginning of high school aged. But I just wanted to preface this discussion with that.

So this week’s readings for my Poetics class was Plato’s Republic, Book X and Aristotle’s Poetics. If you haven’t read them, don’t worry. Basically the point of them–especially Plato–is to crap on the life and the work of the poet.

Plato has this point where he says poetry corrupts people, emotion is bad, and poets should be confined to hymns and praises of the gods. Aristotle is a little better, because technically he’s confirming that tragic poetry is better than epic poetry, but basically it’s all about how poetry is only good if it conforms to this little proper box. (Yes, anyone who’s read these is probably spitting fire because of over-simplification. Bear with me.)

What’s important–and frustrating–is the effect that this kind of philosophy has had on poets since Plato decided to open his mouth. You can Google lists of pieces titled, in essence, “In Defense of Poetry” or “Apologies for Poetry.” It’s ridiculous, especially considering poetry’s past power.

Confused about what I mean? Well, what do you think of poetry right now? If one person says they’re a novelist and one person says they’re a poet, who do you rank on top? Poets have been characterized as goths at coffee houses (perfectly valid life choice for poets, but not the only one) or cryptics saying nothing in the media, and that certainly adds to the effect.

I know I’m not a poet. I’ve written more recent poetry for school and I’m basically the kind of poseur that Plato would like to kick out of his Republic. I’m aware of that. That’s why I’m not a poet. But, thanks to school, I have studied multiple forms inside and out in accordance with both my English and Writing degrees and I RESPECT POETS SO MUCH. I can barely rhyme let alone formulate a sestina (look it up – the form will make your head hurt).

I write short stories and novels. This is a kind of writing I understand the conventions of. You can master a basic plot pretty quickly. Poetry? Dear Lord. I’ve studied Shakespearan sonnets since grade school and when I was required to write one for class I STILL ripped the end-rhymes from a sonnet Shakespeare had already written because I couldn’t get the rhyming down.

My point is: I never thought I’d be disappointed in someone like Plato, who I’ve been told to laud as a philosopher since PBSKids morning TV shows. I understand that there is a certain time period that he’s writing from and all that, so maybe it’s more correct to say that no one has thought to update their opinion much since then. Poets remain a feature of the classroom: an annoying period of English class or a specialized class in college. They aren’t all that mainstream and they certainly don’t get the buzz of NYT bestselling novelists.

The one thing they do have going for them is their community. When I blogged poetry, as bad as it was, I was welcomed without a second thought into the poetry blogging community with open arms. I have yet to have an online experience since then that has felt as natural and warm as that. In the real world there are also magazines, retreats, etc, that might not (always) be big, but they are proud.

So you tell me. Am I crazy? What do you think of poetry? There’s a comment section for a reason! (Extra points go any comment-writer who responds in some form of verse.)