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.

Advertisements

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.)