Project/Excuses.

April 18, 2010 § 2 Comments

Here are some things I might like to allow to sit next to each other in fakepaperspace.

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In a recent meeting with Tony Hoagland, he said to me something like I’m sorry coming to Houston taught you the word ‘project.’

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“In a great poem, there is no certain beginning, middle, or end to the real human drama which incited it, propels it, and will finish it. What differentiates a great poet from a not-great one is the capacity to exist in that uncertain space, where the grand external world (which means anything and everything) folds into the intense internal world of the individual. In this moment, the issues of the self become one with the universal. In a poem, the poet makes beautiful this great love affair between the self and the universal. And like all kinds of love, linear intention (a plan) has nothing to do with it.”

—Dorothea Lasky, “Poetry Is Not a Project,” Ugly Duckling Presse (2010).

(I should say, I’m not sure I agree with all of this entirely, or maybe just with the way it’s said, but I think it belongs here just the same.)

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Note to self in little notebook, 10 minutes before teaching, sometime last week:

Avoid if you can intentionality intentionally.  There’s time enough for it later but while you’re writing it seems dangerous to ascribe too clear a purpose without turning your work into an imitation of itself, an acting out of its project.  There is more to be gained from a place of exploration, which too much direction—even if you draw the map yourself—can make into a smaller space than is helpful.

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I admit, I have several things I have at points during the semester used the word “project” to describe, & it felt good good good.  I just wanted to say it over & over because I finally had one, had a couple, & coming down off a year of having nothing while everyone else seemed to be project-ing all over the place, it seemed to me I was finally doing something right.

But.  But but.  I got my best writing done on these “projects” before I “knew” what they “were.”

Calling these pieces “projects,” I think, was my own attempt to figure them out, demystify them, critical-eye them into patterns so that I could know how to continue on with them, like completing a string of numbers.  An articulation of intentionality following which you can simply write pieces to plug into the existing grid until the grid is finished (breath!) is a complicated & unhelpful illusion.  What it leads to, I think, is work that’s somehow derivative of yourself, of your initial work which was driven by something real & necessary that, as the project continues into its projectness, is supplemented or even supplanted by self-imitation that attempts to follow a kind of pattern you’ve read into the writing you’ve done.

I have had, recently, to try to get back into the initial questioning/curious/explorative headspace that occasioned these “projects.”  I’ve found this a more helpful generative approach than trying to figure out the pattern & then fill in its gaps/continue its string.  Not to be bumper stickery, but avoiding intentionality* intentionally is my new project.

*Note: I’m not avoiding intentionality that takes place during the decisionmaking part of the writing process.  I’m not endorsing arbitrariness.  I just think the critical eye soaring over the arc of a large work for the explicit purpose of figuring it out so that, from that figuring, I can establish a pattern that will lead to the writing of the rest of the poems (breath!) is unhelpful, at least for me, at least for now.

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After all the pontificating, here’s something beautiful.  Wall! of! Sound!  The benefits of not leaving things out!  Etc.

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§ 2 Responses to Project/Excuses.

  • Amy Ponomarev says:

    Loved this. Thank you. I love it that Tony said that too. Wishing you well this moody stormy Sunday. May the rain bring you inspiration XO

  • Amy Ponomarev says:

    This is a great sentence:
    I just think the critical eye soaring over the arc of a large work for the explicit purpose of figuring it out so that, from that figuring, I can establish a pattern that will lead to the writing of the rest of the poems (breath!) is unhelpful, at least for me, at least for now.

    I so agree with you. Intellect is good, but intellectualization can be a defense – what you are describing above in some way a protective gesture – which can happen when one is writing for a workshop, I believe. You are an extremely gifted poet. Never forget that. XO

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