30 December 2005

Chile con art (carney)

The pun of my title for this post isn't really a pun, is it? Kevin Connolly says if I can't put it into the context of a joke, it doesn't really work as a pun.

In one week I leave for Chile. Still piecing together the 40-hour course I'm teaching there. I'll be all neurotic and anxious about it, and then it will come off really well. That's my experience. Would it be good to be confident, or would confidence be a major error?

I'm hoping to get a substantial leap on my novel in Chile. Who knows? I really want to finish a book already, whether it's the novel, the short stories, or the poetry. Too many projects hanging over me. Why can't I be like Elyse Friedman and just plough through one project at a time?

Interesting conversation with Sandra Alland is reverberating still this week. We were talking about the issue of explaining how a particular poem, or poetry sequence, or poetry book, was written. For instance, if it's a homolinguistic translation, should that piece of info appear with the poem? My instinct is that no, it shouldn't. But then I think of visual artists, whose work is so often accompanied by an "artist's statement." I think sometimes, though, because we've created something that is, for us, experimental, we want to explain what we did. Or perhaps we wrote something in which we allowed the unconscious or chance to take over, and we're not used to that -- we might want to explain.

I thought of my poem "Yankee Doodle Dandy," in Surreal Estate. It is a homolinguistic translation of several American poems, all smooshed together. I know I considered putting some clue ot that in the book, but in the end I decided to just let the thing fend for itself. I'm still a little uneasy about it: it's not radical or anything, but it sounds unlike anything much else I've ever written.

On the other hand, I know that discovering a bit of Ted Berrigan's process, for example, allowed me to get into his work as I hadn't before. Things that were once oblique and inaccessible -- I became more relaxed about them. Same with Ashbery. But the explanations didn't accompany the work: I got them from other sources: essays and interviews.

I dunno. Sometimes it seems to be that when writers explain their process, they're bragging. Or explaining what geniuses they are. I've occasionally seen one of my "students" read a poem they wrote in one of my Boot Camps: "I wrote this in one of Stuart Ross's workshops, where he asked us to write a poem in which every line contains ...." That kind of thing. While I'm flattered that I'm mentioned, I kinda wish they'd just let the poem stand on its own, instead of pointing out that it was the result of a particular exercise.

Over and out.


At December 30, 2005 7:09 pm , Anonymous rox. said...

agreed. let the poem speak for itself. especially in live presentation. for the most part, explaining art is for critics. p.s. if intention is strong and execution precise, enough will be revealed...and a little mystery might linger. via con dios, mi amigo.

At December 30, 2005 11:28 pm , Anonymous lurker said...

There is a time and place for explaining and discussing art -- and by the artists themselves, too. It all depends on how it's done. If explaining art were only for critics, the art world would be pretty tedious.

At December 31, 2005 4:15 am , Anonymous rox. said...

to lurker: precisely. the art world via critics IS mostly tedious. however, the art world via artists is magical.
the "how" of everything is always of use. seems we agree.

At January 17, 2006 2:57 pm , Blogger Sandra said...

Hi all -
sandra here. I think in a book format I wouldn't bother to explain, but I find at readings (when listeners don't have a text in front of them), things can be a bit opaque. All us writerly types often assume people can follow us...but sometimes, only sometimes, I think they need a bit of a window into our minds. 30 seconds max, tho!
I did like stuart's point about visual artists. They don't seem to be as hung up about not explaining as we are...


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