Why Write?

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At an event I once hosted, I asked the assembled writers this question. Besides the “practical ordering of my reality” type of answer, there were also some surprises: one woman had been a classical singer, but failed, and needed to embark on something else having to do with language. One man said, I write to talk about what I read—equally unassuming. I began to think that it would be much more stimulating to know why certain writers wrote than to engage with anything they had written, especially fiction or poetry—two ultimate forms needing years of practice. It’s debatable who said, “Everyone has a book in them…” yet the second clause of that sentence, as uttered by Christopher Hitchens, is concretely dismissive of the first: “…but in most cases, that’s where it should stay.” Who would have thought there were so many writers, that oodles would have the calling—many thanks to the internet? Now there is no barrier to that fusty adage, but it might be better to say, Everyone has some opinions in them. Continue reading

#AuthorFail 6: Jarret Middleton

Welcome, fellow failures, to our weekly support group.

As you all know, poetry is largely worthless.

How often do you see anyone but “poets” or “earnest” “students” “reading” this treacle anyway.  When’s the last time you gave your “mother” a contemporary poetry collection for X-Mas?

You might also be interested to know that writers “suffer” to produce this particular-brand-of-failure. Yup. And this week’s correspondent offers us one tragic example of his wasted youth.

I’ll recount for you one of those innumerable brazen follies of youth which are all somehow required to obtain the badge of becoming old and bitter later on. Since I am most firmly a writer of fiction, I am happy to tell this story of a very minor window of my life and my development as a young author in quick transition from travel writing to poems to an eventual comfort in my own voice.

Four to five months of continuous travel on the road in the US, Canada and Mexico finally eased its pace and I landed in a terse New England mill town a little less than an hour inland from where I grew up on the seacoast in New Hampshire.  I lived in a two-bedroom that cost $600 a month, total.  I split it with my roommate, a sociopathic surfer and painter who was convinced he had a drug problem, though I never saw him do any drugs.  We listened to Creedence and Al Green records.  He smoked cigarettes and drew and I read Nietzsche, Lautremont, and Henry Miller and wrote poems and cryptic pronouncements on an old Smith-Corona.  I slept on a musty futon mattress thrown into one corner across a badly slanted floor.  The entire apartment was slowly tilting down the hill it was built on.  One whole half of the town was sliding down toward the river and the bridge that led to the sleeving and plastic tubing factory where I worked throughout that winter. Continue reading

Poetry vs. Pop Culture (or, Does Anyone Dance to John Berryman?)

I was going to post this as a comment on Michael’s wonderful post from yesterday, but then it got too long (big surprise), and then I wanted to embed a couple of videos (bigger surprise). Paula commented there:

Although I understand the annoying snobbery of the Times review and other critical writing, I think the issue isn’t whether poets embrace mass/low brow culture/pop, but whether any kind of poetry could be widely consumed by “the masses”. And my guess is, no. Also, doesn’t anyone find it a big difference from sitting around watching law and order reruns (something I love to do) and getting through dream songs or even dark blonde by belle waring?

I don’t mean to pick on Paula (or anyone), but why assume that “the masses” (do they huddle? are they wretched?) wouldn’t like or read—or don’t already read—The Dream Songs? Just off the top of my head, the Hold Steady‘s “Stuck Between Stations” name-checks John Berryman:

From its lyrics:

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Guest Post, by Paula Bomer: A Sentence About a Sentence I Love

everything down
hardens I press with horrible joy down
my back cracks like a wrist
shame I am voiding oh behind it is too late

hide me forever I work thrust I must free
now I all muscles & bones concentrate
what is living from dying?

–From John Berryman’s “Homage to Mistress Bradstreet”

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