Monday, March 06, 2006

About Nothing

I've recently received one of my least favourites crits :

"It sounds like another one of the many poems that take great care in not being about anything."

Not only is this a very discouraging comment, it really doesn't address the poem. What, specifically, is 'nothing'? If I were to write a poem about a chestnut on the path, is that nothing? OK, so what if I used a metphor and made that chestnut into an egg, is the poem now about nothing? Or what if I use the chestnut/egg metaphor and the sandy path and let the whistling wind be the mama calling her baby back to the trees. Is this still about nothing? Yes. It is still about a chestnut.

The critter went on to put forth my next least-favourite comment:

"This sounds like old free-association writing, fourth-person distant note-taking, and as such, never leaves the ground. Journalistic, prosey, ... "

He's right in that I was describing a scene, and I wasn't using first person. In a way, that could seem like reporting. Prosey (again we see that word totally misused) - man, I'm getting that a lot lately! my poems are POEMS not prose. If they were prose, I'd call them prose.

ON RAINY DAYS…”

On rainy days
the early mornings
resemble evenings

and the middle-aged
insect on the ceiling no longer
knows what to do with its life.

A large dark crow stumbles
uncomfortably across the street
like a right shoe on the left foot.

Everything is a little confused except
for the clear-headed raindrops rushing
full speed into this one-and-only world.

Jason Heroux

I read a review of a chapbook by Jason Heroux - Leaving the Road. Heroux was at the top of The Page the other day and his poems have caught my breath. I'm in love (again)! So I googled him and found some stuff. Anyhow, the review rankled me hugely, even though it wasn't negative :

" The fourteen items in this well-produced little booklet are called poems in the acknowledgements, but it is difficult to see them as anything but prose, short short stories, miniature narratives, ... " Andrew Belsey.

Dear Andrew and all others - if the poet calls them poems, they are poems. Certainly Jason's works are incredible poems - brilliant, focused, mindful, unique, creative, full of metaphor and imagery and rhythm. What more do we want?

It's not poetry's responsibility to provide the world with subject matter and it's not the poet's responsibility to determine what the reader wants to read about. Everyone wants to read about something different.

I, for example, don't see the point in poetry about paintings. I know, however, that this is of great interest to many writers and readers - cool.

And the definition of poetry? I like Wikipedia:

Poetry (ancient Greek: ποιεω (poieo) = I create) is traditionally a written art form (although there is also an ancient and modern poetry which relies mainly upon oral or pictorial representations) in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content.

-----

In one of the comments accompanying this post, I was asked to post the poem about nothing so here it is ( This is the original post, I have since revised):

The fire's out

I'll have to get a four hour log
next time, just keep burning the damn things
until something changes
outside, inside, anything
to make me believe there could be life
beyond fleece. The river wind
sweeps our courtyard, sweeps and complains.
"All these rotting leaves. All this mud."
Water chitters across the townhouse siding.
There's a roach rain today
and these walls recoil with it.
These walls, filthy.

It's the soiling of an eventless winter.
Weather is the new defendant,
jury members brush accusation
from their lapels like insects parts
and the new March pleads: Guilty -
of course. "All this evidence."
the court recorder drones.
"All this dirt." The floors, the walls,
the old couch beneath me rustle
and nod in agreement. Outside
the robins hop from foot to foot
on the wet grass, like paparazzi,
cameras tucked beneath
their brown wings.

4 Comments:

Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

One of the reasons I infrequently submit poetry for online critique anymore is the phenomenon of people who proclaim their narrowness with such absolutism as to bludgeon you into accepting them as arbiters of what is and isn't poetry, and who dismiss you as "novice" should you disagree with them one iota. I've never liked bullies. There is a great article in the February Poetry where the author confesses to having been very narrow and intolerant when younger, only to become more accepting and generous with more experience. I think online critique is a process of diminishing returns. It can initially be very helpful, but, after a while, you know what you're doing and why you're doing it, and if not everyone else likes it, well, so be it. You can then waste a lot of time justifying your aesthetic, or you can write more poems.

7:47 AM  
Blogger J Malcolm said...

This critter does sound like a bully. Sounds like he has an agenda other than trying to help the poems you write to be better. What poems was this? Put it up so we can prove him wrong

8:53 AM  
Blogger SarahJ said...

immensely
I enjoyed the Jason
Heroux poem,
so they can all
go to hell.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Toni Clark said...

Jude, I share your frustration over the irksome critters who call poems prose -- or, as some so snidely put it -- "nothing but prose with line breaks." Why make a distinction between prose and poetry, anyway? If there's any distinction to be made, it might better be made between prose and verse. Either one can be poetry. The Wikipedia definition of poetry would support that (human language used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content). I guess I don't think that poetry is determined by line endings.

6:32 PM  

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