Saturday, September 8, 2007

just wondering about desire, sincerity, and language

I'm wondering what poets these days see their poems as sincere expressions of their own desires (as authors, as people) and what poets believe that, in a poem, the voice of the poem has its own identity, separate from the author in some ways (in however many ways it may be connected).

I think that a lot of the discussions and debates going on in contemporary poetics turn out to hinge on this particular issue, a fact that often surprises me. So I'd really like to know what people think.

Do the poems you write express your desires? Or does the use of language become a mediating condition that creates a distance between your desires and the desires expressed in the poems that you write?


Joseph said...

I don't think of language, in my work at least, as expressive of my own desires at all. It's a material that I'm see what it can be made to do or mean. Perhaps similar to contemporary sculpture. Of course there's always an intent or purpose to which the language is being put, but that's not the same as a bald desire or personal expression. There may be multiple, conflicting desires, none of which are consonant with my own, or some of which may be, but slyly, but anyway desire's usually not the point.

tmorange said...

interesting question, mark. i wonder if putting it another way, namely ascertaining the extent to which our own desires are co-extensive with those of our poems, is faithful to the spirit of the question as you intend it?

clearly the poem, once it exists, has all kinds of expressions, motives, intentions, desires over which the poet has little or no control. likewise i have all kinds of desires that exist, evolve, get fulfilled or not, beyond the realm of the poem.

however, this does not lead me to conclude that we are alogether divorced from our poems and them from us, that we have no responsiblity for one another. we put certain words in certain ways on a page in lieu of others; and why we may never be able to fully express why those over others, there has to be some identifiable reason, or purpose, or aim or intention. this is what i mean by a responsibility for the words.

and so one area of my own desires is that which i variously desire for poetry, from poetry (mine or anyone else's). my poetry and i are both trying to do things, discover things - and we are trying to do that sincerely.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark. I think Tom's on the right track here, which is questioning the opposition governing the debate. When Jack Spicer wrote of his "need for a poetry that would be more than the expression of my hatreds and desires," that in itself is an expression of a desire he wants in his poems. It's important to note that Spicer does not say he needs a form of poetry in which his hatreds and desires are absent or have been banished. The desire for his poems to be "more than" his hatreds and desires is, I take it, a desire that his poems move beyond the kind of diary entry with line breaks most of us abhor. For the poem to become "more than" our hatreds and desires means the poem becomes, through the act of in-forming it, an art object, which doesn't mean it isn't an expression of the poet's hatreds and desires as well.

Like Adorno, I'm interested in a dialectic between expression and construction, not a battle in which one eliminates the other.

Elisa said...

I think of the voice(s) in my poems as separate from mine -- not wholly separate, but it's a poem-world version that's warped in one way or another, be it exaggerated or mirror-imaged or cross-dressed ... just the act of writing a poem applies the first filter to the "desire," and some poems employ more filters than others.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Paul said: "Like Adorno, I'm interested in a dialectic between expression and construction, not a battle in which one eliminates the other."

Yes. I'd probably use psychoanalytic theory to say something similar (but I'll try to keep it short): the process of falling in love and of entering into the symbolic world are pretty closely related.

In a very basic way, I think I'm always writing for someone--imagined or real (an audience, a specific audience, a specific person, a person who loves my work, a journal, myself etc). I arrange words exactly the way I want to, and I have ideas about how I'd like all those someones to read those words.

Communication and love are to a certain extent about repeated attempts at creating some kind of shared reality which gets destroyed and recreated over and over.

When my writing is at it's best, it's doing something to make this dynamic more apparent.

My hamstring hurts so I am going for a walk.

Ann_Bogle said...

My poems (line- & prose-) are dark. I have tried a few times, very hard, to lift them up a ways: I add a seagull. I write short fiction to find humor and people where they're understudied & lighter. Essays? I don't know. I distrust the autobio. mode, but I think it's necessary for the establishment of details.

brian (baj) salchert said...

This morning on Ron S's Blog I noted a link to an
interview of you. Taking it, I found that
that interview took place in 2001 and was
conducted by Aryanil Mukherjee.
I read what was there.
Your definitions of language and
postlanguage writings are just what
I presently need. Still, I was most pleased by
your answer to the final question:
How does poetry come to you?
"Any way it wants. And I do my best
not to shut it off."

That (in this 2007) is the answer
I would have to give.

I feel I am not definable, but due
to my roots in silence and various
aspects of the confessional, I may
be. Definitely, many of my texts
are investigative arguments.
Others are dogmatic. Others are
self-deprecating. Others have
nothing to do with me directly.
One fact is certain, at least it
currently is: I am not sending my
writings out. What there is--
other than the original version of
my first book--would be difficult
to find. My presence is totally
virtual. Alas--and I do not know
if this is a fated condemation--
my intials are bajs, which
happen to spell a Norwegian word
and also a Swedish word.

Pleasant trees.

cathye said...

this is really important for me right now. at the moment writing a poem is a way of refiguring brain paths, emotions, rerouting them--by trying to articulate them but not even knowing that can happen or if it does and then taking the language, twisting and pushing the syntax and grammar not to write away, for example, anxiety, though that is a literal result I welcome, but to explore how language and its structures create feeling. it's very much about the body and visceral work the poem is doing for me--utilitarian. this sounds like therapy and it certainly is, though not in the ways that confessional work constructs narratives that gloss and cement experience. i don't think. i've never been one of those people who says "i HAVE to write" but it's getting to that point--maybe because i'm getting crazier. and maybe i'm not reading the question in the spirit it's asked.

douglang said...

I can identify with what Cathy said about the body and the visceral work the writing does. For me, the emotional ground of the poem must be just that, in back of the construction. I have no desire to instruct anyone about what I'm feeling, or what they should feel, but I know that my baggage is in there somewhere, maybe informing the whole thing, but not deliberately. What the writing does is take care of the need for "expression" as a visceral process, without the writing ever being about that. Which isn't to deny the presence of emotive language, necessarily, but the value of that language relates to construction.