Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Codrescu Word Shakers NPR Special/Poets and Ego/Robert Creeley and Robert Creeley Reading/

May I strongly encourage you to go to this wonderful site.  I heard Andre Codrescu's one-hour Word Shakers show on NPR recently.  What a thrilling experience for any poet or poetry fan who loves all there is in poetry.  Check it out.  (Press link above) Please!  If you do nothing else there, listen to Ed Sanders do "The Question of Fame"!

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Ain't no money in poetry
That's what sets the poet free
I've had all the freedom I can stand
Cold dog soup and rainbow pie
Is all it takes to get me by
Fool my belly till the day I die
Cold dog soup and rainbow pie
--- from Cold Dog Soup by Guy Clark

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Poets And Ego (Part 1)


About a month ago, I put the word out that I was looking for ideas about "poets and ego."  The replies I received were thoughtful and interesting.  Many responded with well-considered ideas about how the poet does or does not utilize the first person in their poems.  For example, Carlo Parcelli wrote that

All I can say is that I have always shunned the personal 'I' in my poetry except as 'persona' for basically one reason. Not using it made me think and write in ways where I was not necessarily the generative element, the psychic haven, if that makes any sense. Material as it appeared and accrued played off other elements in the poem, not me.
Because my original idea had been to look at personality and behavioral aspects of poets, I clarified my request like this,


Wondering why I do what I do? Why I paint? Why I publish books? Why I attend readings? Why I send poems to and am published by journals? Why I'm aware of a certain competitiveness and self promotion among poets? Why any of this matters? Why there are so many tempests in this tiny little teapot whose very existence is known or understood by so few?
I was mindful of my own recent poem on this very subject,



Tea and Turmoil

Present universe requiring little,
she demands all things from herself,
“write poems, check Facebook. blog.
paint, create.  Do it all before you die,
So little time to breathe, smile, feel. 
So much to be before being itself is
no more, and nonbeing is or isn’t. So
why do much of anything requiring
planning, plans at which the gods
laugh and at such mortal fools
falling over each other boiling
like her in her little teapot —
so many kettle storms
felt only in this one crucible
which she with others like her
inhabit unbeknownst to
occupants of all those infinite pots
brewing tea and turmoil and
signifying only babble boiling
invisibly, inevitably, unknown.
 So I went to poets like the wonderful Pat Nolan who told me


it’s all ego, Ed, and poets are surfers on the ego wave – gnarly
Ed, there may be a generation blindness.  Oldsters not being able to see or have access to the great young talent, and youngsters too busy with themselves to discover the contemporary masters.  There are hidden treasures, from Apollinaire to Whalen, that have been bypassed or ignored.  It takes the diligence of a scholar to discover them.  I don’t see many young poets taking that route.
To by original request for books on the subject, Copper Canyon Founder Sam Hamill replied,

Do I know of anything in print about poets egos? No. But 40 years as editor and friend to poets, I know many are out of control.

Clark County Washington Poet Laureate Christoper Luna gives us a comprehensive answer,


OK, Ed. I look at this way. A writer is one who is compelled to write. It does not necessarily follow that he/she must share it with the world. However, if one has something to say that means something, why not share it? And if what you're writing doesn't mean anything to you, why bother writing in the first place? Sharing the work publicly does involve some ego, but it need not be of the competitive, crush everything in its path variety. My model is Ginsberg, a Buddhist who also had an enormous ego and was a great promoter of himself and others. It is a kind of paradox, but poets grok negative capability, right?

I don't believe that we create in a vacuum. It is good for humans to meet, gather, and exchange ideas with one another. Getting up to read a poem at an open mic or featured reading does not automatically make one an egotistical asshole. That part is up to them. I do believe that we can do this work with humility and a sense of service to the community. I believe Ginsberg had a handle on poetry as a public service and a spiritual practice. If the work means something, then merely sharing it will help others.
Harsh as it may sound, my feeling is that if a writer doesn't believe that the work has the power to change the world, they should do anything else. There are plenty of others who take it seriously, and as you know, there's no money in it. 
I find Sonoma County former poet laureate Bill Vartnaw characteristically public-spirited on the subject,

I don't know of a book.  My own thoughts:  I think "service."  Service to poetry, other poets, other causes.  For balance.  I'm sure you do all this, but that's what I do.  Poets need ego because we can be quick change artists and can get it utterly wrong; ego, besides making us think we're idiots when we're down, helps pull us out of the funk, but when we are on a roll, we need service.  Hope this helps. . .

Given the subject, I hope I'm not being an enabler, or, if I am, am doing so modestly.  This is also an invite to read at the Petaluma Poetry Walk.  I don't know what venue yet.  We're asking and seeing who can make it first.  It's on September 20th.  Do you want to read?
Well, of course I do, Bill!  I hope these contributions are useful.  In the next edition of NMIP, I will do a Part 2 on "Poets and Ego" and will incorporate more of the responses about the poem itself, particularly how poets see the role of themselves in the poem.

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Robert Creeley

I believe that this remains my favorite Creeley poem because 1. It's so short, and I can memorize it.  2. Intuitively I totally get it and keep getting something more from it   3. It's a terrific representation of his use of line breaks and what I referred to as his "grunting" in one of my very early poems.

Originally Robert titled it "La Noche" and later changed the title to "El Noche."

El Noche

In the court-
yard at midnight, at

midnight.  The moon is
locked in itself, to

a man a
familiar thing.


Now, here is my poem written while I was doodling in his class at SF State in 1970  followed by Creeley reading his poems





A Strain of Imminence

                                            for Robert Creeley

I speak
like this
when I’m
trying

with a strain of
imminence

when I speak
about him
his language
I’m trying
feeling the way
he feels
and feels himself
feeling
telling us,
yet it’s mind
mind and feeling
stuttering;

the listener
sympathizes
with the
stutterer
wants to
grunt
out the words
for the poet
brings you into it.

                                              Ed Coletti
                                              September 1970
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