Sunday, August 19, 2007

Outlaw poems

On the issue of whether writers should take the feelings of their loved ones into consideration when they wrote, William Faulkner counseled ruthlessness, saying that "Ode on a Grecian Urn" was worth any number of old ladies. This trade-off -- family harmony versus heartfelt expression, once I invented for myself a glitzier heart -- worried me a great deal when I was young. Indeed, when my mother read my first book, after she'd spread the news of its imminent arrival, she remarked dryly/angrily/wistfully/shamefully: "I wish you'd told me what it was going to be like."

Question: What was it like? Answer: Full of much bad writing. I had too much investment in the autobiographical myth, which I thought was necessary because I lacked the inventiveness not to write about actual life, and I thought that actual life required a grand myth to be interesting -- what could be interesting about a pasty-skinned girl from the suburbs? I hadn't gotten wise to Emily Dickinson yet, a poet who derived her outlaw spark from the sly rebellion of her strange punctuation. To put the brigand into the poem itself, not the autobiography, this is the harder trick.

--Lucia Perillo, from "Bonnie Without Clyde" in I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness and Nature (Trinity University Press, 2007)

"To put the brigand into the poem itself." I'm gonna engrave that somewhere. Perfect. I don't think this means you have to be crazy experimental or whatever; taking risks with the poems themselves can mean a lot of things. I think part of figuring out what kind of poet you are is figuring out what kind of risks your poems want to take -- what kind of outlaws they want to be.

(This Lucia Perillo book is excellent, by the way. I highly recommend it.)

1 comment:

Carol Peters said...

That book is in my shopping cart to buy as soon as I get home. Someone recommended it to me after I wrote a poem about a vulture :-)