Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Artistic hubris redux

Walking through various airports last week, I found myself looking at people and thinking about how every single one of them has a story, or many. Every one of the hundreds of people I saw in those airports, and every one of the thousands of people I flew over in one jet-fueled tin can or another, has a story that is to them the most important story ever, the story his or her life depends on. Every one of those people has this whole other world inside that I will never see.

I've had sorrows and I've had joys. Mine are no greater than anyone's -- I'm tempted to say "and no less" but there is always someone out there who's got it better and someone out there who's got it far, far worse. The point being, none of it's unique. There's really nothing about any of my stories that's any more important or any more interesting than anyone's. Nothing. We all love and we all suffer, and the particulars of each are of interest only to ourselves, really. (If we're lucky, ourselves and a few close companions.)

I see friends going through what they go through and while I feel for them, for their griefs and their celebrations, part of me can't help but stand apart and think: yeah, that's what life is, and we just keep going on, so what of it? Is that horrible of me? That's probably horrible of me. But there you have it. There are all those million million stories out there, and what difference if I tell mine, or yours, or his, or anyone's?

When I write, lately, I get bogged down in one of two things. I get bogged down in the overly particular, the overly personal, the endless I, I, I. And then I think, dude, who the f*ck are you that anyone should care. Or: I get bogged down in the grand sweep of philosophizing, the stupid royal "we." And again I think, dude, why should anybody care, plus you sound like a blithering egomaniac with your grand pronouncements.

Tell me something. Point me to a poem that will show me why these stories matter. Give me something that walks the zone between the too-personal -- the small and claustrophobic -- and the grand but remote sweep of epic. Point me to a poem that will remind me why we do this. Because right now, just at this very moment here in my living room with a cat napping against my knee and newspapers piling up unread and the TV on mute and cars going by on Walnut Street headed south towards who knows where, I seem to have misplaced the reasons for poetry.

I'm sure I'll remember on my own eventually. I usually do. But just in case: point me to a poem that reminds you why. Maybe that will help.


jeannine said...

Well, it's kind of like saying..."Really? Does the world really need another Van Gogh self-portrait? How about Rembrant's?" Each person's poetry is valuable and unique, and the harder the poet works at expressing that unique point of view, their own idiosyncracies, the better their poetry is. I mean, Atwood is really herself, so is Gluck. I care about them because I care about myself, and learning about the human condition, and etc. Does that make sense? Obviously I have had cold medicine tonight...

Neil Aitken said...

For me that poem which reminds me why I write -- why any of us write -- is
"His Father, Singing" by Leslie Norris.

I posted it on my blog back in April 2006 after I had heard that he had passed away.

Here's the link:

Megan said...


Pamela said...

This one always keeps me going. It's by James Galvin.

Show and Tell

This is the wave of gravel where she let me off on the edge of my
This is the gleaming edge, past agencies and scrap. This is the
edge of a blighted field where God idles his tractor.
He thinks he's a
thunderhead in drought.
You think God doesn't have a tractor?
You think he doesn't have a blighted field?
This is what he's thinking:
not yet, not yet.
Look, there's another panic button lying on the
Look, here comes another wave of gravel.
Look, here
comes night.
You think God can't give up?

Pamela said...


This has the proper format, which blogger won't let me transcribe.

I just love the idea of God idling on a tractor--gives me faith in the pastoral.


Jessie Carty said...

I read your post and thought--been there and done that--will be there again. But see, that is the exact point for poetry (and for items like this blog post) other people have been there and can relate or see something new in someone else's experience.

Whenver I'm feeling less than poetic I pull out some Atwood. Gives me hope :)

poet with a day job said...

Anne, I love this post, your rumination on something I think we all go through from time to time. When it happens to me, I just have to remember why I do this at all: because it feels good to just sit down and crank. So, if for some reason it isn't feeling good, then I do something else, lie watch TV or see a million movies.

Anyway, how about this poem?


Suzanne said...

"Like This," by Rumi

Erin said...

Larry Levis's 'Anastasia & Sandman' is the first to draw up. We need to be reminded.

Lyle Daggett said...

Anne, I thought I posted a comment here last evening, but it's nowhere to be found, so I may have misclicked something after I typed it.

Anyway, saving all the longwinded stuff, Judy Grahn's "Common Woman Poems" came to mind. I first read them something like 1974, and they still speak to me now, getting right to the heart of things.

Anne said...

Thanks, all, for the comments & poem recommendations! I will track down the poems in a couple of days when I have time. :)

I guess I was having a little late-night angst there, eh? Oh well, what's a blog without a bit of that now and then....!

Collin said...

Get Margaret Atwood's "Morning in the Burned House." It always renews my faith in poetry.

Pris said...

wonder what made you so jaded on poetry?? Okay, go to Lee Herrick's site (link on my blog) and read 'A Thousand Saxophones). Google S.A. Griffin, A.D. Winans, John Sweet and read their poetry.