There was an interesting comment on the Ron Silliman blog to the effect that poetry should be "daring." I find this odd. I mean, yes, poets should be challenging themselves I guess; but what does it mean to be "daring?" Mandelstam's Stalin Ode was pretty daring - it got him killed, but short of declaiming poetry whilst walking across the Niagara Falls on a high wire, in what way is poetry daring? It's certainly not life-threatening to write Language poetry, for instance, though Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler (not to mention our own Sean O'Brien) might come round and bop you on the nose.
But there is a certain amount of "dare" involved in doing things different from the way you did them before, or the way anyone else has done things before. Putting a canvas on the floor and dripping paint over its surface takes a certain trust in the process; you could make an absolute mess of things and end up with something that looks like an explosion in a paint factory. Instead of which, you end up with great art. So I find, when I think about this, that once again I contradict myself.
And poets can sometimes get themselves into ruts: this works well, I'll keep doing it till it starts becoming pure rote. Then you get to the stage where you even bore yourself; but everything's done well and nothing is "bad." It might even be admired.
"Daring" can itself turn a revolt into a style though. If you're so determined to be "different", you can often end up sounding just like everybody else, like rock stars so eager to be "real" they turn out to be clones of each other. Being true to whatever you you're playing with at the time is much better than trying to find some mythical authentic self among the rock-star postures. For all I'm not a real fan, Robbie Williams is still better than Coldplay because at least he doesn't take himself too seriously.
I was at an open mike event yesterday, and they played lots of Motown records: the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson. Pure commercial gold, not in the least experimental or daring it might seem. Certainly not prog rock, which proclaimed itself as so very advanced and meaningful but which now seems as stodgy as wet bread. But you could dance to them, they had killer bass-lines and were as sexy as Brifgette Bardot. And, along the way, quite a lot more adventurous and daring than some of that self-consiously experimental muso-music beloved of middle-class prog-fans.
So daring is not about choosing the most extreme technique; it's stretching yourself, trusting the process, seeing what you can do, in poetry as in all the other arts. And if you've never written a sonnet, then dare yourself to try.
THE MOTHER OF ALL WEEKS
6 days ago