Thursday, February 18, 2010

feels rather dated/follow your nose

A little comment on this rather intriguing phrase of Matt's in his generous review of my reading at The Other Room (I personally don't think I was as good as I know I can be - a combination of bad light and the daunting prospect of reading to my first ever totally non-mainstream audience.)

I understand what he means with regard to the pop-cultural references - but than I was brought up with pop music and the like, so that's probably inevitable! I'm 51 you know! (using my best old man voice there!)

But there's a question of what it means to be "rather dated." I read a comment on Tod Swift's Eyewear (by Jeffery Sides) to the effect that Robert Sheppard is no longer non-mainstream because he now things disruptive syntax a little dated - as if disruptive syntax = non-mainstream and non-disruptive = mainstream. Which makes me wonder if there's a set of qualifications for being a non-mainstream poet, a tick-box you have to fill in. Which makes me wonder why I bother, if there is.

Talking sometimes to non-mainstream poets around Manchester, I sometimes get the feeling there's a mutual incomprehension thing going on. After one reading at the Whitworth, one chap asked why do people bother with their little anecdotal poems about animals and aunts and the like. Well, presumably they bother because they enjoy it. Otherwise they would go and do something else. And sometimes I catch myself enjoying it for what it is, rather than what I think it ought to be.

If you spent your time worrying if what you do is "up to date" I think you'd very soon give yourself a hernia. You follow your nose. I think I personally at the moment I'm following my nose in two ways: in one direction, it's all found text and (no longer involving scissors) a kind of cut-n-paste disruptiveness. In another, it's a kind of urban lyricism/wandering through life astonishment at the beauty of it all kind of thing. Some of my poems aren't so much written as assembled.

I listen to a lot of jazz and I think it sort of affects the way I write. I improvise poetry into shapes that seem pleasing to me. It's probably been done before, by someone else, somewhere in the world of poetry. But non-mainstream poetry is not a set of tick-boxes, or novel just for the sake of being novel. If it is new, then the newness is earned, and probably happens not because the poet has been self-consciously trying to be different. It happens because the poet is following his/her nose.

1 comment:

richard lopez said...

or as o'hara said, you go on your nerve. i also think that the worry over newness, especially regarding experimental writing is concerned, is overdone. not sure what is new, or even old, and frankly i'm at a point in my life where i don't care. i read what gives me pleasure and what i can learn from and these come from a variety of sources. because i admire say jackson mac low does not preclude me from loving thom gunn. it's a large boat and there's a place for everyone, i think. at any rate, wonderful post.