Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Some Thoughts On Quirkiness

I've been told my poetry is 'quirky' a lot over the years. Here's what the Urban Dictionary says about that:

737 up162 down
something that is strange/not normal but cool
Wearing long stripy socks that are odd...
2.quirky426 up198 down
Unconventional, surprising, odd.

A word often used by narcissistic scenesters when they describe their oh-so-unique selves in their Livejournal user info pages in attempts to sound like interesting people.

It is a word best used by one person to describe another. Those who apply "quirky" to themselves thereby call into question their very own "quirkiness" by seeming gleefully self-aware (just like everyone else).

I've never called myself that, so I hope part two doesn't really apply to me. I am, I guess, attracted to the unconventional, surprising and odd. I've never worn long stripy socks that are odd, though. Maybe I should start...

I'm sure that's meant as a compliment, but I always feel slightly uncomfortable with the term. A lot of the poetry I read is only odd to people who don't normally come across things like that. When I read Tom Raworth or Geraldine Monk, I don't think, "I say, this is rather quirky, isn't it?" It seems to be the way things should be written. It attracts me in a way that a straightforward narrative doesn't; it just seems natural that is the way the world is.

Oddness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Those of us attracted to modernist/postmodernist practices don't think about their oddness all the time.

Calling something or someone quirky is a way of putting them into a box and saying, well, they're a bit odd, so we can smile wryly at them, tolerate them, but not take them seriously. The challenge of challenging poetry is in the way it doesn't conform to expected norms; calling it 'quirky' means you can accept it without taking up its challenge. You can carry on in your own, sweet, 'normal' way as if nothing has changed. Don't mind him, he's a bit odd, but he's all right really.

But when I write a poem that uses found material or cut'n'paste; or when I notice something 'odd' about the world, something no-one else has noticed perhaps, or not noticed in that way before, I'm not trying to be quirky. I'm trying to reach for some kind of truth: however compromised by language and the media such a concept is, I still believe that it's the job of the poet to seek truth. Truth is often hiding in some odd places, and that's where I like to go looking.

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