Friday, December 11, 2009

Anxiety Before Entering The New

How to be new?

When you're a mainstream poet, it's probably not a problem. You just do another variation on what's gone before. Take Carol Ann Duffy's dramatic monologues. It was a form that Browning and Tennyson made their own; and she brings a new slant to it just by her choice of characters. Psychopaths, thieves and bored unemployed young men. Not, as in Browning, safely set in the Medieval world, or in the past, but in the now. That's what makes a poem like Education for Leisure its power for many people; though technically, it's no real advance on My Last Duchess, another poem about a psychopath.

But the "innovative poet" has to go further; has to find some technical means to be "new." And this, I suspect, can get to be a terribly anxious process if you let it. Hearing Nick Thurston reading his "conceptual poetry" at The Other Room the other day, I was wondering how long he can go on producing things that are so self-consciously original. One of his pieces - a recording of the speaking clock leading up to 9pm - reminded me of a track from OMD's Dazzle Ships, probably their most "experimental" album, and one which explored musical collage and "musique concrete" as a kind of pop music.

In the end, I can only speak for my own writing; but I have to step back from being anxious about whether I'm new or not, and just write the way that it feels right. I'm constantly exploring through my reading and through thinking what it means to be a writer in the 21st century, and what it means to be new; but when I write, I have to be free to write what comes. You have to go on your nerve, as Frankie says. If somebody in 1921 wrote a poem that's a little like what you're writing now, that just means you're part of the continuing stream that is innovative writing. And it won't be the same. It'll be new.