Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Notes to Myself With Regards to Poetic “Occasion” Versus Poetic “Experience”

In the June 2005 issue of Poetry, Christina Pugh argues, “for the viability of reading as a version of, or a substitute for, "lived experience." She goes on to say in her essay, “No Experience Necessary” , that: “…what is missing in the work of some younger poets is not "experience" at all, but reading that is deep enough to effect changes in the self?” Her refutation of the hypothesis that universities fail poets by depriving them of experience, thus resulting in the same “experience-challenged, cookie-cutter verse” hinges on her observation that what she finds lacking in most of the poetry she reads, “is an ability to distinguish experience from occasion: what [she] defines… as the prime mover of the poem, be it based in the poet's empirical life, in imagination, in the jurr of language, in literary texts.”

Furthermore, she posits that: “poetic occasion may not always be the result of "lived experience" per se.” She concludes her arguments by stipulating that it is not necessary to: “…go out and have an exciting life that you can write about in your work. Instead, … it's the ability to read widely enough to know which poetic occasions stir you: be they empirical, imaginative, aleatory, linguistic, discursive—and how various and transhistorical are poems' means to stir.”

Perhaps, I am missing the point here, but the “knowledge” that one gleans from the written word is not imbued with the richness of first hand experience, but is in essence only a representation of the author’s interpretation filtered via their unique mindset. (We, in turn, subjectively reinterpret this representation.) One does not read several travel books concerning vacationing in Europe and conclude that they have been there. Reading about some concrete “experience” only pales in comparison to the actual real-life experience, although the former admittedly complements the latter and vice versa.

I agree that what she refers to as “occasion” need not necessarily be based on the poet’s empirical life and that which prompts a poet to write can originate from many sources. However, in order to write about a conceit in a novel fashion, breathing new life and a unique prospective quite often is predicated on more than a perfunctory knowledge. It is certain that we, as a product of a unique process of socialization and different socio-cultural constructs, “…don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” (Anais Nin).

It has been restated many times and in many ways since, but perhaps Ezra Pound put it best almost a century ago in his essay, “A Retrospect”: “No good poetry is ever written in a manner twenty years old, for to write in such a manner shows conclusively that the writer thinks from books, convention and cliché, and not from life, yet a man feeling the divorce of life and his art may naturally try to resurrect a forgotten mode if he finds in that mode some leaven, or if he think he sees in it some element lacking in contemporary art which might unite that art again to its sustenance, life.”

8 comments:

steve mueske said...

All I have to go on is your synopsis of the article, but the phrase "cookie-cutter poetry" is at once tired and stupid. How many years have we been hearing of an "MFA poem"? People who honestly believe this are not reading contemporary poetry, are not going to the bookstore and purchasing poetry journals or books. Poetry is more alive now than it has been at any point in history. There is a wide variety of styles, ideas, and focii.

Nick said...

Steve,

On the count that "poetry is alive today" the author is in agreement with you. She employs the term "cookie-cutter verse" in a derogatory fashion. Furthermore, she does not believe that universities fail poets by cranking out carbon copy poets. (And on these points I agree with her). Where I disagree with her is with her stipulation that "life experience" is relatively speaking interchangeable with "reading that is deep enough to effect changes in the self" of the poet. I just don't understand how she can equate the two or treat them as equal variables in a poetic equation.

Collin said...

Most of the poetry in my first collection was written while traveling in America and Europe, and the personal and political experiences there. I could have read every book published during that 10 year time, but it would have never taken the place for "being there." I'll have to respectfully disagree with Christina.

I am of two minds on the MFA question Steve mentions. Of course, you do hear about MFA casualties, but all the poets I know who have completed a program have very unique, singular voices. Although one of those poets did tell me that she had to fight to keep her voice when the professor was trying to get all the students to write a very specific way.

Nick said...

Collin,

Re: "Most of the poetry in my first collection was written while traveling in America and Europe, and the personal and political experiences there. "

Similar situation here, a lot of my poetic conceptualizations (or "poetic occasions" as Pugh terms them) are borrowed, inspired and/or are derivative from my experiences travelling abroad in Europe. I would be hard pressed to find a poem that I wrote that wasn't influenced in some fashion by my "life experience". My reading of poetry serves (at least in my particular instance) only to trigger or allow me to access a memory which translates itself into verse.

loveandsalt said...

Do hallucinations count as "real" experience? Just wondering...

Nick said...
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Nick said...
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Nick said...

Of course it depends on whose hallucinations they are. ;-)