Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reckoning the Impossible, Part III

I continue to write, despite the absence of clear encouragement. This is strange, as I am far too depressed to play my guitar or read (which require far too much effort and concentration). Even this, this semi-personal expository prose, is accomplished with more time and labor than it should require. I had reached out to a few people, asking for assessment and critique, but I have not heard back, after a month or two. My interpretation is that my writing is mediocre at most, which is fine. I am a poor judge of my own work, so I wouldn't necessarily know. And the world has plenty of mediocre poets. My (perceived) mediocrity won't drive me to suicide, as it did poor Hart Crane (not that I'm comparing myself). My suicidal impulses come from other places.

So, why write? Poetry has no objective value, in my opinion. Presumably, I'm not talented enough to make a career of it--not without an effort the size of which I haven't the energy to make. I lack my youthful outsize ego and desire for fame that might veil my eyes to the disappointing reality. It's not clear to me, but I seem to be writing for the only legitimate reason to write poetry: I have certain perceptions, memories, emotions, thoughts, energies inside me that I feel compelled to understand better, that resist embodiment, topography, translation into the structure of language. This internal compulsion, I believe, is what drives poetry, regardless of whatever other filters it passes on the way out of the poet.

I can, and sometimes do, choose to ignore the impulse to write. And the world is none the worse. (How far can I generalize this? Can I honestly say that, had Walt Whitman simply chosen not to write, the world would still be the same place? Or Shakespeare, or Emily Dickinson, or T.S. Eliot, or a long list that necessarily becomes sparser [more sparse?] as we move toward contemporary poetry? While poetry exerts no direct influence on the world, I do believe that it makes its mark indirectly, acting from the fringes to change another "inconsequential" thing, and a cascading succession of cultural events and objects and such, whose diminishing "inconsequence" eventually becomes an increasing centrality to a society that will finally come to reflect something of the poet's efforts. But this doesn't apply to me, the humble hack that I am.)

This internal struggle to translate the untranslatable, from the internal energy and intuition to expression and maybe even communication, is the only proper driving force for poetry. This is the same force that drives the mathematician and the physicist, the psychoanalyst and the archaeologist, or any one of a long list of those who strive to solve the mysteries that resist solution, whose answers always breed more questions. The fact that this is all a game ensures that human beings will continue to pursue these things. For me, it is always at least a tolerable way to pass the time.

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