Monday, August 31, 2009

Feeding the Muse

Saturday afternoon three poets and a supporter sat around the table, ate wonderful cheese, fruit, croissant, drank wine and chocolate coffee. We read poems and perused sample copies of publications we might send work to. Now that's a delightful way to network. I recommend it. And it grew out of the generosity of our hosts and an ongoing moveable workshop. Bill, our host on Saturday, has long been a member of a group of writers who respond to a prompt regularly and who publish to each other their latest efforts. Bill has created a second group. He sends out a prompt pulled from the work of Charles Simic, and we each create a poem that springs from that impetus. It works because we don't want to disappoint each other. And because of the email contacts, it does not require us to put on shoes or comb our hair and drive somewhere to work together. I think it does help that we know each other, have an occasional opportunity to see each other face to face, but it also helps that we do our level best (what would an unlevel effort look like?) to please one another.

Traditionally, poets and writers have complained about the isolation in which they work. I just saw an essay by Joyce Carol Oates that centered on this issue. And I agree, the work itself must be done in some uninterrupted, interior space in the mind, whether that mind occupies a body sitting on a rock or in an easy chair or at a desk or on a laptop. But pretty soon after the poem emerges from its cocoon, it ought to fly to welcoming ears and eyes, see if it can sustain itself in the sun. If it still feels right after that trial among friends--who may or may not give you a straight answer to the question, Is it good?--then it might be time to let it rest, revisit the process, and send it off to do its job in the larger world. Kay Ryan has said, "One of the elements of an art is the fact that it communicates. The transaction isn't complete if you don't publish." (Newsweek, July 13, 2009). Then again, in the same magazine, Louise Thomas says, "In the end, poetry needs only two caring people, one to write, and one to read." However you define publish, do it. Find that one to read, two or five if you can manage it, and watch their faces as you read to them, take to heart their emails, communicate. Otherwise, it's therapy, not art.

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