Friday, December 18, 2009

Craft v. Censorship

Poetry readings are risky. You might hear fabulous, fresh, imaginative, musical words--"the best words in the best order." Or not. You might also hear long, boring, vague, cliched things (I'm not sure what noun to choose here) that leave you leaning into your hand and paying close attention to the coffee mug in front of you. These alternatives illustrate the opposite ends of a poetry spectrum, the battle between free speech and hard work. What many new poets, and occasionally a few experienced ones, ignore is that for many in the audience, a poem is a work of art. As such, we appreciate the craft of the work, as we would admire the technique of a painting, the composition of a photograph, the balance and texture of sculpture. Because the raw materials of poetry are easily found--words and paper--the opportunity to try it costs little, and if one takes no risks, doesn't hurt a bit.

Ah, risk, yes, that's part of the boredom problem. If a poet takes no risk in putting together the images, sounds, structure, and importance of the piece, boredom results. We're listening to what we've heard before in ways we've already heard it; it is not, as Ezra Pound advocated, "news that stays new." Of course, the casual poet may not know that his/her work is all too common, because they haven't read widely, have little concept of the skills one needs to craft the news, think that putting words on paper and calling it poetry makes it so. I disagree. But--long, emphatic pause here--anyone brave enough to approach the mike, even after hearing a dynamite feature poet whose talent and dedication are obvious to all but the sleeping infant and maybe the mike stand, well, we owe it to hear the brave, the desperate, the egotistical, the newcomers, and the writers just having blah days. The minute we reject the merely inept, we become selfish, demanding to be impressed and entertained. We forget that each poet started with a weak grip, an unsteady step, little understanding, and an ego too big for the paper it's printed on.

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