1. Several people asked whether their poems were ‘good’.
2. Is your life good? What do you do with it, and how do you feel about that?
3. Is your breathing good, is it working for you? When you do it, it fulfills its functions doesn’t it? I’d suggest that poems serve you, too. Like breathing, even if you forget about paying attention to its regulation and effects.
4. The question of “good” should perhaps always be answered in the negative, for this reason. What I hear in that question is this other question: am I done?
5. No, your job is not ‘done.’ You must also live as a poet, see as a poet, serve as a poet. If your poems are to serve, serve your poems. Is a cook, a person whose vocation is cooking, or a musician whose vocation is music, done if they do one dish well, play one song well? Is a one-hit-wonder “good”? Getting “good” does not end.
6. That is, a poem is not merely an end product. It’s part of the process of living your poetics, serving your own poetics, seeing and enacting them in the world.
7. Have you defined your poetics so explicitly?
8. The short answer seems to me, is that if you can’t say how the poem serves your poetics, and whether the poem serves you, then you’re not feeling it. If you’re not feeling it, isn’t that your answer? Or a part of it?
1. You must write poems that serve you.
2. You must write poems that don’t. Then you can tell the difference.
3. I’d suggest that, therefore, you must always be writing bad poems. Some must be “bad,” for some to turn out “good.”
4. Some poets would call this “taking risks” with your writing. But what the hell is the risk? What’s going to happen if you write a terrible poem? Is your house going to fall into the hands of a banker? Are you going to get struck by lightning? Are people going to laugh at you on the street outside of bars? They only put people in jail for writing good poems, and mostly in other countries. Bad poets are as safe as the reproductions of paintings in motel rooms.
5. Feelings are real. The clichés of 18th & 19th century Romantics left over hundreds of years later in pop music are not, not on the same level. They have been copyrighted. Are your feelings copyrighted in advance? Are your feelings somebody else’s ideas? Don’t equate one with the other. Even if you believe in the emotional fundamentalism of Romanticism (who doesn’t now and then?) or as Sarah Campbell put it in her review* of Poems for the Millennium: Romantic and Postromantic Poetry, (2008) edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson, “The Romantics are more contemporary than we are. The Postromantics are more alive than we now living,” you still have a different poetics than Kenneth Goldsmith.
6. Read to find what is useful to you about that tradition, and what is not.
7. Define your poetics (and poems) in that way: is the poem useful to you? Is it working for you? Why or why not? Define your poetics by writing poems.
8. You already figure that some techniques, whether personification or appositives, synecdoche or metonymy, allusion or juxtaposition, are perhaps the right tool for the right job at the right time. You would intuitively just do it. (Maybe after a lot of previous work and thought.) You wouldn’t say “catachresis is always better than parataxis.” Instead, you would be engaged and, in a sense, in motion. In which direction?
9. You get to have fun with that. You have to have fun with it. Intellectual or somatic or aesthetic or social or sonic joy is simply required.
10. I repeat, fun is required. Whether you are writing about being in pain, or living in a fucked up world, or, like Paul Guest, surviving as a paraplegic. If you are not having fun with joy and grief, take a break. Start over.
* Sarah Campbell’s review of the Rothenberg, Robinson vol. 3 of Poems for the Millennium is here: http://www.goldenhandcuffsreview.com/gh12content/18.html
and Now a Word about City Lights Bookstore:
http://www.avclub.com/video_embed/?id=56568<br /><a href=”http://www.avclub.com/articles/san-francisco-city-lights-books-birthplace-of-a-li,56568/” target=”_blank” title=”San Francisco: City Lights Books, birthplace of a literary revolution”>San Francisco: City Lights Books, birthplace of a literary revolution</a>