Saturday, May 19, 2007

Writing as Art and Craft

Well, I've gotten hooked on this discussion board thread about what the aims and concerns of "serious writing" can or should be, and if "serious writing" is even taken seriously anymore (the answer is, apparently, a resounding NO! IT'S ELITIST TO WANT TO WRITE SERIOUSLY ABOUT SUBJECTS THAT MATTER). Sigh.

But I've collected some excerpts from my posts in this thread and posted them in my poetry blog, since I thought they were interesting and, even if no one agrees with me or even likes me or thinks I'm a decent human being, writing such posts has helped me to clarify my own thoughts and ideas about the subject. If you want to check it out, the post is here: "Is Anything Poetry? (Part 2 : The Problem of Value)".


  1. Those are indeed long posts, but hardly boring.

    Do you ever find that crafting a poem or piece of writing takes away from your inspiration, your spontaneous expression in the moment?

  2. I have deleted my myspace account, so I will comment here after reading your post there. You certainly did not deserve the harsh comments from the others in that group.

    I suppose that the bit about the thesaurus was a backhanded compliment, since I doubt you were using one. Some people just have a limited vocabulary. Those of us who enjoy our rich language and play with its words will seem elitist to them. In reality, you are merely elite.

  3. Don,

    In response to your first question about crafting a poem and its relationship to spontaneous expression and inspiration... The strange thing is, I have found that my works grow very organically, and that "craft" is a very important part of this organic process. What usually happens when I'm writing a poem, for example, is that I'll write some mishmash, stream-of-consciousness, unpunctuated, scrambled up, free-association wordplay in my notebook, something nobody can make sense of, even me. If you looked at it on the page, it would look like some opaque block of text, often with a great deal of scribbled-out lines. This block of scribbles can become almost anything. If I go back to it and write a poem, the poem grows out of the ideas and associations captured within the first scribblings, but it is an entirely new thing. Its structure and form--which is, in a sense, "crafted" because it is not blob-like and unformed--are inherent to its new meaning, which grows gradually out of the process of writing it. So, for example, I once wrote a poem (one of my favorite flatout "love poems" I've written) based on some meditations while sitting on the beach watching the waves and the fog roll over the shoreline. But it was in the process of "crafting" the images into lines and stanzas that the form of the poem began to suggest its central theme. The "inspiration" to break up lines to create a slow pace and to isolate certain words or objects all on their own was part of the inspiration to focus the poem on the idea of love as "seeing the whole world in one tiny part of it." I treat "crafting" a poem and the process of revision as itself another opportunity to play around and experiment--what happens if I break the line here instead o f there, use this word instead of that one, etc.?

    Of course, sometimes I have an idea in mind and I try to pull it off, and it just doesn't fly. I think of this as a kind of "miscarriage," and I very rarely try to go back and resuscitate a poem once I've written it to death. I may return to the same block of scribbles and try writing something entirely different (a poem based on scribble-A fell on its face, but an essay or short story based on the same scribble-A could end up being great, while scribble-B might lend itself to poetry). Or, I may just abandon it altogether.

    I guess I have a somewhat "masculine" approach to writing, such that I see my own personal ideas and goals as kind of like "sperm"--each is different, but they share a lot of the same "genetic make-up" because they all come from me (in other words, I have particular obsessions and interests that come up again and again). Plus, I can keep producing them forever and infinitely, so I never need to worry about running out or regretting if one in particular doesn't do well. A poem is the result of these spermatozoa of personal intention, emotion and thought, fertilizing the "egg" of immediacy and chance--the final poem is a unique and autonomous individual. It may take after me, but it's got its mother's eyes.

    About your second remark regarding the harsh comments I received, well... thank you, and don't worry about it. ;) Most of them were from one person, who was also the person arguing most strongly about writing being purely personal and emotional. Although he'd probably dislike me saying so, I think the personal insults are actually just a result of this relativist approach. He was attempting to aggravate my insecurities and play on my emotions by suggesting, for instance, that my views were more appropriate for a junior high schooler ("O no, what if I'm not as smart as other people?!") and that the majority of others in the group disagreed with me and thought I was being obnoxious ("O no, what if I don't fit in and nobody likes me?!"). I'm not at all surprised that he resorted to such techniques, since his refusal to admit intellectual discussion into the realm of writing robbed him of any alternative. Basically, he was trying to "sell" ideas with emotional appeal alone, the way many corporations sell products by making them look cool and exciting and available to everyone (everyone who's anyone, at least). When he felt backed into a corner because he could no longer sell his ideas on flash, charisma and excitement alone, he fell back on the well-known technique of playing on and heightening a person's insecurities and then offering the product (or idea, in this case) as the cure-all for those negative feelings. (i.e. If you agree with me, people will consider you intelligent and like you more, so you won't have to feel bad about yourself.) Unfortunately for him, I've been dealing with insecurities (and their manipulation and exploitation by others) for so long, I think I'm actually growing out of many of them. ;) Which doesn't mean I won't be snarky back, sometimes...

    Anyway, I look forward to reading any more comments you have about the posts. And I'm glad you don't think they're too long to be worth the read!

  4. Hi - I've wandered over here from LibraryThing, and just wanted to say that I find your blog intriguing - I'll have to stop by again.

    As one of the people involved in that LT food fight, I feel bad if the message I offered seemed to be "wanting to write seriously is an elitist exercise."

    That wasn't really my point. My points, honestly, were pretty simple:

    1) I view the "project" of writing as something that is collaborative between a sharing writer and a willing audience - that it is something where both writer and reader should learn from each other.

    2) I bristle at the notion that some projects are "better" than others _simply_ because someone says that they are.

    Rather, if you think one art form is preferable to another, you need to make a case for it, and be prepared to rethink your position, because you, like me, like everyone, is not right one hundred percent of the time. That's all.

    There are indeed works that I think are a better use of my time than others, and more valuable to society.

    But that's not the same thing as claiming that they are _inherently_ and _objectively_ better, which is what I was arguing against, and that's what I personally tend to view as elitist: being so sure that one's position is identical with objective truth that one can't admit the possibility that someone else might have a valid alternative.

    In any case, I think the thread has pretty much fallen apart now, because there is so much mis-reading and so much defensiveness. If I contributed to that, I am sorry.

  5. Rana, I really appreciate you stopping by here and leaving a comment. I also think we actually agree a lot more than we disagree. I think much of the misunderstanding may be my fault, since I came to the conversation late and at a point where it had seemed everyone had already taken sides, so that my arguments were associated with statements other people had made that I never explicitly disassociated with, you know? Anyway, I'm not a big fan of "objectivity," so I definitely agree with you about that. I don't much like an entirely relativist view, either, though, and I don't think that this is the only alternative to objectivity. There is a concept within phenomenology known as "intersubjectivity" (if you do keep reading this blog, I'll probably get around to talking about it at some point). I like this idea in particular, though, because it involves the idea of participation--as you said, the collaborative project between writer and reader.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by and saying hello. :) I'm sad that the thread kind of got stuck in the sludge of personal bickering, but I know it was still worthwhile for me to work through some of my own thoughts about things, and I hope other people felt the same way.

  6. I'll definitely have to look through your archives! :)

    I do understand what you're saying about the problems of relativity. I write creative non-fiction that is place- and nature-based, and I used to teach environmental studies, so I myself get impatient with those who claim that everything is subjective, or "constructed". I find such a view disturbing because it reduces our complicated, wonderful reality to nothing more than humans talking to each other about other humans. (Which is fine, but there's more to existence than us.)

    And I guess that's why I get antsy when people talk about having a higher claim to "truth" - what it says to me is that they're mistaking a biased human perception (inherently biased, because we are limited creatures of limited understanding) for that greater reality.

    Was it Einstein who said "God bats last"? In case, that's how I feel about existence: whatever we do, however we argue over whomever is "right", reality bats last.

    I do like exploring the possibilities, though. :)