words = the taint of the world.

poets are so fucking afraid of words. how many times have we talked about our inability to get it right? to write it right. how often do we talk about this in relation to translation? (as if we owe something to someone as writers.(eh, do we?)and, in that very fear of "getting it right," we turn on words/language. we attack them. we twist and manipulate them. we send them through shredders of meaning and sound. or perhaps this is because we love words. because it is a tender thing to stroke words, or beat words, or play with words. it's about attention. recently I heard an interview with Vanessa Place were she talks about words like " like "a wealth of stability." and my immediate feeling is jealous since I am not sure I believe in words. (I'm thinking of how this relates to Jordan's quote from Solomon about the intersection between meaning and sound. I agree about meaning. Overrated, perhaps, but I'm always to touched/tricked by it.)

i think something of what jordan is talking about in his recent posts have to do with authenticity in/and autobiography. I read the poem about trauma and i wonder if the reason he fucks with it, distorts it by sending into a machine is because of a distrust in words. like, i can't get it right. or, i don't want to get it right. or what if I can get it right? will the moment re-materialize, somehow?

the moment needs to be fucked with.

words traumatize reality.

i'm okay saying that.

but often there's also the tendency to not want to write about something that has happened to me because I don't want it fucked with. i'm thinking of all of those studies on how the telling and retelling of a story changes the story itself, and changes the way it is stored in the brain and remembered. like the telling of something, the uttering changes our perception of it. words, literally, a violence on the reality of something. and it doubles on itself. once it's put into words-- the violence is unstoppable. yes, reality should probably read "reality" but, for now...

so- this makes me stay quiet about certain things. but then more fear about that too. silence another kind of violence.


Jordan Soyka said...

I feel like there's a lot I want to say, but the first thing I'm latching onto is your discussion of how telling stories alters our memory of it. I remember that from my psych classes and it always freaked me out.

Two thoughts though. Trying to avoid that violence is like putting your favorite teacup out on display or protecting the good couch with plastic--it keeps everything but completely misses the point. Second, it is clear from experiments that our worldview etc affects our memories, but the opposite must be true as well. Like in physics equal and opposite reactions. But is it equal? Experiences, memories, all widen our worldview; at the same time, our narrow worldview strangles experience's ability to open our minds. Which one wins out?

Finally, how does this all relate to poets like Frank Stanford or Frank O'Hara who self-mythologize? Is that bravery on their part, or cowardice?

DeWitt said...

I don't like to think of it on terms of bravery or cowardice, because it puts the reason for writing a poem in either the category of "brave poem" or "cowardly poem." The poem is not always about the self. There's as much merit in writing a poem without emotional context as there is writing one with.

And for that matter, one has to view what they are afraid of. I think it would be scary to only release poorly written poems and always burn your good ones.

Poets should try not to be brave. Brave people do brave things as cowards do what's cowardly.

Not that it isn't a struggle to write about personal fears or trauma, but memory is to me less important than imagination. My more challenging poems tend not to center around what has happened to me but how to feel about what's happening right now (on the page as much as in the world).

JT said...

"memory is less important that imagination"

YOKELS! this statement enrages me a little bit.

perhaps this has something to do with a hierarchy within writing that always tends to privilege "creativity" ("imagination") over so-called non-creativity ("memory writing" "translation" etc.) (I'm not saying these are not creative-- but I think some folk (DeWitt, perhaps--) find non-memory based writing is more imaginative; poems not about the self.)

Why is this the case? Why do so many writers feel like this is the case? I've said and heard this many times: "I have no imagination; I can only write about myself." All writing is imaginative-- the act of sliding something in language demands a good amount of imagination.

but, yes, I agree that in my own work--the poems I consider more "imaginative", the poems that I pat myself on the back with, tend to be the one's I find most inventive/less based on memory. blah. And I hate myself for thinking that way-- or, better, for the system that produces that thinking in as writers.

question-- what is the difference between imagination and creativity.

Jordan Soyka said...

If we're defining "imagination" as something not based STRICTLY on objective reality, and if we agree (as most studies have shown) that we alter our own memories via our expectations, worldviews, and (re)tellings, then I don't know that we can draw a clear line between imagination and memory. The latter is always colored by the former.

But maybe that's missing the point. Maybe that's too "i'm going grad school on your ass". Or too stoner-ish, like, "dude, what if the color 'purple' that i see is different than what YOU call 'purple'?" Yeah, sure. But does anyone care? Sometimes I love those kinds of thought experiments/distinctions, and sometimes I feel like it's a clever way of not answering a question.

As to valuing imagination over memory, or vice versa, I don't know... Like I said, I don't know where the distinction is.I do agree that certain types of creative work (translation, as JT notes) haven't been as highly valued. However, I feel like that distinction isn't as strong as it once was; I feel like many poets think translation is as much an act of creation as it is an act of preservation.

I feel that poets have a responsibility to protect (is that the right word? it sounds self-important) both memory and imagination. We have a duty to preserve a record of what we've seen and heard; we are historians. However, imagination is the one gift that unites us all; some people may have had sad, painful lives, but imagination gives us the power to reach beyond what we've inherited.

(A long parenthetical:as soon as I write this, I think of this caveat--everyone, regardless of race, class, etc. is entitled to imagination. However, it's naive of me to think that imagination is totally egalitarian. Imagination is a living thing, and while it's resilient, it's also subject to oppression. There are ways to stunt one's imagination, just as there are ways to nurture it.)

Finally, creativity, to me is an energy, or a navigation system. It's what allows us to move back and forth between objective reality and imagination.

This is all off the top of my head, so please tell me how wrong I am.

DeWitt said...

Crap, I just wrote a really good reply and Blogger lost it.

So, I'll try to respond again but it'll be like level 5 instead of level 10.

JT, I didn't say "memory is less important than imagination" I said "to me memory is less important than imagination." Which is maybe not true, but something I said to prove the point that neither should be lauded over the other. And that if one should be regarded as "more important" as you may think it should be, than the writer should have their own agency over their own life and the reader over their own too.

Personally, I've always found that works regarded as "true" always have the upper hand, even in poetry.

I would not say that creativity is the same thing as imagination. I would define the difference between imagined and the remembered as the difference between what makes an Oprah Book Club Member angry or satisfied.

Really, I just don't like it when people start talking about how brave something is. I think it's not a far leap from judging writing on its bravery to saying that anyone who writes about what they have not experienced is less valuable than those who write about what they know.

I hate that phrase, "write about what you know."

What about Bob Dylan or Kafka? What about Jack Kerouac or the Bronte sisters? Does obfuscation your language or changing your name(s) to protect yourself from prosecution/persecution devalue one's writing?

Maybe, you say you hate yourself for feeling a certain way about your work because you agree with me that none of these terms are appropriate to judge anyone's work by.

Would you want to characterize Red Mistakes as an autobiography or as a work of the imagination? Would you want others to judge by it.

For one, who is going to sort out the different types of memory and the different values we would each put on any one thing remembered?

If anything, creativity is the better way to look at a work. And even that's not a very good way.

I just don't agree with these terms at all. And frankly, memories change, documents change, histories change. Nothing stays the same. Neither memory nor imagination is not all that important when compared to truth, honesty, or the emotions of people a hundred years after our death.

So, if this doesn't go through, I'm just going to say that the machine disagrees with me. Anyway, I don't like fighting, makes me feel bad. But it's an interesting discussion.

DeWitt said...

Also, did you call me a yokel?

DeWitt said...

Also, did you know The New Yorker factchecks poems? True.

Jordan Soyka said...

I want the job of fact-checking poems!! I would wear a trenchoat. And I would spend three hours just staring at John Ashbery with a magnifying glass, after which I would nod solemnly and walk away.

I assumed when JT said "YOKELS" it was like when they said "JINKIES!" in Scooby Doo. Regardless, we should write the Yokel Manifesto.

JT said...

I'm down for a yokel manifesto.

I'm not fighting & sorry if this is coming of fight-y. I'm really enjoying this back-and-forth. When I said it makes me feel enraged, I should have added that I like feeling enraged.

I'm not sure what I think about bravery.

My point is mostly that I see memory-based work, translation, etc. as (potentially) as imaginative/creative as anything else-- precisely because of what you brought up, Dewitt; it's instability. Language makes everything change.

DeWitt said...

Well, I enjoyed it too. But then I got worried you were actually mad. We're friends.

I also want the fact-checking job. I would wear private-eye clothes.