Saturday, June 20, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Poetry and Me

So I grew up reading poetry. I think that most people do. The first books I read were Dr Seuss books. I remember being exposed to Shel Silverstein in school and being fascinated by Where the Sidewalk Ends. I remember being enthralled by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with the vivid poetry. I remember finding the poems of Frost and Dickenson and e.e. cummings and others yet. Hell, there was a whole Batman: The Animated Series episode about "Tyger, Tyger" (it was a pretty awful episode, but I really liked the poem and still do). Beast (on the X-Men cartoon) was always spouting poetry as well. But so what? Well, I guess I'm saying that, for me, getting into speculative fiction, into science fiction and fantasy, was one that was not divorced from poetry.

And I'm writing about that because I feel like poetry really doesn't get the love it deserves in speculative circles (or at least the circles that I move in). I understand that there are a great number of people out there writing poetry, reading poetry, and talking about poetry, but in more short fiction and novel circles (and especially with science fiction and fantasy fanboys), poetry is often ignored or (again especially with those fanboys) outright derided. I can recall a certain review comparing the relative merits of the debuts of Uncanny Magazine and Terraform and looking at the nonfiction and fiction of Uncanny and just…sort of hand-waiving the poetry away. No one talks about it, they wrote. Not important, they all but shouted by not even bothering to examine it.

And it's not like it's an isolated thing. For all that Tangent Online doesn't always live up to its reputation, one might expect that as the one place on the internet that reviews basically everything coming out at the professional level fiction-wise it would also be looking at the poetry coming out at those same venues. Poetry is short (mostly), probably wouldn't take too much extra work. At least the poetry could be mentioned? But no, there is a sense that no one really wants to talk about poetry. Or perhaps it's just a grand case of insecurity, a sense that no one is qualified to review poetry. Many people consider themselves to be writers, after all, and especially fiction writers. I know that many who review fiction also write it, if not always professionally. But somehow it's like if they don't personally write poetry then they don't want to talk about it.

I will confess: I write poetry. But I think that most people have written poetry. Because I enjoyed it, I wrote poetry in middle school, in high school, in college. It was largely terrible (as most writing is at those ages). I didn't show it to many people because I was afraid they wouldn't like it. Or perhaps that they wouldn't "get" it. And that right there is what I see as a large problem. There is this sense out there that one must "get" poetry to talk about it. Now, I have some of this problem as well. When I feel I didn't really "get" the poem, I tend to hem and haw and say things like I was a bit lost but this is what it means to me. And I think that is something less people are willing to say.

To me, reviewing is at its core confessional in nature. It's not really all that much about the story. It's about how I interpret that story. I don't like to do just plot summary with a good or bad at the end, a summary judgement. Normally I try to wrestle with the story, with the poem. Normally I try to say what I got out of it. Each review is a way of seeing into my brain, into how I think. I miss things. Sometimes big things, either because I'm missing some reference or some background or some cultural experience or because I'm just dense sometimes. But I try to give my thoughts on each piece I read. I feel it makes me a better reader and I hope maybe that others can find it helpful or entertaining or something like that. I'm sure that's not always the case.

Anyway, I am constantly terrified someone is going to read an interpretation of mine and tell me that I'm wrong. I imagine that is why many people don't like reviewing poetry (and some might take it so far to have a pathological avoidance of even reading poetry). That they have been taught that poetry has a right and a wrong interpretation. What's more, that they believe that even fiction has a right and a wrong interpretation (but that with fiction they have access to the "right" answer). And that is immensely troubling to me. Again, I try to present my reviews not as some sort of "right" interpretation but how I interpret a story or poem or piece of nonfiction.

And what I love about poetry is that it gives the reader a bit less of a strict map when it comes to interpretation. The pieces are generally shorter, but the impact can be much greater, because with poetry it's so much easier to see that the text changes meaning from reader to reader. A specific line can mean completely different ways because of how a reader interprets the meaning of one word. One. With fiction, there is often the illusion that the author writes a story with its meaning all in one go and that's it. The reader finds that meaning, all is well. And that. Is. Shit. Utter shit. It promotes the idea that authorial intent is the be all/end all. And while I think an author should be able to do certain things with their stories, interpreting them for the masses is not one of them.

Ahem. I like reviewing poetry. Even when it frustrates me, even when it makes me feel stupid. Sometimes especially then (come back on Monday to see me struggle my way through the Apex offerings for June). I think it's something that does help me as a reader, even as a writer. I think it's something that helps me as a person. That my truth is not everyone's truth. That there is no Truth. That poetry doesn't reveal Truth. It reveals ourselves. Like all texts, it is a mirror with which to examine ourselves and our world. And poetry does it so well. So powerfully. That is why I review poetry. That is why I read poetry. That is why I write poetry.

So yeah, that's my rather long rant about poetry. I'm not sure what the point is. Really I just had this rant inside me and had to let it out. Thanks for bearing with me, and, as always, thanks for reading.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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