Sunday, April 27, 2008

Brian Fawcett (Part Three)

"But it wasn’t until I said I was going to take a ten year raincheck on the business of publishing poetry, and then made a deadly serious proposition that other poets do likewise, that I got myself into serious trouble." -- Brian Fawcett.

So the publishing or performance or communal sharing of poetry can easily be preordered to conform to a (dubious) goal, whatever the motivation. It reminds me of those earnest scribblers who maintain the opposite pact with their anti-Muse, the workmanlike teeth-gritting setting-down of lines every single day for ten (or more) years into complete "poems" in order to keep the sensibilities alive. At least I can sympathize with the latter; but what, other than arrogance and a kind of petulant self-righteousness, is the reason for promising to forego any public poetry for any length of time? It results from a reverse "look at me" emotional reaction.

But, really, what can one say of someone who has the out-of-touch arrogance to also propose that other poets do likewise? Brian, if you want to be a martyr or spokesman for the "anti-lyric" age, you're free. Others have good reasons to fight the forces of published superficial factoids, however. And I know of no better way this can be done than by the crafted, imaginative powers of good poetry. The lyric mode has always been the predominant one, and (in a good or great poetic age) always will be.


"The business I was making sport of, you see, really is a biz, within which moderately lucrative and very secure teaching careers can be wrought, money made, and absurd quantities of over-distilled self regard bottled for the decline. Entrepreneurs even leave their silver trails across the walls and ceilings of the temples of contemporary verse, just like in the real world." --Brian Fawcett.

He has it backwards, of course. Academics first secure their teaching careers, gain tenure, and then proceed to indulge in their poetic "vice". They make their sponduliks from teaching, and although a poetic "impression" and track record certainly helps with the creative writing industry, most academics have initial careers in teaching, no different in enumeration or process than a poetic non-practitioner.

And I have to give an offhand subdued chuckle at the assertion of poetic "entrepreneurs" greasing their pockets with filthy lucre. It's a poor career choice to invest the necessary time and
effort towards the writing, promoting, and performing of one's own poetry (not to mention the endless reading of others' verse, and the organic human connections made) if the focus is the gathering of fast loonies.


"When the essay was published, "the Biz" simply disappeared me. I can’t recall a single publishing poet who has acknowledged the existence of that essay since it was published, and only one or two academics who have gone beyond rolling their eyes and tsk, tsking me about it." --Brian Fawcett.

Could be they were annoyed at your not "playing the game". Or it could have been that your reasoning lacks proportion, nuance, and personal credibility, (as I've already suggested), and that those few who did read your essay responded in kind.


"I got on with my writing life. I’d pretty much mined out my youthful lyric vein anyway, and had already begun the process of learning that human life is not quite about my feelings—and that the "I" part of it was the one I have the least shot at articulating accurately. The years started passing, swiftly and pretty happily, and I ended up in different parts of the geographical, human and literary universes." --Brian Fawcett.

I see. Lyrical poetry somehow equates to a selfish interest in the workings of one's own tortured soul. It's non-transcendent, then, by nature. The personal never meets the universal, and the personal "I' in the poem is always (and exclusively) the I of the poet. I'm glad that's been illuminated for me. I hope others are reading, as well. The information on the poetic process in this essay is necessary and educative. Too bad Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Philip Larkin, and many other "personal obsessives" hadn't come across these words before their untimely demises. We might have been spared the lyrical irrelevance of such pieces as "A Severed Head", "Dockery And Son", and the like.


"I’d been in my late 20s when I wrote those poems, and it hadn’t been a happy time for me. I’d begun to get a dark inkling that my first wife and I might not make it, and that neither would a lot of other things that had once seemed pure and sure. This quite naturally got into the poems I wrote, and it made them embarrassingly personal and coded, whiny elegiacs of how hard and complicated adult life was. I should have been making thorough and precise registrations of the things around me or trying to figure out what I might be able to do to save my marriage and make my life more satisfying and interesting. Alas, I was more compelled by the Virgilian gloom I detected at the edges of everything, and I couldn’t see that most of it was emanating from inside my own dopey head." --Brian Fawcett.

This is confusing the (agreed) self-indulgent outpourings of emotivity (not emotion) for the shaping of nuanced and meaningful verse, often reflective, mature, and revelatory for more than the elliptical situation of the writer. The latter can turn out to be timeless poetry; more examples are legion -- and superfluous.

It's obvious, though, that Fawcett has a mixed stated emotional response to the rereading of his earlier verse: he can't help but give a muted congratulatory kudo or three for his "technical brilliance" (how very Canadian-- the "muted" modifier, that is); but he also groans at any emotion which is personal, and doesn't amplify itself with the more "serious" concerns of how it's supposedly shaped by society, by one or more communal belief systems, and by intermeshed world politics. This blather is the rampant Atwoodian nonsense: in her theme-polemic Survival, the macro arguement is historical Canadian literature; in Fawcett it tends to be provincial news-headline politics, where his "victims" are chess pieces to be queened off the board. But poetry, as anyone with a small sampling of grey-matter perspective can conclude, has to do with idiosyncratic detail, with people who emote with disdainful off-the-tracks sparks towards anything suggesting "theme", "positional historicity", "political metaphor", and "colonial hardwiring".

It's entirely possible (and commonplace) to write of "big themes" in a bland and illegitimate way, also from "inside [one's] own dopey head".

Part Four to follow ....

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