Monday, June 11, 2012

Of What Should One Write?


You remind me of my mother
all bluster and love, ice and promise.
I do my multiplication tables
faster than anyone
and still you don’t notice.
So I pretend for you
can’t learn my sevenses,
hide a paper under my desk.
My brother laughs
tells me he did that, too,
but he knows better.
I’m just trying to catch your eye.
And I do. You pass back
my perfect score, stare me down
with those milky blues
and ask if I want to take
the test again, alone with you,
after school on Friday.

I jump, in fear and joy,
practice with my brother’s help.
He smiles as he drills me, too.
He knows what I am looking for—
to be brought back from the brink,
read the riot act, saved. He obliges.
I pass with flying colors.

This poem is from a cycle I am working on called In Thrall to the Sadist. In this cycle, I am working on aspects of sadism, and also the challenge of story telling in poetic form. These poems are confessional at their root, stem, branch, and leaf. They are the product of years of growth, and the somehow ever-persistent desire to write. 

This persistent desire has surprised me, because of the equally persistent self-recrimination for said desire. The difficulty with my writing, and particularly my poetry, is that it lines up with the confessional school of poetry that I know through the likes of Sharon Olds and Anne Sexton. I admire this poetry, and also question its value in a larger project of art. Where is the intersection of aesthetic and experience? When is experience spun to move toward an artistic expression? Is it simply self-preoccupation that tricks me into thinking these confessions are art, or is there space for confession in the large umbrella of art?

I get confused about art. The recent storm around the appalling cake performance art in Sweden was, for me, an opportunity to work out the difference between provocation and artistic expression. This brilliant analysis from blacklooks helped me to see the space that was created by this piece of 'art' was false at its core, making no real space for the voices, vision, and true story of African women to be heard or seen. By parodying the images used to stereotype, by cornering white women into colluding with the parody, Makode Linde participated in the long line of folk who have used African women's bodies for their own sensational, titillating benefit, reinforcing the story of their silences with hyperbole. 

In this context, then, I wonder about my confessional work. I am telling my story, I am not seeking to parody my life or hyperbolize the truth welling up in me. BUT, I am not the only one in this story. I write about my family, my lovers, my friends. I want to write about the stories in my community, but I often stop myself, for risk of being like Linde, perhaps, humiliating readers, making art that only shocks, and does not name something that is true.

I think that this is at root of what I desire in my writing-- to name something that is true. I like the folks at post secret for this reason, though there is a rare example of that art that speaks to me in this way.  Sometimes I think I should stop writing from this deep well of story in my life, that bubbles up, that obscures itself and then shows me stark, vibrant, alive images and story. There isn't much else that comes to me, though, and so I follow these stories, and hope they speak beyond my own life, and can be of some use, stand in some way beyond the moment of my writing them. 

I don't know how I know when something is true in this way. It is a feeling in my gut, it is a sensation across my shoulders, it is the calm behind my eyes, as if I had been meditating, or praying through the poem. When I feel this way, the recrimination of creation is at bay, at least for some time, at least until I move on to the next poem, the next step in the process of this truth-seeking.

These blog posts also, I hope, speak in this way. Somehow it feels a bit like messages in a bottle, blown out into the universe of tubes and wires, landing on someone's shore, and being read. Thank you for reading. 

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