In thinking lately about the rejection of aesthetic (see below), I started taking my conversation inward. Toward myself. A confrontation: what is this poetry for?
It’s a natural state of mind for me to return to when I’m not writing. The question, prompted in part by the rest of the poetic mind, evidences my concern with doing something new or different as I move forward. Or, as I told another poet last week: I don’t feel like I have to reinvent the wheel everytime I write a new poem, but I reinvent it when I start a new project. That’s just how I work best, I’ve learned. Sometimes I want to buy a new outfit, new shoes. It’s like that.
Let’s say I write some poems and they get out into the world where they belong (do they?). Let’s say, then, that 90% of poets reading my work dismiss it as one of the following:
not gay enough
too overtly political
too secretively political
too much sex
not enough good sex
And once my work has been rejected, what then? Have I failed as a poet? Should I turn in my quill, my bookshelves, my scribbled notebooks? What is the actual aim of rejection—when it’s aimed at you?
In the recent Mary Oliver discussion, I’m sure no one dissecting the Dead Kitten Poetics has really considered what they want from Mary Oliver. This may be because Oliver has achieved a level of fame in which she is dehumanized, less a poet than a machine or other faceless celebrity. Mary Oliver might be the Paris Hilton of poetry (that’s hot).
But if there is anything for Mary Oliver to take from the DKP discusion, isn’t it evolve or become obsolete? And there is the echo of Ezra: Make it new. When we critique another poet’s poetics, what exactly do we expect to happen?
It seems that ultimately, a conversation like this is for the speakers and not the subject. The result for those who engage in the rejection is the closing of their circle: a community by definition ultimately exists only through rejection and exclusion. Freud said that’s also how we negotiate our own identities: we encounter the world and respond with either That is like me or That is not me. In poetry, we negotiate similarly: I identify with this aesthetic. I do not identify with this aesthetic.
When you reject, are you confident you know where your baby is? Or is it out there, tumbling away with the tepid bathwater?
And how do you know?