the literary life 1/31/10
Today I attended a Buddhist meditation class in which the teacher said in the midst of her teaching, "Others will never hold the same exalted view we have of ourselves." The point struck me. I thought about this in terms of writing. Do we write because we want others to have an exalted view of ourselves? If so, we might be setting ourselves up for disappointment.
There's nothing wrong with being proud of our work, our achievements, and the art we produce. But I think it's important to ponder who and what we write for. I spoke about this with a poet friend of mine on the phone the other day. We discussed the academic complexity and opaqueness that is evident in some contemporary poetry, which is a contrast to the "simpler" nature and love poems by some of the old masters who were the first to inspire us to write.
Later I thought about how I write because I love language, wordplay, invention, and beauty. I write to stay sane. I write narrative poems and humor poems and confessional poems and philosophical poems and surreal poems because I'm interested in the aesthetic appeal of a piece of writing as well as its practical appeal. I read for both insight and to enter the lush forest of words. Sometimes I am moved to enter the forest through my own writing, to arrive at my own insights. I want my readers to remember this beauty and hope as well, to enjoy risks taken with language. I want, sometimes, to surprise them. To meditate, speculate, and feel something.
The bottom line: I usually don't want to read a poem that demands so much of my intellect that I can't access some of it on a first reading. I want to hear a voice, see an image, bake cookies while I'm reading. I want to be surprised not confused or exhausted. I read poems to be liberated and enlightened, not be weighed down by additional burdens. I want to write for poets, prose writers, and anyone interested in embracing truth. I don't want my writing to succumb to the pressures of soliciting an exalted view or to vices of the intellect. I want my writing to teach me how to exalt others more.