Thursday, July 20, 2006

This morning while I was getting ready for work I listened to Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales. It occurred to me that many of Sting’s songs (and not just on this album) are about the darker aspects of love and desire. Murder, infidelity, trying to change a person you are in a relationship with so that they suit you better, betrayal, stealing, competition with another suitor, meeting the new boyfriend when you are the ex-boyfriend, trying to control another person—these are examples from Sting’s songs about the darker side of love and desire. I think Sting is exploring in his lyrics the maddening complexities of love/desire, and in a sense he is posing the question: “What are you wiling to do for love?”

I read somewhere (it was probably Nietzsche—or at least he would agree with it if he didn’t say it) that one cannot truly be an atheist until one no longer believes in love. I think this is quite profound. It points out how our culture lauds the concept, the emotion of love to such an extent that it is commensurate to believing in God. Think about how many poems, songs, movies, novels, and television shows are about love. Think about how many women dream about their wedding day. Think about how much unhappiness is out there in the world due to a lack of love, due to disappointment in love. Think about our fascination with sex. Think about romance novels and soap operas. People have been known to commit suicide over love or the lack of it. Now imagine all of that sucked out of our culture or out of your personal belief system. It is hard to imagine living without love or without believing in it. It seems like such a cold, harsh, lonely existence, a truer atheism than not simply believing in God.

Regarding poetry, I’ve been thinking about how necessary collaboration is. How it is so helpful to have other people read your work and provide feedback on it. You then go back to your poems with a fresh set of eyes and make the tough decisions as to what feedback you’ll listen to and what feedback you’ll ignore. I find that I can only take my poems so far. At a certain point, I need the objectivity of others to help me revise further.

I’ve also been thinking about the role of luck in publishing. Yes, you have to be talented and work hard at your craft. Yes, it seems like to some extent or another that we all pay our dues, but don’t we all know poets of equal or lesser talent who seem to have it easier? They publish more. They win contests. They place their books with better publishers. Haven’t we all picked up a literary magazine at least once and scratched our heads as to why a particular poem was accepted? Are these “lucky” poets really better, or is it that their work is more in fashion right now? Does the love poem the “lucky” poet wrote just happen to come under the nose of a literary magazine editor when the editor is in the throes of a passionate love affair? The right place at the right time? In this context, I’ve never liked the concept of luck. It seems so unfair if you happen to feel that you are not lucky or as lucky.

What’s that saying you hear in one form or another? “I’d rather be lucky than …. (fill in the blank). Hmmm, probably a lot of this thinking is about sour grapes on my part. Still, at an existential level, doesn’t this kind of luck seem unfair in the cosmic scheme of things? The luck doesn’t appear to be justified; it doesn’t appear to have been earned. You could argue if you believe in karma or reincarnation that perhaps the person did something in a previous life or earlier in this life, and he or she is now reaping the rewards. Yes, interesting, and it does address the justified/earned piece, but what if this is not the case and some people, for whatever reason, are just plain and unjustifiably lucky? What does that say about the nature of existence? It’s troubling.

It’s been pointed out to me that that the poetry biz does to some extent operate on who you know. Friends help each other. Teachers help their students. Writers who are also editors may reciprocate my publishing writers/editors who accepted their work. But what if you are not good at schmoozing? What if you find going to poetry conferences to rub elbows and network distasteful (I realize that this is not the sole reason why many people attend conferences)? What if you are too busy with other areas of your life to take more workshops or get involved more with the local poetry scene? What if you are introverted and it takes awhile for you to open up and become relaxed among new people, so consequently you don’t always make a positive first impression? What if you want to earn your recognition on your own terms and solely on the merit of the work itself? Does this set you up to experience more difficulty? More disappointment? I think so.


At 10:00 AM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

Living out here in the desert has been a blessing and a curse for my writing. On one hand, I love the solitude, the nature, and the ability to explore without interference. On the other hand, I crave interaction---face to face contact with poets and I can't get any.

Always be careful of what you wish for.

At 3:35 PM, Blogger jeannine said...

This reminds me of a conversation from a great televised mind of misanthropy, from the MTV show Daria:
After her younger (more conventionally attractive and popular) sister wins a lot of praise for writing a mediocre essay, Daria asks: "Isn't there anything where being cute and popular doesn't matter?"
Her friend Jane:
"Organ donation. Unless its your eyes."

At 10:50 PM, Blogger Gerald Huml said...

Justin, always good advice about being careful what you wish for.

Jeannine, that's good! I used to watch that show.


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