Sea-Camel

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Little Fucking Emerson


Néstor M. Gulias Posted by Hello

Been thinking again. This ought to do wonders for my readership, but being the sadistic blogger that I am, I shall not lie alone in misery. Interesting issues raised by blogistas Roger Pao and A.D., others I think as well (forgive me if names escape me) about the scorn felt when introducing themselves in public as “poets”. Roger talks of his near “shyness” when admitting his poetic interests in public—an Asian public which is often stereotyped as being into engineering, mathematics, medicine, etc., or otherwise into Kung Fu, Chinese food, or submissive prostitution*—and feeling that scorn which comes from hearing, and I paraphrase A.D.**: Aha, a poet? So what do you really do for a living? This is sad. Sort of what James Merrill felt but in reverse: “So what do I really do for a living? Nothing but I do write poetry in my spare time.”

So think about it. You are not alone. (Think scary. Spooky.) And if that doesn’t make you feel better, think again. My harsh side—that little long-nailed devil on my shoulder, the one Goethe fired—immediately says, with his usual suave sensitivity: “People are not asking you what you are, but what you do." Wow! Thus Spake Zarathustra. Think of it that way. It gives you leeway to lie or to tell the truth, the latter being reserved for existentialist liars. So, yes, “I’m a gigolo by night, a poet by day” is a more appropriate, indeed credible reply. (Don’t feel bad Roger, they used to think I did the hub-cap thing by night until the joke got tiring even to them.)

Truthfully, no one will believe you either way; that or they’ll think you’re part of the new breed of unemployed superhero coming to save Poetry America (though sadly that job has already been taken by the incombustible Joan Houlihan. The world is a sad place!) So you know where you stand. “No, you are not a poet, not until you are, for certain, a poet to yourself. Yes, that’s right,” the little bastard devil says, “the word poet when speaking of the self ought to burn your tongue.” Son of a….! “I heard that,” he replies, scratching his goatee. Isn’t he sweet? Little fucking Emerson. Sensitive as poet’s demands.


* Roger Pao: "Writing poetry" isn't an anti-Asian or anti-Asian American stereotype that I've ever witnessed being thrown around, like being an engineer, a math geek, or a computer nerd. It's not being a dragon lady, a kung fu master, a laundry person, a submissive prostitute, or a sushi chef either.

** A.D.: “At a new year's party I drew some odd looks after telling someone that I was a poet.”


26 Comments:

  • i rarely think of myself as a poet, but i always think of myself as beautiful. how's dat?

    By Blogger bino, at 12:44 AM  

  • I'm also beautiful, but when I get more condescening responses from people when I say that versus when I just say I'm a poet.

    Plus, when I say "poet," people at parties say later, "Did you see that beautiful poet? No, not that one—the one with the beautiful soul."

    By Blogger Charles, at 5:56 AM  

  • Little F****** Emerson says: “Right. Like you never have a bad hair day!” I’m telling you, he’s a bastard. :-)

    Apertas,
    Alberto

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 12:29 PM  

  • Hi Charles,

    If to the moment I shall ever say: “Ah, linger on, thou art so fair! Then may you fetters on me lay, Then will I perish, then and there!" [Faust]

    Cheers,
    Alberto

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 12:43 PM  

  • Hey Alberto, Thanks for the kind words! Sometimes a guy gets all sensitive and mushy when blogging late at night, and a guy can't help himself. :)

    Seriously, though, I agree that too much of our identity is tied to "what we do," instead of "who we are." It's just part of the world's way of oversimplifying. I think that it would be interesting if more poets made real dough, not to say that the world would be a better place (or that the poems would be any better) if more money entered the mix. Still, if any of your readers are millionaries, don't let my words stop them from setting up their own poetry 'zine and shovelling out the big bucks!

    By Blogger Roger Pao, at 5:27 AM  

  • I just want to know how to get a copy of the Sea Camel charter and union regulations. I am fond of the picture rule, and wish to have justification. My knowlegde of knots hasn't slipped much since my seafaring days.

    With the exception of the slipknot.

    By Blogger Bryan Newbury, at 6:05 AM  

  • my slipknot:

    "I teach poetry."

    "Oh, you do? Do you write poetry, too?"

    "Yes, I do. I also write poetry."

    By Blogger gina, at 9:44 PM  

  • Dear Roger,

    You certainly have interesting ideas! Pouring money into poetry would certainly do a lot of things. For one you’d see the teeth of sensitivity sharpening at amazing speed. Consider all those Poetry Agencies on the horizon. “Pao, Romero and Williams, P.P.” (poetry partners, that is.) We’d have brainstorming sessions and time sheets and show our clients? the greatest time out. We’d specialize in sonnetearing, gazallizing, L$A$N$G$U$A$G$E POWER POEMS, and freeee-versifying of all sorts. Our conference rooms would have oil on canvass portraits of Wordsworth, Whitman, Machado, Moore, Masaoka and Wang Wei. Imagine the possibilities. In California we’d all be driving hot-red Ferrari convertibles so we could picnic with Tetilla-cheese and fine Rioja.

    But you ask me to be serious and shatter my dreams. I don’t think poetry can be “materialized” in such fashion, nor do I think a poet needs anyone’s approval to be what she is. I don’t think there is much choice in it for some, whether they publish or not, or become famous or not (99% don't). Societal approval, honors and so forth are welcome things, as is making a living and eating every once in a while. But those romantic notions of success are outside “poetry” in the pure sense. Recognition may be important—it is—but it must come second to the actual art and task. I’m naïve enough—Romantic enough—to think that way: poetry first, poets second and politics last.

    Do maintain your enthusiasm and exuberant energy. Wonderful! (Though we may not always agree.)

    Alberto

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 9:46 PM  

  • Good to see you here, Bryan. A pleasant surprise. What you ask is not out of your reach. Anyone is entitled to a copy of the charter and membership is open, regardless of poetic preferences. Anyone interested need only comply with Art. I, Par. 2 (b) of the Sea-Camel Aquatic Union Contract, which states in its entirety: “All Sea-Camels are known to hold their water. Humans do not understand this simple concept and mistake it for theirs. Holding your water under the S.C.A.U.C. requires the free-diving, undersea recital from memory of any 25-page section of Thucydides’ ‘The Peloponnesian Wars’ in the original Greek while being tightly tied to any ocean floor rock formation by any seaman’s knot of choice, with the exception of the slip knot.”

    Good luck, Bryan. I understand you’re a hearty fella!

    Alberto

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 10:24 PM  

  • Hey, Gina, that’s a round-turn and two half-hitches. Not fair. But, question: do you also teach your own poetry? Do you recite it to your students?

    I feel terrible when I think of my college days. I only took one poetry course. Romantic English Poetry. God only knows why I took the course. I had no interest in poetry whatsoever then; my father was the one into poetry in those days and I thought poets were a little strange. (I was right about that.) But I remember my professor, how he could recite Shelley and Keats. I understood barely a word —I confess— but the sound, the words. I can see him in front of the class now, reciting so beautifully. Then I discovered Wordsworth.

    Alberto

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 11:05 PM  

  • Bravo! [standing and applauding] Alberto, your response to money/poetry...my sentiments exactly.

    Apertas!
    Your romantic pal,
    S

    By Blogger Suzanne, at 11:16 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Roger Pao, at 5:25 PM  

  • Hello Alberto, thanks a lot for the very thoughtful response! I've raised the money/poetry question with various poets and others that I've encountered over the years, and I must say that part of me is always pleased at answers like yours.

    I think that the problem in our society today, and around the world, is that money often equals power. So I'm posing a larger, more global critique here in concurrence with your position: to reform society so that monetary concerns do not influence the production of art/poetry.

    Unfortunately, I have been following the "small press" scene, so to speak, for a while now, and I know that pretty much all print poetry magazines struggle for survival. The Internet may indeed be a solution!, but I guess that's another topic.

    But more importantly, I am quite concerned with the poetry that the "powers-that-be," i.e. universities, large presses, "important" scholars/professors, dictate that students K-12 should read certain poets and not others. I think that one issue is that these institutions of wealth and power already cast a tall shadow over the curriculum in general. I feel that K-12 is such an important age to influence a new generation of readers of poetry.

    Relatedly, I share your concern that poetry is not being placed first. For example, the politics of traditionalism and apathy in the selection of poems prevails in many schools. Few living poets. Few female/minority poets. A tremendous bias against poems that deal with racism and sexism. A tremendous bias against "language"/surrealist poetry. Of course, poets come next after politics in this hierarchy: any "William Shakespeare" is almost always higher than any "David Mura," for example, regardless of the quality of the particular poem. So the poetry then comes last in this troublesome hierarchy.

    Pouring money into small presses and lit mags to help balance against these larger institutions of power and wealth may not be the solution, however. As you've correctly suggested, there may be many negative conseuqences. However, as I blogged about earlier, I do think that wealth and power already dictate why we all know and care about e.g. Coleridge, but don't necessarily know and care about other, more contemporary poets.

    Anyhow, interesting discussion. Love the title of your blog by the way! :)

    PS: Sorry, made a major typo, so I decided to repost.

    By Blogger Roger Pao, at 5:28 PM  

  • Thanks, Suzanne. This is fun, isn’t it? And it doesn’t make a buck. At least I earned me self some apertas.

    Cheers,
    Alberto

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 11:15 PM  

  • Hi again, Roger.

    I think that we are basically in agreement. There is much to be done to bring more voices into the game. Variety is survival. Nothing wrong with poetic cross-breeding in my mind. I must say that in my reading and learning I have been deprived from much fine “eastern poetry”, to give just one example. That just didn’t fit into the canon at one time. So that definitely needs mending. On the other hand, it is also true that we must be very careful with affirmative-action-like tendencies in poetry. Group cohesion and defense is important in all types of survival, but do we want it in poetry? You’ve raised this issue in your own blog a number of times. Will we be hard enough, demanding enough, of our support group—our Asian-American clique, our Hispanic-American one, etc. What is the level of sacrifice to further group needs and mend past disadvantages? I know I’m naïve, but I wouldn’t want any such preferences. If Neruda can be heard, Lorca, Machado, Paz, Vallejo, —to name just a very few spicks—, if their voice can be heard all over the world, so may mine and yours—should it be worthy—regardless of your color and the length and difficulty of your last name. True poets, by definition, will always have to slam doors down.

    Alberto

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 11:37 PM  

  • My suggestion: get a job, write, and shut the fuck up. Society doesn't owe you a plaudit. Having a girlfriend or sig. other who likes your work helps enormously. She (or he) may be the only one who will read it. Hard bitten words. Hard. Bitten. Raaaaar!

    By Blogger Brian Campbell, at 7:02 AM  

  • Hey, Brian, how often do you sharpen your teeth? :-} Of course, no one owes “us” shit. Precisely my point. Hard. Bitten. Raaaaar! Oh, shit there goes another incisor!

    Alberto

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 1:17 AM  

  • Actually, very rarely. Please forgive me. I meant no harm, certainly no broken incisors. Indeed, my tongue was firmly in cheek (& it's pretty hard to bite under those circumstances...) Something, though, in the foregoing discussion gave me the irresistable urge to inject some CHOLER into the discussion. Perhaps an over-familiarity with the whole inferiority complex, the plaintiveness of it all... Been there, done that. I enjoy your gentle blog. And I translate, too, from Spanish. (Chiefly, Gabriel Celaya and a Nicaraguan Canadian named Francisco Santos...) Salud!

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    By Anonymous us government grants, at 9:00 AM  

  • Muchas gracias por hacer publicidad de mi autorretrato incorporándolo a su blog.
    Si hablara inglés podría hacer algún cometario sobre su blog, pero no es el caso, lo siento.

    Néstor M. Gulias

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