Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Confession Tuesday

“I don’t understand art for art’s sake. Art is the guts of the people.”
~Elma Lewis
American artist

A Reader’s Lament

Good poets write about themselves in the context of what’s going on around them. Good poets are historians, anthropologists and activists. Good poets remind us who we are. They are our collective unconscious outwardly celebrating and challenging our collective psyche.

That’s how I see poets. This is how I see artists in general. And for some time, I have felt many of our aspiring writers and poets have chucked duty and instead gone off on holiday to write their memoirs before they’ve actually completed a body of work that merits subjecting us to the minutia of their vacations. I’m worn out by the interior examinations that impress me to be little more than intellectual word play. I don’t want to read about idyllic fields, beautiful babies or clever poetry chock full of figurative language that confronts nothing, internal dialog that doesn’t engage the reader but demands a captive audience. Good literature provokes and challenges; it changes us.

I’m desperate for someone to talk about how no one is excited about another meal of Hamburger Helper and everyone is craving a steak. I want somebody to talk about losing her research job and her husband getting let go from Circuit City. I want to hear someone admit that self-imposed poverty of attending college is no longer an option. Somebody say they’re pissed off because they think we haven’t expressed real outrage about kids being blown up in the Gaza. I want someone to write about Africans having their fingers cut off for stealing diamonds because they are hungry. Someone advocate for the girls being sold into sex trade. Somebody shake us out of the feel good green stupor that has folks thinking changing light bulbs and sorting our trash is going to save us from global warming.

But I’m more reader than writer. I’ve been wary of being the critic. After all, I’m not writing anything noteworthy. But writers need, want an audience, right? So do I have a responsibility as reader to be honest?

* Every week January asks us to fess up. To join us or to read more go here.


christine said...

A thought-provoking commentary. Have you seen Protest Poems? They are calling for poems that express social awareness. If you do decide to write a poem or two, which I think you should, since you're a talented writer, maybe you should send it to them.

Anyway, I like that you have definite opinions, and that you know what you like, what you want out of your reading experience.

Jo Hemmant and I have started a poetry journal called ouroboros. I'm not sure if you'd like all the poems in it, but a few of them have a gritty sense of authenticity.

Here's the link: http://www.ouroborosreview.com

susan said...

Hi Christine,
I was at Poefrika today and saw the submission call. I have plenty of poetry volumes, too. I'm not without poetry but pining for some of these concern in blogsophere. Will make my way by your new zine. I read Jo's contribution at Blossomsbones today, too. Thanks.

Eva said...

I can understand your feelings. I'm more of a reader too, but sometimes I just want to scream when I read about all of the horrible things going on in the world. :/ It's difficult to decide how to respond.

susan said...

Our first response is to voice our outrage. Speaking out is activism. If you can't directly be involved in organized action then support those who are.

...deb said...

Your clear voice is one I admire. It calls to me, for me.

Outrage. Hurt. Wanting more. Yes.

* * *

When do you leave for SD? If I miss you before then: good travels, safe travels. And a very, very good birthday. I'll be thinking of you and a mother's love.

(Do you watch your star signs?)

chicklegirl said...

Perhaps this will sound like a cop-out, but I'm willing to take responsibility for my own apathy and selfishness.

I get so overwhelmed with trying to sort out my own shortcomings that often I can't, or just won't, even consider trying to gather information via the news and others sources and then process what's going on in the world outside. It's too much for me to try to make sense of, too much for me to try and formulate an opinion that's well-thought out enough that I could get into an argument (or even a rational discussion) with someone and effectively defend what I think about the issue.

So I shut it out. All of it. I withdraw. I ignore it. And I dope myself up with my drug of choice because I have enough of my own hurt to last a lifetime of trying to heal and recover, and I don't want to deal with anyone else's. At least not yet. At least not today.

susan said...

Chicklegirl, please let me say that you don't owe anyone an explanation. And never apologize for how you feel or who you are. There is a quote I can't recall at the moment, but paraphrased it says, when you're healed, go out and heal somebody else. Notice there's a condition- when. When you're okay, then maybe you'll be willing to help somebody else.

Thanks for coming by and commenting.

susan said...

Hey Deb, I leave very early Sunday. I don't follow my sign but always open to listen if someone shares it with me. Thanks for coming by. I admire you. You've got plenty of fire of your own. We kindred sisters know this about one another.

Sepiru Chris said...

Egad Susan.

Sorry you came by to the house for poetry lite... But its out there. The problem is that there are not many people that want to pay for it. People like happy endings and simple twists, and one big conflict with right on one side and evil on the other.

That is why Hollywood and Bollywood are big. And art house is pretty, and raw, and questioning.

And poor.

Too poor to take poverty for college? Definitely too poor to take social outrage for life. That is why you need more Rockefeller Republicans. He could afford to follow his conscience. (I am thinking of the old GOP here, the one that took a stand against slavery. Abe Lincoln et al...)

K, I had best shut up.

Sorry for taking up too much space; I'm just built that way.


January said...

I'm more of a optimist. I think artists are just now realizing the seriousness of the world around them. When problems affect us at home, the society’s woes become more apparent. So, I think by the end of 2009 and 2010, you'll see more outrage and discontent in the poems getting published.

As a poet, I've tried writing about homelessness and hunger and cruelty, but unless it resonates for me on a personal level, it's hard to write about.

Yes, poets and writers should be writing more on these topics, but that's a tall order. I also think poets and writers should write on the topics that are relevant to them.

Tricky questions. What's the artist's responsibility to society? Does one write for him/herself or for the larger community?

Great post.