The Vile Abuses of Sameness

When Tony says all contemporary poetry is boring, I understand what he means. I know he's revised/extrapolated that statement already. For me, I find the more contemporary poetry I read the more it seems the same. This is probably because I'm not reading widely enough, and trust me when I say I want to be widely read, and maybe in part because the dominant forms of poetry supported by publishing communities are strikingly similar.

I don't purport to do anything new or different myself. I might be part of the problem. So, no attacks there, those of you who've read my work and think it's boring.

A while back, my friend and colleague Sarah Vap and I started having conversations about "natural languages." Sarah's a poet whose understanding and use of language is intuitive and beautiful, which results in a very singular voice in her poetry. We theorized that perhaps our best poetries were the poetries written in our natural languages—language the way it occurs inside of us without forces of grammar, expectation, understanding, or success at play. In conversation with someone I can't juxtapose two disparate things. But in poetry I can, and will. If it occurs to me, if a connection sparks in my head, it works.

Sometimes this works well in poems. Not always.

In any case, Sarah and I did a little experiment where we translated each other's poems into our own natural languages. Her translations were wild, spontaneous, wonderful. When I translated her work my instinct was to move through with sound. Sound is important to me; after reading first drafts I often find I've accidentially/intentionally rhymed. (Maybe you notice this in my blog too). When I write I poem I sometimes know better the sound of the word I want rather than the word itself.

I don't know what this is about.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I keep misreading vile as viral: A viral sameness.

    Natural language. Yes. I just read a quote by Swir on another blog, something to the effect that, as writers, we must first create our own style, then we must destroy that style. And I think that's what you're getting at here in your mention of natural language. Below, you said that you abhor cold poetry. But what if cold is a particular poet's natural language? Gluck is as cold as cold gets, sub-zero, really, yet there's nothing contrived in that coldness, that hard objectivity. That's why I love her so.

    Viral sameness. Yes. And there's no entry into most of these contemporary poems. I always feel like I'm standing on the outside peering in, wiping the fog from the window, pressing my ear to the wall.

  4. Laurel, I totally agree with you about feeling like you're stuck outside the poem. That's exactly how I feel most of the time. I do think, for me, part of it stems from being queer and being pushed outside of the poem.

    I also love Glück's work—although she is "hard," I don't think she's "cold," per my last definition of it. She is not objective. She is an uncertain voice masquerading a voice of certainty.

  5. I LOVE the idea about translating another person's poem into your own "natural language" (and vice versa). I must try this.

  6. how do i know what my natural language is? i like this idea, but i'm not really sure how it works.