The Long Dis' Goodnight

In thinking lately about the rejection of aesthetic (see below), I started taking my conversation inward. Toward myself. A confrontation: what is this poetry for?

It's a natural state of mind for me to return to when I'm not writing. The question, prompted in part by the rest of the poetic mind, evidences my concern with doing something new or different as I move forward. Or, as I told another poet last week: I don't feel like I have to reinvent the wheel everytime I write a new poem, but I reinvent it when I start a new project. That's just how I work best, I've learned. Sometimes I want to buy a new outfit, new shoes. It's like that.

Let's say I write some poems and they get out into the world where they belong (do they?). Let's say, then, that 90% of poets reading my work dismiss it as one of the following:

too gay
not gay enough
too overtly political
too secretively political
too quiet
too brash
too much sex
not enough good sex
too depressing
too uplifting
too similar

And once my work has been rejected, what then? Have I failed as a poet? Should I turn in my quill, my bookshelves, my scribbled notebooks? What is the actual aim of rejection—when it's aimed at you?

In the recent Mary Oliver discussion, I'm sure no one dissecting the Dead Kitten Poetics has really considered what they want from Mary Oliver. This may be because Oliver has achieved a level of fame in which she is dehumanized, less a poet than a machine or other faceless celebrity. Mary Oliver might be the Paris Hilton of poetry (that's hot).

But if there is anything for Mary Oliver to take from the DKP discusion, isn't it evolve or become obsolete? And there is the echo of Ezra: Make it new. When we critique another poet's poetics, what exactly do we expect to happen?

It seems that ultimately, a conversation like this is for the speakers and not the subject. The result for those who engage in the rejection is the closing of their circle: a community by definition ultimately exists only through rejection and exclusion. Freud said that's also how we negotiate our own identities: we encounter the world and respond with either That is like me or That is not me. In poetry, we negotiate similarly: I identify with this aesthetic. I do not identify with this aesthetic.

When you reject, are you confident you know where your baby is? Or is it out there, tumbling away with the tepid bathwater?

And how do you know?


  1. . . . a community by definition ultimately exists only through rejection and exclusion. . . .

    I'd argue that only the phenomenological community is predicated on exclusion and rejection—it's only so when one takes an I vs. other perspective.

    I'd suggest rather that community as a concept or an emotive/intuitive construct takes on a more universal, inclusion/acceptance model—the old sense-of-community.

    Rejection or sense-of-rejection is then only a construct of a clinging to I vs. them or phenomenological concern . . . I think.

    How about a community of rejection?

    [Love the new logo by the way.]

  2. Oy, I hope that was coherent.

  3. A.D., I think all communities are forged out of perceived similarities, but ultimately in every community it comes to to start reifying the community identity via rejection. After all, community creation is about boundaries: although nice people want to include as much as they can, ultimately every community comes down to who is disenfranchised or dismissed.

  4. Even including friendships (groups) & dinner companions.


    I, too, dig the nouveau lougeau (forgive the french in me), & appreciate your musings. They get me thinking, & I find I tend to like that.

  5. Great post. One problem I have with ONLY SOME experimental poetry is I think some poets WANT to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Holding on to the baby is so sentimental, you know.

  6. I've been thinking a lot about divisions in poetry lately, and a spectrum one can define works by. You have 4 categories: formalism, free verse/American speech, accessibility, and avant garde. I'm not really a formalist poet, but I feel a lot of insecurity sometimes as a poet for not mastering the poetic basics, like writing a great sonnet. On the other hand, I don't often enjoy formalist poems about a garden or something mundane. Some poetry just likes look random words strung together, but other stuff looks far too much like everyday speech. Everyone wants to be read, but what do you sacrifice in complexity and ideas if you go too far toward trying to be accessible? And is poetry such a small community that any attempt to define ourselves and exclude others just self-defeating, as far as we're all in it together and poetry is kind of marginalized anyway? I feel unadventurous in my poetic methods sometimes, but on the other hand, they seem natural to me and I feel I have a voice that needs to come out that wya. To be honest, I may have a hard enough time just getting published to maybe worry about all this. My favorite contemporary poet is Tony Hoagland right now, so I guess I side mostly with accessibility. But is that because I don't understand the aesthetics of the other side? Who's wearing the Emperor's New Clothes?

  7. One might view composition itself as a process of rejection ('Nothing I've read really satisfies') and reconciliation ('But I like this and this and this'). The difference between Aesthetics and aesthetics seems to be a matter of degree--i.e. do I reject and reconcile in large blocks or small ones? Without the initial rejection, however, creation is impossible--the product of wholesale acceptance being mere imitation.

    Thanks for these thoughtful posts. I, too, dig the new logo!

  8. Good food for thought, as usual, Charles.

    I also LOVE the new logo bar. Can I commission you do design one for The Virtual World? ~grin~