Thursday, April 05, 2007

Imp Possible

from Federico Garcia Lorca's The Duende: Theory and Divertissement:

"The duende that I speak of, shadowy, palpitating, is a descendant of that benignest demon of Socrates, he of marble and salt, who scratched the master angrily the day he drank the hemlock; and of that melancholy imp of Descartes, little as an unripe almond, who, glutted with circles and lines, went out on the canals to hear the drunken sailors singing.

Any man - any artist, as Nietzsche would say - climbs the stairway in the tower of his perfection at the cost of a struggle with a duende - not with an angel, as some have maintained, or with his muse. This fundamental distinction must be kept in mind if the root of a work of art is to be grasped."


personally, i agree that the so-called "muse" who's supposed to provide the medicine for all writerly melancholy does not exist. inspiration itself is a highly overrated construct. people like to think a work of art is inspired or "charged" because of something, an image that must concretize the abstract symbols. the most common is that of the literal muse, or as far as Lorca's concerned, the duende.

nowadays, the reading of poetry for example, seems to be dominated by a favoring not so much for the poem's content as the poet’s style, this whole business of intellectualizing and second-guessing the poet's intentions in regard to the usage of language. it's a highly academic endeavor, and often, by implication, necessitates a certain "IQ prerequisite".

the message (or content, if you will) is therefore lost in the meticulous study of craft, a task most people who want to write poetry must first get a firm grasp of.
this is why an important "rite of passage" in our small country for all would-be writers is the workshop. ideally, most emerging writers get accepted because their works show the so-called "potential", which loosely translates to a good understanding of, if not already a blossoming mastery, of craft. thus, subject matter seemingly isn't as crucial as the familiarity with the conventions, or conversely, the experimentations with language.

poetry is often not realized through actual experiences, anyway. cliché as this may sound, writers are not born but made. the "making" of a writer, however, has everything to do with the balancing of two things: chance and intention. in a word, risk--a thorough understanding of the dictates of craft and that sublime re-presentation of the subject matter.

my little issue about this matter is that whenever certain poetics favor the "intellectualizing" of language, there emerges then a very constricted room for that "charge" that all poems must aspire for. if just further elevates the "artfulness" of the poetic task to ivory tower discussions from people in the academe.

the main problem, methinks, is that there are but a few dedicated or "pure" critics of poetry in the country. most of those who claim to be critics are poets themselves just in it to promote their own brand of poetics.

this doesn't help anybody, given how tiny and archipelagic our literary circles are. and especially because the writing of and reading of poetry are two very different undertakings. as far as the writing of aspect is concerned, i believe poetry doesn't settle for the sure; it only aspire for the possible (call it verisimilitude, if you must).

the reading of poetry is where the bigger problem rests. is there really no way of "negotiating" in such a way that poets would to have a "knowable reader" and not write just for the already knowledgeable ones, mostly composed of seasoned readers of poetry, "critics", and fellow poets? is it possible to be not deliberately difficult or obscure? is it not literature's ultimate duty to be understood by the masses? shouldn't the reading of poetry also be about the possible?

many people hate poetry enough, as it is, if only for its heightened use of language. but that is not the problem of poetry. it is, in fact, its beauty. however, since most of our teachers since grade school have ingrained in us the idea that we must understand poetry first--like an elaborate riddle with an equally elaborate punchline--most readers don't want to read the lines. they just want to read between the lines, dive quickly into the meaning, like all poems are tests of their intellect. if the students don't get it, then they feel they're just ignorant. this is sad, to say the least, and just further alienates more and more young people from poetry.

all in all, i think poets should admit that they began writing poetry because of that one poem that really touched them, that one poem whose meaning pierced them sharply with its pointed heart. maybe because of the convincing tone, the way it was read, etc. maybe even by the mere diction, the little they know of similes and metaphors. but certainly not by the line-cutting, the indentions, the italics, etc. these are learned after. that is, if you happen to be willing enough to indulge literary criticism, take a course in creative writing, teach the craft, read. and then read some more. be a writer. or be a critic.

or, you could just sit back and relax on that old chair in the backyard this holy week and read a book or two of poems, totally carefree, frolicking with the duendes, enjoying the sheer pleasure of a "felt" poem's seeming truth that passes through you like a prayer.


UPDATE: please scroll down to the april 3 entry for newly-uploaded photos re: happy mondays poetry nights in mag:net last, well, monday.