June 22, 2011

Can great poetry be written in this postmodern period. Probably, but if so I suspect it will happen far removed from any writing program. Boland's "company of poets" has done poetry in. Everywhere you look, there's great technique without an informing vision. How else can one fit in, be recognized, find publication? It's sad. A buddy of mine gave me some fiction to look at, a Richard Russo book. Great writing, but you can hear the Carver in the background--and is it just me, or is this typical in PWP (post writing program) fictional work? Seems to be.

I've said it before: the most interesting contemporary Christian poetry I've read is Fr. David May's. Not because of its technical virtuosity, but because it's valuable poetry. It's as if you're sniffing the trail of someone who is on the road to sainthood: the contextualized suffering (of suffering rightly endured), the accurate sense of the narrator self, the emphasis on what matters. As I said when introducing him, this is the direction that poetry has to go.

I don't know if we'll see the likes of Yeats and Stevens, Eliot and Frost again; but think of how unique each was. I once heard a Jeffrey Pearl argue that fascism helped make great poetry, and that democracy undid it. Certainly a strong sense of self, away from the main, is necessary. But most importantly here we should see that it's the heart of Life, the heart of Jesus who will do more to create lasting poetry than any lesser thing. The great modernists are worth reading because each is greater than the often terrible errors which blotch the work. Each is a testimony to the greatness of God who only creates individuals (Malamud!), who never created a "company" of anything. That's Ford.

June 20, 2011

20) Art subverts--too easy notions of truth.
Came up with another creative writing maxim:

19) Art ALWAYS sets itself up against the status quo. So if you live in an environment which purports to be beautifully lockstep Christian, one without deep inherent flaws (brokenness), your best work will inevitably move TOWARD those flaws. Successful businesses need public relations, Christian businesses included; but art (as much as authentic Christian living) only happen in a state of perpetual alienation.

June 10, 2011

Been working on creative writing maxims. Here's what I have so far:

1) “Love is always a descent,” Pope Benedict, XVI. So it is with character and self. In both fiction and poetry, students need to drop down. Let the words follow the broken truth of the person.

2) If you have a reputation, get rid of it.

3) It’s the writer’s job to “purify the dialect of the tribe.” T. S. Eliot

4) Frost said he was after “fresh talk, brought into books.”

5) “Learn your ax, then forget all that shit and play.” Anonymous

6) You will encounter brilliant prose writing teachers, but if you bring “writerliness” into a creative writing class you are dead.

7) Eliot said that poetry was simply regular speech at pitched emotional times.

8) Pound said that poetry should be as well written as good prose.

9) To make something truly personal is to make it original.

10) Never write as if God’s mercy is mostly for other people.

11) Pray to become more aware of your brokenness. That will help you; veneer will not. There are no good Christian women and men when it comes to creative writing. We are all sinners in a pitched battle, and though our victory may be written elsewhere, it does not always feel assured to us. (Nor do we possess virtue, at least to any marked degree.)

12) We are not in this for us. And Jesus does not need PR. If you want to parade your faith, hire a band. (In real life, it takes very good preaching to win a choir.)

13) MODY DICK is a great book. It is also a botch.

14) All good literature involves personal risk. If the student is a young Catholic writer, the most difficult and necessary thing for him or her to learn is to have faith enough to put his notion of what it means to be a Catholic behind him each time he confronts a blank sheet of paper. He will have to leave behind what he thinks he knows so that he can get to what he is just learning he knew. (If this ever proves not to be true in his career as a writer, he will find himself dead in the water.)

15) Great literature is about questions, not answers—nor does it involve sentimental piety. Philosophy and theology are about how we ought to live, after all, literature is about how we do live. And that is always a little messy. So the student should remember that suffering is not necessarily the result of some spiritual misalignment. Good creative writing is probably going to include both pain and sin, tough questions somewhere along the line. As Tolkien says, “There are no stories without he Fall.”

16) If the student wants to emphasize God’s mercy--the only real subject for any Christian writer--then he must fill out the rest of the equation: our intense need for that.

17) Learn to cut yourself emotionally off from you work when it’s under discussion. Write down every suggestion as if you were a stenographer; and then, a few days later, look at them.

18) Always be prepared to blow up your text. When you revise, you will need to do more than to change a word here or there. You will need to re-see, invent again. Get creative, outrageous even. And don’t fret. Every writer has to do this! Have fun with it. (Since it does take time to do good work, you can relax. Remember, there are no bad poems or stories, just unfinished ones. The question becomes, do you want to take your time here?)

June 1, 2011

Big fun in the Cleveland sports world, Tressel's out and OSU and LeBron begins to close in on his dream. Jim Tressel was done in by two things. (I doubt his transgression would have been enough by itself.) The first was the incredible venom spit forth by the media. The last time I saw such concerted nastiness was when Sarah Palin ran for office. I remember certain members of the media even criticizing her for having her fifth child, Trig. (He has Down's.) It's amazing, really, to the depths the media will go. Human decency has simply ceased to matter. (I keep seeing the ESPN hip police, shiny suits, in my dreams!) It's an ugly world.

The second thing that brought him down were his books. That kind of "I'm a totally new man since I've been saved" perspective is dangerous because, as a colleague of mine has put it, it has all the nutritional value of fast food religion. The emphasis is on "me," not on the One who makes all things new. Someone once said that the only two things we can claim are our fallen wills and our sins. We are good, yes, but disordered. It's literally a mercy that any growth happens. When Tressel embraced the above, he left himself open for the season. Had he, like St. Paul, claimed his weakness instead, he might have endured. (The two problems are connected, of course. The media is simply a secular version of this Puritan mindset.)

As far as Lebron goes, God bless him. I won't be able to celebrate with him when he wins, but he's worked hard, endured much, as everyone who's even gotten to lift the trophy has. I actually find myself rooting for him a bit--as I did for Manny and Thome after they left. A bit of Cleveland goes with them.