Tag Archives: Poetry

Writing From The Unconscious

In looking back at some of my old works, I’ve realized how powerful the unconscious is in my writing. It seems I’m often trying to tell myself something that I don’t realize until seeing it in retrospect. It’s an interesting way to think about writing control.

Huh … your writing always seems like you were unconscious. So, have you ever had someone find things in your story that you didn’t intend to be there, but you realize is absolutely true? I mean, it’s traceable, it’s obvious, but you didn’t put it there … consciously.

That’s what I’m talking about. It’s an interesting thing. Some writers talk about channeling a voice or some such, but it seems clear to me that what they’re really channeling is an unconscious part of themselves. It’s some part of them that is desperate to talk but has been shut down, closed off, and this is the only way it can find its way out. Writing (or other creative work) seems like it can very effectively serve as a spout for the hurting self.

You don’t know what you’re talking about, do you. I guess, in the past, I have prided myself on being in control of my writing. I’ve talked about it this way: “I am the god of my writing, and I am omnipotent. I am the creator.” And I still kind of feel like that’s true … except there are parts of me that are creating that I’m unaware of.

Unfortunately, when the unconscious speaks too much, it ends up being rather emotionally transparent. I’m not much fond of the idea of writing autobiographically, yet so many of my older works (and even some of my newest works, at least to a degree) end up speaking to my personal emotional experience. There’s some well within me that leaks onto the page, and I’m not sure how to feel about it.

Getting all touchy-feely, eh? Well, that’s just it. Should fiction be wholly fiction? Should writers have better control of that unconscious self? Should it be embraced? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I feel like it has made my past work something repetitive … redundant, even (get it? ‘Cuz I said it twice).

A poet friend of mine talks a lot about writing as though he is a medium. He feels this is important to writing poetry effectively. Maybe it’s key to embrace it. I don’t know. I know, when he first said that to me, I found it preposterous and distasteful. I again thought, BUT I AM THE GOD OF MY WORLDS! Still, I realize that it can’t be true that I’m in such control (depending on if you think of the unconscious as still being the “I”).

Zzzzzzz …. Anyway, it’s food for thought. I wonder where the appropriate acceptance is of the unconscious working its way into writing. Is it controllable? Should it be encouraged? What’s to be done? Thoughts, oh reader(s)?

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“A Simple Slip”

I’m not much of a poet. We should all know that by now, but I have written some poetry over the years, and I have decided to put it up here. It’s something I’d like to get back into. It does no good to simply dismiss something. Anyway, below is a poem I wrote.

I misremembered, yes
a trembled memory, my member,
the street lender, the missing sender
the tender feeling I misremember
The girl, she taught, she rendered me
asunder, her fender so round
I can’t help but remember
her end, the end, I misremember
And if you send prying eyes
my faith will wander, wake
die for memory’s sake, tender
my resignation, sweet pretender
Miles and Miles and Miles and Miles
act the truest memory, the sweet
trend, love bends, mends, sends
over the distance, misremembering the rest.

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The Book of Nightmares by Galway Kinnell

I read a book of poetry! Don’t believe it? I barely do either, but I liked it. I was turned on to this book by a friend of mine, and in this post I talk about reading said book of poetry … it’s been a while.

The Book of Nightmares by Galway Kinnell

Poetry?! Eww. I know. It’s crazy, but hear me out. Recently, I read a quote by a famous fiction author who said that fiction writers should read more poetry than fiction. I’m not sure if I agree with that thought, but another friend of mine is transitioning from poetry to fiction, and his poetry skills make his language more beautiful than I’ve ever been able to write. I thought to myself, Maybe there’s something to this.

So when another friend of mine recommended this book and said the obligatory, “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS!” I decided I’d give it a shot. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be writing perty sentences in no time.

So, what’d you think? Well, I loved it. Kinnell essentially writes this beautiful love letter to a child, dealing with the difficulty of coming to terms with one’s own mortality. He calls it The Book of Nightmares, but honestly, it feels more like the terrors one experiences in the middle of the night when they realize that one day, they’ll be worm food, then dried bones, and finally, dust.

It’s an extremely human subject, but it’s one we struggle to confront (at least, I do). But he confronts this fear head-on, and he has a way of causing the reader to realize how delicate and temporary human life is. My favorite part about this is in Section VII, Part 1. He says,

When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
hard,
as if clinging could save us. I think
you think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
even as
my broken arms heal themselves around you.

How permanent is smoke? Good question. I’m going to avoid it. Look, if you’re like me, it can be hard to approach poetry. So much of modern poetry is cryptic and difficult, and I feel like many poets have turned off a lot of potential poetry readers (myself included). Kinnell is approachable and the book is relatively easy to read, though it deals with a heavy subject. It’s short (only took me an hour or two to read), but it was worth it. Buy it.

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Why Do We Still Teach Poetry?

In Creative Writing departments across the country, students are still being taught poetry at the same rate as fiction or other creative genres, and yet, the readership (at least in my perception) is not comparable. Why is that?

So, is poetry dead yet? This gets talked about a lot, and no, poetry is not dead yet. It still has a lot of life left in it, but I’m afraid that if we continue down the path we are, poetry will die out sooner than it should. Thing about it is, in my estimation, poetry has been dominated and defined by those inside the walls of academia for some time. Sure, there are some bad teenage poets, lyricists, and so forth, but “real” poetry is the sort of avant garde stuff that is vomited forth by academic institutions and pushed in front of the blind (or uninterested) eyes of the public.

I’m making some broad statements here, but by and large, it seems that poetry, to the average American, is quite dead. Walk into a Barnes & Nobles or some other mainstream bookstore. Now find the poetry section. I’ll wager it’s as small as any other section of the store. Why? Does Barnes & Nobles hate making money? Is it that they’re trying to hold poetry down with their evil corporate lusts? No. It’s that people aren’t buying poetry anymore, it would seem.

Why is that? Well, I’d imagine if you looked at household bookshelves across the country, you’d see a lot of novels, some biographies, some short fiction, and a couple books of poetry. Not much though. My bookshelf only has collections of Donne and Rukeyser, sorry to admit. We want to blame the public, that they’re too ignorant or interested in easy, fast fixes to appreciate poetry, but I think that’s just an excuse. My guess is that we left the public out of the conversation. I mean, the internet is perfect for the poetic form, and yet, I don’t see a good use of it (maybe because it’s still considered a virtue among English types to be luddites).

Not only that, in my reading of academic poetry, so often it comes off as stilted, pretentious, and nonsensical. Again, this is not always true. There are some wonderful modern poets, but I think in the mind of the average American reader, we’ve got that elitist taste in our mouths about modern poets. It may be unfair, but if poets care about their form, they’ll consider this idea. You know, it’s not a shame to sell poems or books. It’s OK. It’s a pretty good indication, in our system at least, that you’ve connected with people. Embrace it.

Are you going to get to teaching? Yes, yes, I’m getting to it. So, as I research Creative Writing programs across the country, it has become apparent to me that poetry is taught with just as much weight in our higher institutions as fiction, and yet the readership does not come close to matching. I mean, at my alma mater, there was a three-person full-time faculty … all of them were poets. Should institutions consider reflecting the readership of the world outside of their very thick and soundproof walls? I’m cruel at times to academia, but it’s because I care. I care about poetry as well. I do not hate it. In fact, I started as a poet. “GASP!” I know.

I’m not here to tell schools what they should do. I just feel like there’s this desperate attempt to be ahead of the population, avant garde, shocking and new, but maybe it would be a good idea to meet common people where they are. It reminds me of when I am walking my dogs … they’re ahead of me, but I’m leading them. They pull and pull, and they guess at where I will turn next, but really, all that happens is they turn back and forth back and forth, and I have to gently pull them in the right direction.

Sum it up. I’m a very busy man. Are we teaching a dying form? Maybe. Just seems like we need to either rethink how we teach poetry, or perhaps we need to consider having programs reflect the desires of the book-buying world. Because that’s what we’re interested in, right? Making an impact? I mean, who are we trying to reach? Other academicians? Well done. We’ve captured that market. Why not the average Joe? Give him a chance … he’s not as dumb as he looks.

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I don’t write poetry … but I kind of do

A poem by any other name. Since I started at EMU, I struggled with poetry, namely, ridiculous postmodern poetry whose focus on deconstruction has destroyed any resemblance to communication. It became nonsense to me, and I was increasingly frustrated that so much attention was drawn to a medium that no one seemed to be reading anymore.

It’s the same with grad school programs. I don’t understand why almost every MFA or Creative Writing program puts at least as much emphasis on poetry as they do fiction, yet if you walk into a book store, the poetry section is made up of one or two shelves, and is loaded with dead poets and the works of Billy Corgan, like Blinking with Fists.

There’s no readership. If not for academia acting as a breathing machine to poetry, it would die. At least, poetry as we know it today (high-falutin, cryptic, elitist, nonsensical, inaccessible, and lame) would die. So does that mean poetry, in reality, is dead? I don’t think so.

Bob Dylan and Eddie Vedder will be remembered. I think poetry that will be remembered from this age of academic elitism (though there are some good exceptions) will be song lyrics. And this is the type of poetry I have taken part in for some time. I don’t often like to think of songs as poems, but they are. I’ve been writing songs since I was seventeen, and I have two full albums to show for it, with hopefully another on the way.

Does that make me a poet? Some would say no. I think so. I wouldn’t say I’m a good one. My poems are musical (duh), often rhyme, and are easy enough to break down, lyrically. I don’t have any interest in presenting the reader (or the listener) with the Emperor’s new clothes, and typically, I have something to say, so I want them to get it.

I’m not a terrible songwriter, I don’t think. I have definitely improved. As is true of most of my writing, I value honesty, and so, often the topics and stories in my songs are pulled directly from experience. In my lyrics, I have some themes I like draw from, as well as certain types of texts I cite.

I write about my life, and I often write about it from a religious perspective. I talk about politics, disenfranchisement, Satan, death, loss, and I like to say “I love you” in strange ways. Below is a song I wrote a while back called “You don’t need me.” It’s a love song, but it doesn’t come off that way. It’s saying, though I have all of these responsibilities in life, and though it may seem that I am nothing in the context of this world, it’s all meaningless if you don’t need me.

I wrote this song when I was playing with my old band, The Really Bad British Accents (Ron Kersey – Lead Guitar, Mitch Crane – Bass, and Howie Parks – Drums). You can listen to it here.

You Don’t Need Me

My computer fried, I lost all my memory
My TV died, where are all my friends
The light goes on, but I don’t know why
They don’t talk, they don’t sing, yeah, and they don’t cry

[CHORUS]
They don’t need me, they don’t need me
They don’t need me in this world
They don’t need me, they don’t need me
They don’t need me in this world

Wake up every morning, go to my job
Press the same dull grey button down and again
I keep pushing that button, but I don’t know why
But my boss gets rich, yeah, and I die

[CHORUS]

Every day I pay my taxes to the man
He broke ‘em, he took ‘em, now he can do what he can
Just seems like I’m paying more and more
But the world ain’t getting better, and neither am I

[CHORUS]

I vote every time the ballot comes my way
But the man I want, he never wins
I guess he doesn’t have that particular sin
But I keep checking that box or writing him in

[CHORUS]

It’s been a long long time since you’ve been in my home
My house in empty and my bed is cold
You could forgive, but I cannot forget
The man I was and the man I met

[CHORUS VARIATION]
You don’t need me, you don’t need me
You don’t need me in this world.
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