NOTES TO A YOUNG POET is inspired by Andrea Henchey’s poem of the same title, published in H_NGM_N #11. Without providing any guidelines, we’ve asked H_NGM_N authors to create their own Notes, which we will collect here for you to hold and love and unzip and crawl through—
The fifth installation of the series is from our dear Matt Hart:
NOTES TO SELF
You could do a lot worse than clarity.
I like plaid flannel shirts, but maybe
you’re into cute dresses or deerskin.
Maybe you’re into hopped-up IPA’s.
Maybe when I say hopped-up you think
of rabbits or you think of crank.
It’s all okay. Associations are always
okay. But have some intentions
for your work, if only after the fact
of writing it. Don’t leave meaningfulness
to chance. Chance operations are fun—
especially removing the spleens
of your friends. You can try this
at home, but for you it may work better
in a bar or an ice skating rink. Find yourself
a process that works. Or find many of them.
Think about what you’ve done, what you want
to do, and what you’re doing. No one else will
do it for you. Don’t make yourself ignorable
by not making decisions. On the other hand,
nobody knows what a poem is, and
anyone who says otherwise is merely
limiting your possibilities. Turn tail and run
in the other direction when you can.
When you can’t, turn into Grendel
and wreck the mead hall. Writing poems
is a value in and of itself, and if your poems aren’t like what some supposed authority on the matter, X, thinks a poem should be, that only goes to show how little they know about the history of art, not to mention things like imagination, creativity, and vision. Remember Van Gogh. Read Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. Read A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord. Read the “Ryme of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Read HOWL and Other Poems by Ginsberg for god’s sake. These are all books/poems about faith and perseverance. You will need them to continue. Setbacks will occur, and you need to be ready. If somebody tells you can’t include: stars, trees, birds, the human heart, leaves, grass, dogs, babies, etc. in your poems, immediately write a great poem that includes all of those things to prove that they are wrong. If the first poem you write which includes all of those things isn’t to your liking, then write another one and another one until you make one you like, OR, alternately, write eight great poems where you include the “impossible to use” or “impossible to use well” things one at a time. As for sending things out, don’t send the same poem to multiple journals simultaneously (even if the journal’s okay with it). If you don’t have enough poems to send to all the journals you want, then stop wasting time sending out work and write more poems. It’s annoying for an editor to have really thought hard about something that he or she wants to take, only to have it pulled before they have time to notify you. Don’t send work anywhere that takes more than two or three months to get back, or, if you do, don’t complain and be okay with it. I learned this the hard way, complaining publicly, and looking like an idiot for it (not the first or last time to be sure). Fortunately, the editor forgave me, and I am to this day grateful for his understanding. Make your poems payoff meaningfully in proportion to the amount of work you expect a reader to do to get them. Be as worried about avoiding hermeticism as you are about avoiding the sentimental and saccharine. You could do worse than humanity. When something works for you, celebrate wildly, then resist it in future works. People like to be understood and listened to. Be genuinely interested in other people and what they’re doing, and they will be genuinely interested in you and what you’re doing. If they aren’t, fuck ‘em. Not everybody’s kind, and there are so many thousands of people writing poems whom you can be friends with and build a community with. You can do better than mean, snarky people. Also, everybody needs a nemesis—a nemesis that isn’t themselves—so you can choose one (or a hundred) from among the assholes, but you should do this mostly only to ignore them. Don’t waste time being angry and negative, write more poems. If any of this is contradictory, that’s par for the course. Welcome
to poetry. You could do worse, e.g.
Welcome to Syria 2012. Welcome to the Lord’s
Resistance Army. You are five or you are
seven. Remember: Ambiguity isn’t vagueness
anymore than The Sirens are a landfill.
Association and disjunction are entirely different things.
Just because there’s a story behind your poem—
because a story was the impetus for your poem—
doesn’t make it narrative. Sometimes form is
content. This may or may not be something
you’re comfortable with. Go to dances. Do karaoke.
Be willing to look stupid. Nonsense really is serious
business. There is such a thing called the soul,
but probably not in the way that I or anyone else
thinks about it. If you find yourself in a situation
where in order for your poem to be
understood by others in the way(s) you intend
(maybe, for example, in a workshop), you wind up
having to paraphrase or re-word each line or stanza
to more clearly get at what you were “trying to say,”
then you either meant to “say” something particular
in the poem and failed at it. Or “saying” isn’t really
what your poems are doing, so you should steer
the conversation in a different direction. Don’t
obfuscate. It’s annoying. Don’t expect others to be
able to read/interpret your poems in conventional ways,
even figuratively, if what you’re doing is defying
and undermining conventional ways of making meaning.
On the other hand, not everything needs to be solved,
especially not (in) poems. Poems aren’t puzzles,
secret codes, or witnesses beholden to the facts.
Swear to tell the Truth, including all the lies.
Sabotage, thievery, and failure are three
of my most favorite literary values. Maybe
they’re yours as well. “Always do the opposite
of anything I tell you” is something I wrote
elsewhere, but I think it applies here more than ever.
You could do a lot worse than poetry.