My students are quite concerned with "voice" these days. They want to write poems that are uniquely their own, poems that are immediately recognizable as John Q's, Sally G's, or Ruben T's. Often, their quest for a voice confronts their willingness to participate in the various exercises I have them attempt in my classes. I think the issue for them is they prefer the term "voice" to "point of view." "Voice" is more poetic--song-like. They want to be opera singers. To be on stage. They want fruit baskets delivered to their doors.
There are no fruit baskets in poetry, only fruity poets.
I get a lot of resistance to my assignments in workshops. This is partly because my assignments can range from the bizarre to the elaborate. This is also partly because the students are at the stage where they are trying on their own identities, both as people and as writers, and to follow my very stringent and oftentimes impractical rules would demean their art.
I basically run workshops based off of the exercises I give my students--they don't bring in poems composed outside of this context. For one, a lot of times they dust off crusty poems they had written in the past for workshop and I'm of the opinion that this is the time to practice craft rather than impose craft on an already wrought piece. For two, it's just easier to conduct a workshop with honest feedback if the poem in front of the participants are assignments. ANYWAY, to bring us back on course, I suppose it's an honest, earnest concern, especially from a population who's just beginning a writing path.
Teaching, administrative work, and the arrival of my page proofs have got me in an introspective mood these days. I've been buried under an avalanche of work, so I haven't had the time to converse with you guys about my meanderings.
Anyway, all this stuff got me thinking about my own writing journey, which wasn't a very linear journey. I got my page proofs for Requiem for the Orchard today, and I've been thinking about how different my three collections are and my relationship with all of my books.
To be honest, as much as I love SIU Press and the work that I have done in the past, I'm sick of my first two books. (Allison and Jon, if you're reading this, don't worry-I still read from the books at readings and plan to do so far into the future). Can we say such things? And can I look back and say that any one of those books encapsulated a particular "voice" that I was striving for in my poetry?
Just looking at the first book, there's such a change, both tonally and stylistically--and the shift in tone and style was conscious and wholly intentional. I did not want to write a sequel of the first book, though initially many people suggested that I craft one. But why would I and how could I? I was a different writer when I wrote the first book, I was a different writer when I started the second book. How could I expect to duplicate both the style and the sincerity of the initial production.
So this retrospective while looking at the pages of this newer document, has been quite interesting. At this point, with three books in my catalog, can I say that I've found my voice? And what to tell those students who are looking for their voices? Generally, I tell 'em to read more. Sometimes they do. Often they blow me off. I'm okay with both. Their journeys are their journeys.
I too like pizza.
Other stuff--read last night to support the Western Washington University literary journal, Jeopardy. Quite a turn-out last night and it was good to see many of the students (so of whom were discussed above) at the reading. Good on you.
It's nearing the end of the decade and I've been listening to NPR's 50 most important recordings of the decade debate.
It's quite interesting and I don't agree with a lot of it, but that's why such lists are compelling. They're very careful to signify that they're talking about importance and not necessarily the best recordings.
Imagine me trying to do the same thing with poetry? Do we dare? A lot of things happened in this decade, y'know--9/11, the upsurge of the internet as a viable force, the pressures of new media on the publishing industry, the rise of POD publishing, e-books . . . And of course the poetry books that have arisen from all of the above and then some.
Whew. This might require another blog.
Chad Vangaalen. "City of Electric Light"==a fan video.