First, two announcements:
1. There is a really utterly amazing contest going on over here. I won’t tell you what it is about because if I say “autographed Claire Massey chapbooks” you’ll all go rushing over there to get some and ignore the rest of my post.
2. unsettling wonder is coming back, and soon. It’s become something completely different, but it’s coming back.
Now, a blogalectic:
Often, we have a mistaken view of the nature of writing. We cling to the “nineteenth-century image of the poet-as-romantic; the lone rebel,..seized by holy imagination” (Kathleen Norris). It is a dangerous and isolating image. The writer is denied his voice – his words no longer have the power to call the community [to a] deeper understanding, because the community cannot see beyond the enjoyment they receive or fail to receive from his work.
–Masha, “Solitary Voices“
But this seems to put the cart before the horse. The poet has no responsibility for or control of the community’s actions. Their enjoyment or lack thereof is not his concern. His concern is the poem on the page before him.
Nor is the community his community, as such. His community is his tradition, the company of writers and poets who have followed this path before; the supple words of court poets from centuries ago speak to him with more power an immediacy than the pundits and activists on his neighborhood block.
By all means, let the poet be an active community member, if it suits him. It’s a worthwhile sort of thing to do. But do not let him delude himself into thinking that it does a whit for his poetry. It does not. At best it teaches him compassion, which he can hack up into fuel for poetry. At worst it takes him away from his writing, devouring his time, crowding his mind with other things than the play of vision and colour and words, the light and texture of sound; it lets him flatter himself he is doing well when he has forsaken his true calling.
Yes, of course we live among people, and learn from them, and try to understand them and let them understand us. But this is what makes him a good person; it gives no indication at all whether he will be a good poet. It would be required of him even if he never wrote a word in his life.
The act of writing itself is an act of seclusion, a turning away from speech and community into the solitary, silent voice of the writer. I know of no other way to write than that Romantic vision: in solitude, in silence, even in isolation. Because that “holy imagination,” the vision that drives the poet into the desert places and into the silence of written words, the sudden burst of fire that does not burn but goads the poet to lift up her voice in the wilderness whether the people choose to listen or no–that’s what it means to write.