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Thursday! Between the Zines: Let Your Art Make Your Art
We have ourselves a weird title for Thursday! this week, but that’s only because the thought behind it is a little weird, too.
There! That ought to be comforting, oughtn’t it? Heh.
Okay, let’s see if I can’t flesh this out a little bit. Last week’s newsletter was more fun to put together than usual and, because I simply must overthink every part of my life, I spent some time on why that was so. Turns out, the answer wasn’t tough to dig out. The newsletter was fun because the poems and stories I chose to put in it were fun1. I have fond memories of writing them (and, more, I remember a lot of what got me to write them in the first place). I remember having a cool little idea, getting a little giddy about the idea, then spinning it out without worrying about whether it was “art”, or whether a lot of people would like it, or whether it was “serious” or “valuable”. I let each poem and story be what it needed to be. Essentially, I let the art make itself without a lot of hard shoving in any particular direction from me. The things I assembled in last week’s Thursday! are, I think, closest to the kind of work I want to do all the time. Not all of them were light and fun and not all of them had a delicious little creepiness to them, but what they were they were, without reservation.
Did that make sense? I hope so, because it looks really weird sitting there on my computer screen.
The thought with which I’m wrestling is that if you spend most of your creative time trying to shove your ideas into the forms you think they’re supposed to take because those forms are the ones you think a special audience wants, your work won’t be as good as it could be and you won’t enjoy your work as much as you could. Ugh. That sentence went on far too long, didn’t it? Let me try it another way. We writers are “taught” that we shouldn't write to a specific market, because by the time we finish writing, the market will have moved on and, besides, when we write for commercial success, we dim our creative light or hamper our best work or something like that. On the other hand, we are taught that we must write to a specific market, because no one likes a writer whose work is all over the place. I’m coming to think that both those beliefs are hot garbage. Not only do they contradict each other, but every artist who’s sold more than one of their works has both worked to a market and shunned the market as a driver for their work — at the same time. Let me bend that to poetry and what I said earlier about the stuff I put in last week’s newsletter.
Let’s take a poet like Ogden Nash2. I’m sure you won’t sit in a serious poetry class full of serious poets and discuss why Ogden Nash’s poems are little morsels of perfect whimsy nor why they can bring a glimmer of delight to a day full of cares and work and worry. I once took a college class on poetry and Nash never even came up. That’s a shame because his poems are delightful and clever and far more worth my time than the dismal, moody, self-obsessed free verse babbling that’s flooding poetry markets these days. Yet, when I sit to write, the “should” that tells me I won’t be any kind of recognized poet until I can crank out a deep, introspective yawp about whatever piece of feelings-lint I found stuck in my own belly button. Poetry markets3 want the belly button examining yawps. They want the lazy greeting card affirmations and the meandering aspirations. That’s what they buy. That’s what gets you into anthologies and onto the big stages.
I think, though, that “should” is full of crap. You know what I should write? The crazy idea that popped into my head about a creature called a “Strangle Woman” who acts through wicked trees and kills those who get careless in the woods4. How about some more short poems about innocent animals that are secretly murderous? Maybe with my own doodles to go with them? Or a story about a little boy who just knows there’s a monster in one of the aisles of his local grocery store.
That’s what I should write. And I think I will. Because I loved the feeling I got putting together last week’s newsletter and I want to feel that a lot more. Maybe it doesn’t sell. Maybe it only appeals to five or six people, ever. I won’t love that, because I really do want my poetry to find more than just a little bit of love. I want it to be big and spread far. That’s not up to me, though, no matter how much the desire for it burns my heart. What’s up to me is how I write. And I’m going to let my art simply be my art. How about you?
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For various definitions of “fun”. But since it’s my newsletter, I get to use the definitions I want. So there. Ha!
Even better, let’s take a poet that’s so much like Ogden Nash that the poet actually is Ogden Nash!
Or at least the vast majority of markets I’ve surveyed so far.
Confession time. I’m already working on that one. It’s about a third done, but the going is slow because I have a very definite idea about why that poem, which is really more like a nursery rhyme or play-yard chant, exists.