Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Made Me Giggle the 5 Train Today


In her collection of essays/lectures, NEGOTIATING WITH THE DEAD: A WRITER ON WRITING, Margaret Atwood reflects on her black-clad ("like Hamlet--") bohemian poet days in the early 1960's, when the coffee houses had "mandatory Chianti-bottle candleholders." A morsel:


Another thing was--how can I put this? It was borne in on me that some of these people--even the published ones, even the respected ones--weren't very good. Some were wonderful at times, but uneven; others were insufferably mannerist; others were clearly there mostly to pick up women, or men. Could it be that getting through the door into the swarming poetic anthill wasn't necessarily a guarantee of anything? What then was the true Certificate of Approval? How would you ever know whether you'd made the grade or not, and what was the grade, anyway? If some of these people were deluded about their talents--and it was clear they were--was it possible that I might be as well? And come to think of it, what was "good?" And who determined that, and what litmus paper did they use?


Some things don't change. The candleholders, maybe, or the fashions. But we've all felt this at one time are another: that person up there on mic is overstepping her bounds. Am I too? It can be crippling, it can be funny, it can turn you off from poetry forever. Or, you learn to love the earnestness, like I somehow did, and lower your standards, so that you can keep writing. It's a dilemma.


Is the blogosphere the new Chianti-candled coffehouse? Aren't you glad we can wear our pajamas? Do we worry about being "good," or are we just happy to have a free forum? Do we do it for the sheer love of free speech, warts and all? And aren't the warts kind of cool?

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2 Comments:

Blogger Joyce Hanson said...

Hi, Anne. Long time, no comment. Personally, I favor blogging whilst wearing underpants, not pyjamas.

Speaking of writers who think they're better than they are, just today I was reading "The Golden Man," a Paul Theroux article in the New Yorker about the demented dictator of Turkmenistan, a man calling himself "Turkmenbashi" ("Leader of All the Turkmen"). When he took power, Turkmenbashi banned beards and ballet, renamed bread after his mother, renamed the year 2003 after his father, and erected statues of himself all over the country, explaining: "I don't find any pleasure in it, but the people demand it because of their mentality." You get the picture--the guy is crazy.

According to Theroux, who has been an accomplished writer for many years now, "Turkmenbashi had written a sort of national Bible, called 'Ruhnama' ('Book of the Soul'), and he regarded himself as an accomplished writer--a clear sign of madness in anyone."

I don't think anyone is ever actually a writer so much as in the process of becoming one.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Joyce Hanson said...

Hi, Anne. Long time, no comment. Personally, I favor blogging whilst wearing underpants, not pyjamas. (P.S. This is the 2nd time I've sent this comment--not sure if you got the first.)

Speaking of writers who think they're better than they are, just today I was reading "The Golden Man," a Paul Theroux article in the New Yorker about the demented dictator of Turkmenistan, a man calling himself "Turkmenbashi" ("Leader of All the Turkmen"). When he took power, Turkmenbashi banned beards and ballet, renamed bread after his mother, renamed the year 2003 after his father, and erected statues of himself all over the country, explaining: "I don't find any pleasure in it, but the people demand it because of their mentality." You get the picture--the guy is crazy.

According to Theroux, who has been an accomplished writer for many years now, "Turkmenbashi had written a sort of national Bible, called 'Ruhnama' ('Book of the Soul'), and he regarded himself as an accomplished writer--a clear sign of madness in anyone."

I don't think anyone is ever actually a writer so much as in the process of becoming one.

3:40 PM  

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