Wednesday, May 16, 2007
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?