Why live in the dark when you can ask a poet?
Do you think poets and their poems are mysterious, difficult or a bit cultish? Are there questions you have always wanted to ask a poet but have been too scared (or dreading the long-winded answer) to ask?
Well, lucky you are because in the vein of the ground-breaking syndicated column and book by Gustavo Arellano, “Ask a Mexican,” this is a place where you can stop tip-toeing around quirky poet relatives and friends and their notebooks of garden haikus and you can finally ask a poet.
Don’t be shy. There is no question too offensive, bewildered or cranky. You can't get any crankier than this future poet, age 4 or 5, ruminating warmly on her yellow elephant air chair.
Send all Ask a Poet Questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archive of Questions Already Asked:
Poets and Money
Poets for Company in Desperate Situations
Poems Hurt My Head
Poetry Appreciation Affectations
Is Formal Verse Dead?
The Incontrovertible Evidence of Living Poets
The Poetry Vortex
Successful Poet Slackers
The Face of Verse
Poets in Bed
- Poets and Money
Why did historic poets like Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Hart Crane never have any money?
Monsieur Big Bang
(On my alternate blog, I Found Some Blog, we call my husband Mr. Cher Scholar as in this post: “Husband Plots Against Cher Scholar”)
Baudelaire, Verlaine and Crane were interestingly all modernists. I’d like to believe being a modernist had nothingto do with their poverty and despair. But it most likely did: not for the imagistic or experimental forms they were dabbling in but for the decidedly modern, bleak and dreary world they were describing.
Baudelaire was labeled a dandy (albeit a hetero dandy) who received most of his income from his mother and her husband. Undeterred by an inability to support himself, he spent lavishly on experiencing the high life. After developing a reputation for loving drug-induced states of mind (much before his time) and accused of writing blasphemous and overtly sexual poems, he was finally undone by wardrobe debts and he squandered his substantial inheritance. He left behind a commendable amount of criticism, essays, translations and his ultimately triumphant, almost gothic poetry, Les Fleurs du Mal depicting both urban beauty and decay. Edgar Allan Poe (like Sonny & Cher) first gained popularity in Europe, an initial success partially due to Baudelaire who published copious essays and translations of Poe’s works into French. Baudelaire was also one of the first to write prose poems. My Poverty Diagnosis: too much partying.
Paul Verlaine, on the other hand, did not live the high life although he was heavily inspired by Charles Baudelaire. Verlaine was a French symbolist poet embroiled in too much drama with his lover Arthur Rimbaud. Before leaving his wife and son, Verlaine might have been helped by receiving the book “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Without this, he ended up in prison for shooting Rimbaud in the wrist after a fight. Upon release from jail, Verlaine tried to make a living as a teacher. But alcoholism and ill health kept him living in slums and hospitals. He did see an income when his poetry was rediscovered right before his death. My Poverty Diagnosis: too much drama.
American poet Hart Crane was influenced by TS Eliot and his opus “the Wasteland” but instead of focusing on modernity’s drawbacks, Crane tried to focus on urbanity’s positives. He too had troubles holding down a full-time job. Although for a time a successful New York City ad agency copy writer and an employee of sporadic blue collar jobs, Crane admitted he couldn’t handle the 9-to-5 demands of paid work. Too proud to ask for an income from his father (a candy magnate back in Ohio), Crane became the ultimate mooch, skipping from one buddy’s New York City apartment to another. Crane never finished his big epic poem and was depressed over the un-unanimous reception of his previously published and difficult poetry. Although Crane never expected to market to the masses, he had hoped to score with the literary elite. Eventually depression and alcohol consumed him and destroyed a once solid work ethic for writing. He threw himself off a ship’s bow and drowned. Ironically this was long after his father invented Life Savers candies. My Poverty Diagnosis: Too much of a sad sack all around.
There are two kinds of artists in my mind: ones who inherit a shit-load of money (today’s equivalent of a wealthy patron) and ones who live in fear of dying in poverty. The balance of art and money (or time and money rather) haunts most writers. How they handle this perpetual koan will define them.
Full disclosure, my husband (Monsieur Big Bang) is asking this question because he’s wanting to know when to expect the windfall of riches from my first collections of poems. Money isn’t everything, Monsieur Big Bang.But then the free-fall life isn’t everything either, especially when it limits not only your ability to eat but your poetic output as well. I did a Google search for “poets with money.” I found no such list. But I did find this compilation of poems about work and money put together by Poets.org.
It would be best to end with this quote by Charles Baudelaire who dismissed his money problems by stating, “Art is long and life is brief.”
- Poets for Company in Desperate Situations
Who would you rather be shipwrecked with: a poet, a philosopher, a novelist or a journalist?
Monsieur Big Bang
In my opinion, the philosopher who contorts his mind around all sorts of puzzles is the smartest of the four. He might be able to serve as your budget therapist when the realities of living on a deserted island set in. But like poets, philosophers can be annoying socially. I’ve known a few know-it-alls. Frankly, I do not think philosophers would last long on Survivor. A poet can pretty much describe the tragic nuances of how things are…and in an inspiring way, like a preacher but with more metaphorical and mind-blowing tropes. Sadly, the practical implications of this are somewhat limiting. And a poet might enjoy the poetic irony and lingering suffering a bit too much. Also poets, with their reputations as loners, are not known for being very good “helper bees.” You’d have to build the straw hut by yourself. Or die of exposure if two poets were stuck together. But you could use their figurative writing skills to compose the best ocean-bottle rescue-me pleas. In fact, I would say poets should be voted #1 in Best Bottle Blurbs. A novelist can study your character in the hopes of outliving you so he could use your story as plot fodder in his next bestseller. They are a soulless bunch. Novelists could also provide storytelling around a campfire. However, a good journalist is essentially a detective and I believe their willingness to tackle any subject for money would make them the most well-rounded and useful. Yes, I would pick a journalist. With their resourcefulness, they could get you the hell out of there.
- Poems Hurt My Head
Why do I have so much trouble understanding poetry and what can I do to correct it?
Big Bang Poetry's Mother
I can relate to this. Long after I started writing poetry in high school, I had a very hard time grasping the meanings of most poems I found in books. I think the essential problem for me then was all those line breaks, they were intimidating me. When you read a poem for the first time, ignore the line breaks and read it through like a normal sentence until you get to that period (assuming the poem has punctuation).
It’s like learning a very easy foreign language. The more poems you read, the easier it will get and one day easy-reading will kick in. I’m going to send you some Billy Collins. Many disparage Billy Collins for being too simplistic but he does a lot while appearing simple. I also suspect many vilify Collins for being so successful (Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful). But the truth is, if you start with those puzzling “language poems,” you will lose your mind. Which is a success for those writers because that’s what they’re going for.
- Poetry Appreciation Affectations
Why do poets audibly grunt or say "mmm" after listening to another poet read a poem? Is this similar to tennis players grunting when they serve or hit a hard return?
I’ve seen hippies do this too while watching films about Rumi. It’s annoying because it seems like a blatant attempt to appear cultured or intellectually deep, as in, “I really get it…mmmm.” In our narcissistic culture, it’s common to see members of the audience manipulate an experience in order to make it all about them, to make it about how they are perceived as an audience member. Although it’s embarrassing to me, like a burp in public, I’ve caught myself gruntingand I wonder now if it might be involuntary, indeed similar to tennis: “Oh, the exquisite beauty of hittingthe proverbial return. It’s delish.” It’s good to note that the poet giving the reading most likely enjoys hearing that poetry grunt. Is it any worse than laughing out loud. Maybe it’s no worse than eating at a four-star restaurant, tasting something that blows your mind, throwing your head back and exclaiming, "YUM!" But come to think of it, that noise would still annoy the people at tables around you. Politely sending your compliments to the chef works too.
- Is Formal Verse Dead
Why don't more poets write formal poetry anymore?
Poets are still writing formal verse. Here are some good resources:
- Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets (2005)
- 101 Contemporary Odes (2009)
- A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women (2007)
- Of course the success of comedy Haiku is off the charts
- The Incontrovertible Evidence of Living Poets
Why do people eye's glaze over when I say I write poetry?
I know this look. Peoples eyes glazed over when I once told them I worked for the organization that runs the Internet (ICANN). An organization runs the Internet? You write poems? That makes absolutely no sense. Those sorts of occupations are not supposed to exist. It’s like saying, "I work for Santa Claus" or "My biology specialty is in Vampires." Being a poet is a thing only dead people do and the Internet is the spontaneous combination of billions of web pages thrown up onto the servers of Google and Go Daddy. You must be batty if you claim to know otherwise. And you do so I’m trying not to think of you as batty and my eyes are glazing over. Living proof is so very hard to prove.
- The Poetry Vortex
Where is the Poetry Vortex located?
There are a few references to a Poetry Vortex. Ezra Pound was a proponent of an actual Vorticist movement, a spin off of Cubism exploring geometric abstraction. According to Wikipedia, “in a Vorticist painting, modern life is shown as an array of bold lines and harsh colours drawing the viewer's eye into the centre of the canvas.” See the example by David Bomberg called The Mud Bath (above, 1914). Ezra Pound named the movement in 1913 and wrote a poem called Vortex in 1914. In it he states the following:
- The vortex is the point of maximum energy./It represents, in mechanics, the greatest efficiency./ We use the words “greatest efficiency” in the precise sense—as they would be used in a text book of MECHANICS.
- You may think of man as that toward which perception moves. You may think of him as the TOY of circumstance, as the plastic substance RECEIVING impressions./OR you may think of him as DIRECTING a certain fluid force against circumstance, as CONCEIVING instead of merely observing and reflecting.
He goes on to say:
- It is the picture that means a hundred poems, the music that means a hundred pictures, the most highly energized statement, the statement that has not yet SPENT itself it expression, but which is the most capable of expressing.
- The DESIGN of the future in the grip of the human vortex. All the past that is vital, all the past that is capable of living into the future, is pregnant in the vortex, NOW./Hedonism is the vacant place of a vortex, without force, deprived of past and of future, the vertex of a small spool or cone.
(He then starts shouting.)
- EVERY CONCEPT, EVERY EMOTION PRESENTS ITSELF TO THE VIVID CONSCIOUSNESS IN SOME PRIMARY FORM. IT BELONGS TO THE ART OF THIS FORM. IF SOUND, TO MUSIC; IF FORMED WORDS, TO LITERATURE; THE IMAGE, TO POETRY; FORM, TO DESIGN; COLOUR IN POSITION, TO PAINTING; FORM OR DESIGN IN THREE PLANES, TO SCULPTURE; MOVEMENT TO THE DANCE OR TO THE RHYTHM OF MUSIC OR OF VERSES.
Pound’s example of Vorticism in poetry is this verse by H.D.
Whirl up sea —
Whirl your pointed pines,
Splash your great pines
On our rocks,
Hurl your green over us,
Cover us with your pools of fir.
He goes on to talk about race and race-memory and I’m a little bit worried where he’s going with this (that crazy anti-Semitic fellow!) but you can read the full text here.
There is also a Yahoo Group called The Poetry Vortex, a group list for poets who want to have their poetry read & for those who want to read poetry (and who wouldn't?)…and a blog called Vortex of Poetry. On a blog called Noisy Poetry there is this a Vortex Poem.
Here is a map of the four energy vortices of Sedona, Arizona. I don’t see any of these vortexes described as particular to poetry but I did learn here that “Juniper trees respond to the vortex…The stronger the energy, the more… the lines of growth follow a slow helical spiral along the length of the branch.” If this is true, I must be living in a vortex of many vortexes--my house is surrounded by junipers trees like this. Maybe it's the vortex inside my head.
- Successful Poet Slackers
What makes high profile poets stop writing poetry to focus on getting public honors as a poet?
It takes a lot of work to be so honored, no less honorable. If all you were looking for in writing poetry was to be loved, why overwork yourself after reaching the goal?
- Hazing Poets
What are the secret initiation rites of poets?
Long-bearded men stick a cravat on you, strap you to a podium and test your ability to make them feel subconscious over the fact they haven’t yet read every poem hereto conceived. This is the absolute easiest part of the test (if the cravat doesn’t succeed in choking you). Once you pass this test, you are taken to the top of a garret in a castle and left there until you can write a reasonable couplet. It is highly difficult for all the academic judges to agree on what a reasonable couplet is. Their failure will become your failure. The final test involves navigating a labyrinth and sparing a dragon for a golden egg, which of course has nothing to do with anything. If you win, someone will paint our portrait.
- Badass Poets
Does MF in MFA really stand for what I think it does?
That would be so f*ingawesome. Imagine a bully gang of poets cruising down your street: Oscar Wilde with low-riding jeans and an over-sized t-shirt, Walt Whitman in dreads and tatts, Gertrude Stein with a shaved head and nose piercings. All kickingass and taking notes! Turn that baseball cap around and start bustin caps! (Capital letters that is.) There are some badass poets out there. Punk poets like Jim Carroll, political poets, hip hop poets and other fearless instigators.
- The Face of Verse
Do all poets look like Walt Whitman or Gandalf? Or Winona Ryder?
Good question. This calls for a study. Here are some poet faces below. If you’re a poet who wants to make it in Hollywood, a Whitmanesque mug or a Ryder-like brooding pout probably wouldn’t hurt. But there are sexy faces, bearded and stached faces, kooky faces, cherubic faces, gaunt faces, faces with high foreheads....
- Poets in Bed
I once heard "Writers are good in bed, but poets are good in the shower." What are your thoughts?
Monsieur Big Bang
Another good question. I put up a poll on Big Bang Poetry because I honestly have no idea how well poets fare in the bedroom (or the backseat of a car). Full disclosure: I’ve never slept with a poet. I’ve never even been out on a date with one. So you all will have to tell me. I tried asking Monsieur Big Bang what he thinks and he insists on being diplomatic by saying this poet is best in all things or something to that effect.
Go take the poll: http://www.bigbangpoetry.com/2012/12/big-bang-poetry-poll-are-you-good-in-bed.html
Send all Ask a Poet Questions to email@example.com.