March 24th, 2011 10:57 EST
Prize-Winning Poet: 'I make poems because it makes me happy'
Why do we do what we do?
For is one of the trickiest words in the language. Let`s see if I can peel this onion. If I bracket the word in quotes it does nothing to enhance its meaning. I have no problem with the word as prefix, but when it`s used as a proposition I quarrel with it. Used as a preposition it`s almost as useless as those quotes would be around it.
Why do people write poetry? For example, if I say I write poetry for recognition, for a living (I`m kidding), for my friends, for posterity, it`s all baloney. I don`t write poetry for anything. I write it because it makes me happy. So I could say I write it for me, right? But I could also say I take another breath for me, so why say anything at all? Why not just write another poem? I might survive another doctor visit, another rejection, but I know I won`t survive the poem I didn`t write. When I was a kid, a congenital condition I`ve learned to live with, I thought writing a poem was cool, but I never asked myself, Have you tried breathing without it? I`ve grown up that much, but not much more.
I`ve spent a lifetime suspicious of people who say they write for themselves and they don`t care about recognition. They have always sounded disingenuous to me. But in my old age I realize that I write poems the way I speak gibberish in the shower; I like to. It`s like scrubbing the previous day`s grime.
I love watching baseball. I played it from an early age through my Navy years. Something about those victory pile-ups at the end of a series has always puzzled me. I know it`s part exuberance and part theater, and I guess I`m puzzled because I never liked winning as much as I liked playing. Losing didn`t bother me too much if I knew I`d played a good game. I was into the game, not the wake. I loathe triumphalism almost as much as exhibitionism.
What did you do that for? adults used to ask me when I was a child. I didn`t have a clue. I felt like it, but that answer was fraught with consequence, so I usually dissembled. Isn`t that what they wanted, for me to dissemble? For me to dissemble. Adults wanted me to have reasons, proper reasons, and I thought it was in my best interests to accommodate them and their authorized reasons. Is that what we want of our politicians, that they should be great liars? The truth, after all, is hard to take.
So if I didn`t play along I would be a little savage, a barbarian, as my Grandma Hilda used to say. It has taken me an obscenely long time to recognize that barbarian is not so bad. In fact, I like barbarian. Arthur Rimbaud was a barbarian, and I love his poetry, although I`m not sure I would have liked him. I love Picasso`s work, and I`m sure I wouldn`t have liked him. Silly thought; I`m tongue-tied around important people. I love Caravaggio`s paintings, but he might well have beaten the crap out of me in a tavern.
Yes, barbarian is okay. And not having reasons is okay. It`s certainly better than cooking them up. But that`s not the way the adult world works, is it? The adult world wants its reasons, the more persuasive the better, and the most persuasive reasons are usually full of shit.
What comes after writing a poem is a kind of intellectual and emotional crash, with smart-asses, cliques, preconceptions of all kinds, vogues, mission statements, guidelines, networks, jealousy, envy, resentment, faint praise, success (or not), recognition (or not), prizes (or not), the whole sad aftermath. The business of poetry is not pretty, but the pure joy of making a poem is divine.
But "but is a word I can defend "I never wish I hadn`t written a poem, because I know how happy I was when I wrote it. I may come to dislike it, but it has given me something. Each poem is a teacher, a microscope, a prism, an algorithm, a laser beam, a wildflower. There is no better aftermath, not the Pulitzer Prize or the praise of peers. They know what the poem did or didn`t do for them, but they have no idea what it did for me.
And one of the things it might have done for me was simply to keep me alive for another day.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com