Wednesday, May 29, 2013

End of career poetry residency

"In this poor body, composed of one hundred bones and nine openings, is something called spirit, a flimsy curtain swept this way and that by the slightest breeze. It is spirit, such as it is, which led me to poetry, at first little more than a pastime, then the full business of my life. There have been times when my spirit, so dejected, almost gave up the quest, other times when it was proud, triumphant. So it has been from the very start, never finding peace with itself, always doubting the worth of what it makes."
Basho was a trooper, he stayed with it, observing the changes in himself and the world and left his unique legacy. It seems important to remember the importance of stamina when there are so many things that drag the poor body away from poetry - weeding and planting, work and demanding visitors.
I have been looking for time to think, walk, experiment and fill pages of a notebook - a residency, basically. But I had trouble with my search terms - residencies for coming-up-to-sixty poets? What does it mean, this term 'mid-career'?
The risks of funding emerging writers and artists are low. Youth is enough justification, often. Although those of us who 'emerged' in our mid thirties start off disadvantaged...and there are many, particularly women, who can't produce anything till later in their lives. Then there are mid-career artists and writers, a polite term I presume for unheard of. Nothing yet that I've found for end of career people, still slogging away as Basho points out, sometimes in despair, always in doubt.
Which is why it's important to think about what poems, poets, visual artists, contribute to a collective state of mind, to thinking that is not determined by politics, policy etc etc. it is very hard to think in this way, not always successful.
The disappearance of bees has forced some kind of discussion about how much we need them. No, poets won't disappear, but an approach to thinking and writing is seriously threatened. This is why we should give poets a chance, give the old, strugglers a bit of a hand even if they haven't got a stack of prizes and awards, even if they don't have a single one to their name.
"The project of poetry, in a way, is to raise language to such a level that it can convey the precise nature of subjective experience....... When people are real to you, you can't fly a plane into the office building where they work, you can't bulldoze the refugee camp where they live, you can't cluster-bomb their homes and streets. We only do those things when we understand people as part of a category: infidel, insurgent, enemy." That's more like it....from a talk by the delightful American poet Mark Doty.
And Sigmund Freud, whose work I'm not nearly as interested in, nevertheless comes up trumps with a reflection on the importance of poetry. It's good to be reminded of who believes in poetry when there are so many charlatans seeking attention:  "Poets are masters of us ordinary men, in knowledge of the mind, because they drink at streams which we have not yet made accessible to science."

Mark Doty: