Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Loving Poetry Without Writing It" by Elle Collins

I'm slightly concerned, as I begin this editorial, that it might turn into a kind of humblebrag: It's strange and difficult to be as unique and special as I am. Or perhaps just a regular brag: Truly, I am a unicorn of the literary world. So I'll watch out for that, I guess. On the other hand, as the editor of this blog I've noticed that acknowledged self-consciousness is becoming something of a tradition in these editorials, so at least I'm in good company.

Some of my best friends are poets, and always have been. I say that as a kind of disclaimer, I guess, because I don't want to seem like I don't have a personal/social connection to the field. In a few weeks, I move out of the apartment I share with a published poet, and into a different apartment with a different published poet. I've always known poets, but my own creative focus has never been poetry. I like graphic design, I've been known to make video art, I'm trained in puppetry, I'd like to get into comics. Poetry, for me, has always been a spectator sport.

Which is to say (here's the part where I'm a unicorn), I read and enjoy poetry but do not write it (or aspire to). You might even call me a poetry fan, although from what I see in the lit community, I'm not sure that's a thing. Poets, I've noticed, tend to expect their audience to consist of other poets. And I understand why; when I go to poetry events, they do seem to be largely populated by poets (and maybe a few family members of poets).

Actually, I should disclaim something else at this point: I say that the expected audience for poetry consists of poets, but writers of literary fiction are in no short supply either. And there are those rare creative nonfiction writers. So I guess what I really mean is people with graduate degrees in creative writing, who are looking to publish.

I neither have nor want an MFA—my BFA in Puppetry and MA in Film make me quite unemployable enough, thank you—but I love poetry. I love reading it, and I love hearing it read. This is not to say that I love all poetry, or that I spend all my time on it. Obviously, I like some poets better than others, and I spend a remarkable amount of time watching old TV shows on Netflix. But great poetry (for a subjective understanding of "great") hits me on a gut level and makes me really happy.

I enjoy poetry for much the same reason I like experimental film. Most written language, like conventionally narrative cinema and television, is constructed to facilitate communication. And that's fine. I like reading well-constructed essays, and I like watching Law and Order. But there's a different sort of pleasure that comes from experiencing something that's been constructed to prioritize the beauty, or at least the emotional evocativity, of the structure itself.

This is probably a cliché, but I think school ruins poetry for a lot of people. So many casual readers have this idea that to appreciate poetry they have to analyze it, to wring meaning from each word and phrase until you've mapped out the inner workings of the poet's mind. The problem with that plan is that it's simultaneously impossible and no fun at all. If you want to enjoy poetry (not that you're probably reading the blog of a poetry press if this is a problem for you), you need to relax and let it flow through you (like the Force, I guess). Enjoy the language and the meaning will come, if meaning is even an important part of the poem in question

But I feel like I've diverged a bit from my intention, which was not to offer advice on poetry-reading for the layperson. It was to say that I am a poetry fan, a non-poet poetry reader. So we do exist. And for the record, I don't think poetry is dead or dying. True, nobody makes money off of it, but nobody makes money from experimental film either, and that field is still going strong. Here in the 21st Century, there's room for a lot of niche cultural product, and poetry is a niche cultural product that I love, and I'm happy that Switchback gives me a chance to take part in its production.

Elle Collins is the web coordinator for Switchback Books, as well as a graphic designer. She holds degrees in puppetry and film theory, and works in Chicago as a freelance designer and editor.

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