Friday, February 22, 2008

Bringing up Baby

Elizabeth Treadwell requested an essay on writing and parenting, so here it is:

We are written into life, whereupon we begin the authorship of our own lives. In fact, the authors of our lives are many, and all these parents, teachers, and rivals love to interfere. Harold Bloom developed his theory of the anxiety of influence around the Oedipal relationship between master poets and their students. In order to become a master, the child must slay the parent.

I’m not a great supporter of this theory, but I see its application everywhere. Even though we live in a liberal democracy, our social relations are largely guided by the Middle Ages, a world of courtly patronage, in which favors and punishments are handed out. Every poet over fifty has played his or her Lear to a Goneril, Regan, or Cordelia. Both sides of the parent-child conundrum should retain as much innocence they can, because generational turmoil is inevitable.

The writing instructor who turns out clones of himself is behaving as a bad parent. The student who too closely obeys the teacher is behaving as a subservient child. The instructor should be discreet about his or her role in the student’s growth process. You will have an influence over the student’s work, but you must never expect, as Lear did of Cordelia, that a superior child will stoop to please the parent’s vain demand. Flattery by either party is the beginning of bad faith. Everything should come down to modesty and accuracy.

Parents and teachers must be generous. But, for a writing teacher, generosity also means working to insure the success of someone other than himself. Some writers will play only the role of a demanding and adored child. They never seek to gratify or help others, except to win greater success from having done so. Even if they have children, they keep the spotlight on themselves. Robert Frost must have been such a caretaker. Though she never had children, Lorine Niedecker would have been a good parent. Laura Riding would have made a horrid one.

Oscar Wilde was a good parent, an indifferent husband, and a self-sacrificing lover of young men. He allowed his young lover to open a male prostitution service in the residence they shared. When they had to escape police by climbing the rooftop to a neighboring building, he must have sensed the need for more discipline.

When I have fully mined a poetic form or approach, I am ready to give it over to my students in the form of a writing exercise. Freely received, freely given. But there is always the risk of inviting others to jump my claim. One prominent poet told me that she found teaching intolerable because it meant giving away her own writing secrets. If you’re going to teach, you must have confidence that you will be able to develop new practices for yourself.

When he realizes his only talent has been to serve others, Uncle Vanya begins to loathe first himself and then the world. He has foolishly failed to care for his own needs. Such a person makes for a bad parent and a bad child. Like Blake’s Thel, who flees back to her mother in the Vales of Har, Vanya is an emotional infant. He refuses any opportunity for transformation, and lives in a world incapable of growth. The wisest character of Chekhov’s play is the elderly maid, whose rule is that of nature. She follows rhythms of hen and hawk that are beneath the consciousness of the dacha’s “cultured” inhabitants.

The beauty of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is its romantic notion that it’s never too late for repentance, change, and forgiveness. In relinquishing his desperate hold on a bad adulthood, Scrooge gains innocence and becomes a well-balanced child for the first time. It’s the same for a writer, who must recognize either the power of the eternal return (all is one great cycle; nothing changes) or hold to a theory of historical progress leading to deliverance. Like the peasant maid of Uncle Vanya, the good parent takes us in her arms and whispers, “There, there, the pains will go away. Someday the pains will go away.” She is fate and earth (eternal return), and the renowned professor and Vanya are fools who imagine they can author their own transformations. The true writer has the voice of fate in his ear, a grounded parent philosophy. It gives texture to his writing, even in the burlesque mode of postmodern indeterminacy.

The bad parent competes with his children. The normal child competes with his parents. Not infrequently, the author has the ego of a squalling infant.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sentences from a Fiction

Jennifer knew more about ballroom dancing than she knew about herself.

In any gathering, Roland was the one closest to the brink.

Because farming never began in the region, it never came to a stop.

The cries of Arctic terns were faintly heard, within or beneath the wind.

Accidents never happened, but the concept was enthralling, especially to Jem.

A branch of the tree had slipped through the window and, as she slept, scraped the whitewashed ceiling.

Populus Tremuloides was merely the name of the species.

God was an infinite series of primitive or putative forms, he concluded during his final landing.

Error was the least difficult of masters, at least for Ellen.

Kafka’s fictive context was the state we were actually in.

The great voice talent is always the first to challenge his host’s assertions.

The problem with Jack’s past was his need to live in the future.

She noticed, with a shock, the sudden appearance of a new Ivory baby.

Marianne had always preferred the translucent to the transparent and opaque.

Mothers smile at their children and at an empty room.

His license plate said, ALAS ERECT, in capital letters.

The Matthew Barney exhibit made her feel soiled, as if by the antiseptic urine of a male cheerleader.

In social defeat, Robin always wore the brave costumes of narcissism and fate.

Numb Nuts was the name of the driver, not the passenger in back; nevertheless she was offended.

Arnold patiently descended into the warm bunny-hutch of a Henry James sentence.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sonnet 56: Flarf

Love, force it and it disappears
Courtney Love is a force of nature
Lair of the crab ineffable wisdom
I love you guys! I love your hair!
Love force is perfection force
And here I lay all alone tossin’ turnin’
A phoenix rising from the Dirty South
Force vomit says make love not war
Meatwork Frylock and Master Shake
Fur footed love force two-minute miracle
Jim Love and the Blue Groove Tube
Gravitation and love won’t be denied
The purity of our false love is clear
One look at you and I can’t disguise
I’ve got hungry eyes blow monkeys
Scientific name: bubo virginiansus
Particular screams I just did a fatty
Two witches lyrics for my use only
Her love had died calling and reaching
Hungry fish hungry cat she held up
half the sky who sent you the man asked
when the baby opened its eyes I’m coming
out like a .45 spinning like a Wurlitzer
bright in dark denotes eyes the judges
have sharpened their knives chain smoking
wielding a sharpened spoon love needs
a nursing home love needs more girl songs
love needs to die sportin’ geekin’ eyes
love needs a heart a sea of stars into the myopic
A canvas covered cabin in a crowded labor camp

Best Use of the Word "Swang"

Robert Louis Stevenson
The Child's Garden of Verses

Farewell to the Farm

The coach is at the door at last;
The eager children, mounting fast
And kissing hands, in chorus sing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

To house and garden, field and lawn,
The meadow-gates we swang upon,
To pump and stable, tree and swing,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

And fare you well for evermore,
O ladder at the hayloft door,
O hayloft where the cobwebs cling,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Crack goes the whip, and off we go;
The trees and houses smaller grow;
Last, round the woody turn we sing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Other Shakespeares

Shakespeare, New Mexico

Shakespeare, the Meerkat

Shakespeare, the Fishing Reel

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sonnet 56: Mathematical

(1) love x (force < renewal) = love (force – renewal) ≠ 0

(2) love - music + hunger x feeding > fullness – dullness ÷ ocean

(3) winter – care x summer + rare = ♀ + ♂ x ☼ ³ ÷ π

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sonnet 56: Imagist

the river banks are white
town and bell covered

the last water moving
slows to a freezing

love is fast asleep
summer far away

tip of a branch
taps on the window