Monday, December 18, 2017

`How It Must End'

It’s not about self-expression. The idea that everyone carries around a latent book awaiting optimal circumstances before entering the world accounts for much of the lousy writing that clogs the market. We know we will never compose a symphony or cast a life-size statue in bronze – too much equipment and specialized training and knowledge required. But any semi-literate twit can open a Word document and gush. Teachers abet this delusion, as do critics and publishers. Non-writers (in the professional sense) on rare occasions produce worthy books – think of Pepys, Dickinson, Yevgenia Ginzburg and J.A. Baker. But they are gloriously serendipitous freaks of nature, testimonies to human aspiration. The sentiment Bruce Bennett relates in “On Not Reading” (Just Another Day in Just Another Town: Poems New and Selected 2000-2016, 2017) both affirms the romantic notion of “Everyone’s a Writer!” and subverts it:   

“I used to read a lot:
that Russian crew;
Kafka, Cortazar, Borges;
Nabokov too.

“Now all I do is write.
I feel left out.
I miss not knowing what
life is about

“As brought to us in books
those masters penned.
But I’ve grown too aware
How it must end

Not to try on my own
to make it stay
through words that get it down
in my own way.”

The argument (the speaker’s, if not Bennett’s) recalls “A Study of Reading Habits” and its well-known, out-of-context closing line: “Books are a load of crap.” Few, of course, can write without first having read. Every sentence acknowledges a forbear, even if the writer remains blithely unaware of his debt. There is no novelty and if there were, we would probably close the book on it. I’ve always thought the most respectable reason for writing is the desire to make something we want to read but can’t find in the library. If I were to stop reading, I too would “feel left out,” as Bennett tells us. Books are life. In another poem, “Of Making Books, Yet Again,” he writes:

“Why else would we beat head and heart
and fists against a wall?
In vain we vainly love our art,
and Vanity is all.”

1 comment:

Ron Slate said...

Thanks for posting this, Patrick. Recently in poetry, it hasn't been the facile emotional gush as much as pre-approved moral certainty that typifies the mediocre. The Zeitgeist has no nuance and is strident, aggrieved, ahistorical. Ron Slate (ronslate@comcast.net)