Thomm Quackenbush, author

Not Garth | 2010 | Flirting: a Retraction

06.05.10 8:51 p.m.

When you meet a master swordsman, show him your sword.
When you meet a man who is not a poet, do not show him your poem.  

-Lin-Chi

 


Should Not Mean But Be

Jacki  
She does it right.

Readings, like poems themselves, should go on only as long as they absolutely must and not a word longer. They always do exceed, though, so I forget what I thought I liked initially, because a most poet's egos have no sense of time or caliber.

I want to like poetry because it is erudite to enjoy it, but I generally do not. If someone says they have a poem they want to share, I have to restrain my eyes from rolling. There is a story - possibly apocryphal - of some Vassarite informing her professor Elizabeth Bishop that they had written a poem over the weekend and asking if she would look at it. Bishop glared and informed the girl that a poem worth reading could not be "written over the weekend" and to come back when she was serious.

I look back at the prose I've written even a few years ago and know it is bad. Now, I feel that I am competent. I am not writing the great American novel, nor will I ever attempt that (I tend toward entertaining trifles that might make one pause for a moment), but I can string words together in a pretty enough manner.

My issue is that a lot of "poets" seem to be weak prose writers who just assumed that shorter form work is easier and that they would do well freed from the constraints of grammar, punctuation, and spelling (without regard for why one might bent the rules of the language). Aside from full length novels, I think poems can be even harder to write than short stories. Stories can be expansive, can explicate a solitary point for pages to drive it home. Poems are (or bloody should be) succinct and measured. One doesn't select poetry for its ease but for its challenge, as easy poems are largely worthless.

This isn't the snob in me speaking. I may throw out the odd lyrical phrase, but I am not up to snuff enough to write poetry in anything like the way Jacki does. I accept my limitations with some small angst. I simply can't condone someone getting plaudits for choosing to do something challenging in the most slipshod way possible.

With one poet at the performance, everything was "like" or "as" something else. Literally every object was compared to something else, generally quite wildly and with no regard to the substance of the poem. Similes are a seasoning, but when all you have is seasoning and no substance, I am sending the plate of tarragon back as indigestible.

The poetic cadence present at the reading tonight, the urgent pressure on each syllable without regard to meaning, the bastard dialect of a union between Maya Angelou and Christoper Walken, wears on me so that I rebel against listening. I wish I could keep my focus, but I don't feel I'm read to, I feel assaulted by letters.

But, aside from fidgeting in my seat like a child in need of a bathroom break, I try to be courteous, for Jacki much more than for the performers. However, when there is a break and it is announced there will soon be the open mic portion of the evening (which is why most of the audience seems to be here), I make haste outside for some air and white noise. For the most part, open mics are people by those who need to hear their own voices with no understanding of what a poem is or can be. There is a two poem maximum, but I know that they can pull off a Wasteland of crap to stretch their time on stage.

I can't very well suggest that Jacki leave, I have no right and no other options to lure her away, given that this is her world. I am somewhere between pathologically shy around and openly contemptuous of other prose writers. Those who I know, I tend to read only if forced (on which more presently). But Jacki is active in this scene. She knows and willingly consorts with other poets, without much evident distress. I do not deny that hers is the better way. I would likely have more success if my interactions with other writers did not involve an attempt at attention deficit disorder to get away from them before they infect me with further mediocrity.

Months ago, Rosemary and Jess organized what was to be the first meeting of a writers' group including Melanie and Daniel (who are not writers - at least not in the manner which would likely be useful to us - but who are painfully honest critics and excellent company). The group, which somehow took on the name Ugli Fruit Conspiracy, has yet to meet again and I have not pushed the issue much. Despite my apprehension with the concept, the fact that I like all concerned as friends (and Rosie's singed cookies) melted the anxiety away.
Rosie and Jess  
Other voices, other rooms.

I'd been to a few writer's groups in the area - the National Novel Writing Month one where we didn't talk about our stories or write, the Fantasy and Sci-Fi one where everything anyone ever wrote was either the best thing ever or not worthy to be toilet paper - and found them not worth returning to. I don't question that they are right for many (or most), but they aren't for me. Writers' groups seem to be the sort of people who believe they are always right, even when confronted with the fact that I actually meant the word "foment" and not their made-up and fictional word "forment". They are the ones to anonymously write the critique "big words are dumb" because they don't understand the point of a narrator. They don't actually want to hear criticism and I have no reason to invest myself in giving it.

At the solitary Ugli Fruit meeting, it took us hours to even begin talking about writing, which suited me just fine given that talk of writing so often is where I shut off. Writing, to me, is not unlike masturbation. Pleasurable, stress-relieving, and some people can make money from it, but it is solitary. Many who try to make money from it disgust me and should not quit their day jobs. And, for the most part, I don't want to know about your technique, how long a day you do it, and how long you've been doing it. I don't want to know who inspires you to do it. It does not concern me and I don't care to change that. No, I very likely do not want to do it with you and I won't do it if you are going to stare at me. And I certainly don't want you asking me about how I do it. I will admit that I do and let's leave it at that.

With friends, it is different. Writing becomes a subject I am willing to broach over tea, though I was still embarrassed when Rosie introduced the fact that I have been published. What of my work is out there (a three part story in Cave Drawing Ink's Rise of the Outlanders!, my story "Always Darkest" in Paragon 3, an article in Broken City Magazine this summer, one in The Journal of Cartoon Overanalyzations last year, a seventeen page comic with Dezi) does not feel enough to boast that I am published, since the residuals checks are hardly rolling in. However, I am also keenly aware that were they, I would simply raise my metric to something more challenging so I wouldn't have to own up to having the adjective "published" before the noun "writer" in regards to me.

That day with Jess and Rosie, I also make myself seem like a jackass owing to my writerly prejudices. In discussions of our work and the concept of mutual criticism, I half-jokingly say that I hope none of us writes poetry. The admonishment in Rosie's eyes let me know that I am very stupid and would be well advised to swallow any subsequent words. Jess, as I knew on some level, writes poems constantly and recently self-published a volume. Jess shrugs it off, but I still feel like a literary bigot.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, sushi.

last watched: Kickass
reading: Swann's Way
listening: Damien Rice

Not Garth | 2010 | Flirting: a Retraction

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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