Boring poetry? Is that a thing? What constitutes boring poetry? What if there is no boring poetry but only a great number of boring human artists? Yes, I think boring human is boring poetry’s antecedent. Yes. Ariana Reines wrote “Oh person / What a bore” and I think that really says it all. I do. Art is dependent on human and not the other way around. Though, the other way around is possible—I just like to refer to the other way around as “voluntary submission” or “giving up.” Boredom, I believe, stems from a possible sense of defeat or intimidation. One should be sure to note that the word “defeat” itself is certainly militant and a ‘militant art’ can be troubling for many artists. However, for the artist opting for a rebellion against a dominant art form (any art form widely accepted/defended as divine or essential) that is later realized as a constraint, a word like “defeat” may seem appealing. An artist who feels defeated may feel more compelled to plagiarize or emulate a ‘successful’ or ‘talented’ or ‘challenging’ writer in an often-exaggerated way. Rather than the influenced citing their influence, the influenced becomes a parasite-art—a hyper-mimicry. Carl Jung once wrote of art, “One might almost describe it as a living being that uses man only as a nutrient medium, employing his capacities according to its own laws and shaping itself to the fulfillment of its own creative purpose.” I like the idea of ‘creative product’ being acknowledged as something beyond a bookstore transaction. I like believing that personal creativity is not stagnant—that it’s something that can distend my reach as an artist. I like that I feel like I can simultaneously fear and embody whatever I create. Blake Butler once told me that he didn’t understand the usefulness of a statement like, “I am selling my novel.” He told me that a novel is pieces of a person. People believe that they need to “write novels” and that they need to “buy novels.” For me, Blake peels away physicality and leaves me with something less understood and less tangible. In leaving readers with less, Blake actually leaves readers with more. (Take a couple minutes and just revisit Butler’s promotion for Scorch Atlas for just a quick example of what I’m talking about). If I simply accept Jung’s idea that I am a “nutrient medium” to be absorbed by art, I still in many ways feel as though I am—maybe not submitting to—but confirming that my own opinions and viewpoints regarding art are the ‘best’ opinions and viewpoints available to myself and others. I think that believing that my opinions and viewpoints regarding art are the ‘best’ opinions and viewpoints is incredibly dangerous. This is why I like to think of myself as an artist existing in a constant state of revision. I think it is most important to be careful. I’m not saying Jung is ‘right’ about art, but I am attracted to Jung’s carefulness. For me, progression as an artist means perpetual self-revision and carefulness. Not writing the new Critique of Judgment or self-labeling. (I mean, devour the latest subcultural honey if you want to, but don’t drown yourself in it.) It’s just very difficult to apply something like ideas of certainty to perpetual self-revision, I think.
Certainty is doom.
Again, I believe boredom stems from a sense of defeat or intimidation, but I also believe it can begin with something that I’ve recently termed “freight-aesthetics.” Earlier this year in a Thought Catalog post I composed a list of questions addressed to young writers and one of the questions included: Are we living our “lief” or adhering to freight-aesthetics? The Steve Roggenbuck reference is obvious, but a lot of people wanted to know what I meant by freight-aesthetics. When I finally replied, I wrote: “All I meant by ‘freight-aesthetics’ is when a particular artistic standard is passed around from person to person—toting standards via the popularity and mobility of opinions. Treating an aesthetic standard like goods to sell.” First, I think it’s odd that I initially wrote “artistic standard” and then concluded with “aesthetic standard.” The interchangeability of those two words is worth mentioning because our modern-day use of the term “aesthetic” is very much a constraint we often take for granted. My “freight-aesthetics” neologism is quite obviously attempting to insult or, rather, assault “aesthetic”—a word derived from the Greek word “aistehesis” which means “of the senses.” Merriam-Webster definitions for “freight” read “the compensation paid for the transportation of goods” as well as “goods to be shipped.” When an artist says, “I really like your aesthetic,” they are essentially telling me that they appreciated the sensory experience evoked by my creative product. They are basically saying, “I enjoyed your art.” Writers and educators also tend to think of aesthetics as specific artistic standards or traditions—decrees to be upheld or passed down. Every educator teaches an aesthetic standard or a small variety of aesthetic standards that are absorbed by creative writing students and usually perceived as ‘right’ or ‘best.’ If ‘ideal’ aesthetic standards exist then ‘ideal’ creative writing programs exist. This is highly detrimental thinking. These ideals are what make poetry “boring.” Freight-aesthetics are responsible for boring poetry. Business transactions are boring. Teaching your students to be just like you is boring. I’ve been following the work of Johannes Göransson for a number of years and it was this comment of his that I read online one day and wrote down and tucked away for my future: “I would be crazy to only teach my aesthetic in the limited sense because it would be bad for the class. In fact I pride myself on trying to give a lot of different looks of poetry to my students, especially my undergrads. I would have had a heart attack by now if I were to try to force all my students to write like I do. Or at least no students would take my class, something that has never been a problem for me.”
Exposing a student to many forms seems way better than a mandate.
In “Poetries of Resistance,” Drew Krewer writes, “We’ve all heard the cry about MFA programs producing the ‘McPoem,’ but Perloff’s description doesn’t just point fingers, it locates the source of the problem––that uniformity in poetry is produced by a system filled with people who long to become one of the initiated, in hopes of securing these ‘good jobs,’ or at least to be praised by people in such positions. In short, the ‘well-crafted’ poem has achieved a certain exchange rate in the creative economy. Contemporary American poetry has, in a sense, become infected by the drive of capitalism. Higher education, after all, is a business.” Business becomes far more lucrative when young writers believe they will be learning the best from the best—when they believe that there is a best.
A beast. A beast that writes nothing every day.
It seems outrageous to even want to believe in a best. Especially in a country so unfriendly to translations. I wrote a poem that repeats a line:
SO MANY PEOPLE WILL NEVER READ THIS WORLD OF PEOPLE.
And I believe that. And that is sad.
Aase Berg is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.
Writers often see themselves as books that will be sold—they reduce themselves to the “exchange rate” that Krewer entertains. Freight-aesthetics cultivates writers who function as laborers for dollars—selling creative product becomes the sad and sole ambition of the American writer.
I believe no writer should be driven merely by an exchange rate.
The MFA program does not have to be seen as a useless concept, but I understand why that belief is common. It itself is certainly a business (like any level of education), but depending on one’s research and interests, a MFA program could be a beneficial and challenging venture. This is why the faculty aspect of a MFA program is a good way to avoid succumbing to freight-aesthetics. A creative writing program has been reduced to a number—to something that has been ‘ranked,’ but a faculty is a diversity not to be distorted as something uniform. What it really comes down to is: are you applying to a program because you’ve heard it will make you ‘successful’ or are you applying to a program because it offers faculty members that share your concerns and interests?
Boring poetry is a product of freight-aesthetics and freight-aesthetics are a product of a system of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”
Boring writer will paste its “Pushcart Prize nominee in (insert year)” into email after email until someone finally responds, OH, I AM INTIMIDATED BY YOU, PUSHCART NOMINEE. I MUST HAVE YOU. I MUST. I WILL PUBLISH YOU, PUSHCART NOMINEE. I WILL PUBLISH YOUR POEM ABOUT CATS AND ARTHRITIS.
And I will be swimming elsewhere.