Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Importance of Complete Experience (or Lack Thereof)

It seems to me that experience in poetry has little to do with the experience being related to in the poem itself. It's selfish, really, but I don't care what the speaker is or has gone through, unless they can offer me the experience first hand. The question then becomes, how do we do that?
Well, it is my opinion that it is only possible through the altering of perception. As Viktor Shklovsky says in his article, "Art as Technique," "Art exists so that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things...Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important.” Poetry, as an art form, should adhere to these standards as well, but it always seems that the idea of a "literature" keeps blocking us from doing so.
Though we'd all admit that literature is artful, are we all willing to experience it as we do art in a museum?

I'd argue that we do not. That, unlike all other arts that are not presented to us in book form, we desire to have literature do the work for us. We want it to tell us a story, to take us to different worlds, to show us things outside our everyday. And while that may appear similar to Shklovsky's purpose, it is nothing more than novelty, like going to see a circus sideshow to gain an appreciation of your own humanity.
Our own experiences are never as complete as the novel, or the epic, or the biography desire to be, and so we do not experience them in the way we experience art. We view these experiences as second-hand knowledge and often congratulate those authors for re-creating those experiences so thoroughly.

Poetry, though, has the chance, not to do this, but to instead create new experiences between author and audience, to offer, as Jack Spicer said, "a narrative which refuses to adopt an imposed story line." In short, it's the creation of a space in which a reader has the ability or option of creating a new experience by way of their interaction with the world created in the poem.

This was brief, but this is also a blog, and who has the time. Here's a poem:


susan Kerns said...

Since I'm procrastinating on this dreary, Sunday afternoon, I'll attempt at a thoughtful comment. I see numerous connections between your thoughts on poetry here and conversations about film. Many, if not most, people *really* want film to do the work for them - I'd say even more so than literature. (This may be even truer of television, which is probably why The Wire doesn't have the huge audience it deserves.) Literature necessarily requires the reader to set aside time, often hours, to read. Film often asks much less of its viewers, and in return, its viewers often ask very little of the films they see. (Entertain me. Give me spectacle. Make the story a tad unpredictable.)

Reading your post reminded me of Chantal Akerman's film News from Home - a feature-length film comprised of footage of NYC coupled with Akerman's reading of her mother's letters from France. Certainly, the film is about Akerman's experience moving a considerable distance from her family to the alien space of New York. It also, however, demands engagement and patience from its viewers - asks that we succumb to the seductive long takes of everyday NYC while relating to the director's relationship with her mother via her letters. It definitely creates a situation in which viewers interact with the film based both on their own relationships and their ability to watch the film on its terms (or Akerman's terms). I suppose most experimental film aspires to this relationship with its audience.

You ask if we all are willing to experience poetry as we do art. Of course not, and all poetry does not ask this of us. But, many of us are willing to engage with art, poetry, literature, and film in incredibly intense ways from time to time. Perhaps that, in itself, is enough?

B.J. said...

I definitely think that that is enough to expect of an audience, but should that be all we hope for as writers. Should occasional intense interaction be why we write. I really didn't mention it in the post, in fact, I didn't even allude to it, but I'm really looking for reasons behind my own poems.
In a world where poems are a dime a dozen, what can I hope for my poetry? Well, I think its this. I can work to foster those particular relationships with the poems.
So, its not something that I demand, or expect, but an experience that I would like to work towards.
Thanks for taking the time to write back, I really appreciate it.