Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Look for Love

I notice that when poets talk about writing that we qualify: I love that book, well, most of it, there are about five poems that don't work.  Or: that was a terrifc book, the ordering could have used some work, but overall I really enjoyed it. It seems like we equate loving something with an endorsement of its perfection. Why is that? Don't we love imperfect things all the time? I'm not excusing myself from this observation, I do it, too. I can be as jaded as the next person and love some good dishing as much as the next poet, but I think it's a problem when I don't want to talk about books because I'm tired of having to justify my love for a book, or having to walk down the: "yeah, but" road with whomever I'm talking to. There are venues where pointing out the negatives and being aware of the negatives are absolutely necessary: revision, critical reviews, workshopping, and sometimes conversation with other writers. But I worry about becoming so critical that I forget to be generous, forget why I wanted to be part of this poetry thing in the first place. Poetry moves me like very little else can. Those shapes, sounds, and stanzas are pretty damn awesome, and very little in the world can make a point for me in quite the same way. I know truth when I hear it, and I've heard it in poetry more than in any place else.  And regardless of whatever school a poet identifies with, aren't you glad, if you're a poet or reader of poetry, that they're doing it? That the art is big enough to contain all their ideas, all their visions? A new friend, a novelist, signed her book for me today at lunch. In the inscription she wrote simply: Look for love. Being around her, her wit, her thoughtfulness, and intelligence, I know this is something she means sincerely, and I took it as such.  And I've been thinking about it all afternoon. Where do I put my energy? Am I so insecure about what I like that I have to immediately start picking out flaws in work for fear that someone might find me flawed for loving a book? Am I so arrogant and think there is just one way to do something? I am talking to MFA students next week, and I want to tell them: read to love, read as if your inner life depends on it because it does.  Yes, it's important to the work to have the critical eye and to engage and build one's aesthetic, but I don't know if our primary mode should be following what's right immediately with what is wrong.  And I'm certain that at conferences we should spend more time liking than disliking. Maybe we should look for the love, with love, at the thing we love and don't let our egos do that easy move of tearing something down versus standing with the imperfectness of the art we deeply care about.   What books do you love? You can say.  It's okay.

1 comment:

Stacia said...

Thanks for saying this! I've often thought the same thing you just mentioned while listening to people bitch (or hearing myself bitch) about someone else's writing: but aren't you glad that person loves words/poetry enough to write and read it? A while back, a very well-known editor of a very well-known lit mag said, on Facebook, something about feeling like he couldn't write bad reviews on Goodreads, but that he "rarely" reads poetry books he'd consider writing a good review for. After deciding never to submit to that lit mag again, I thought to myself, the site is called GOODreads. Time and place for bad reviews, of course. Why is this person wasting time writing, or thinking about writing, or FB-lamenting about feeling unable to write, bad reviews on a site designed to promote GOOD books? It really depressed me.

Books I've recently L.O.V.E.D.: Find the Girl by Lightsey Darst, Money for Sunsets by Elizabeth J. Colen, and The Heart's Traffic by Ching-In Chen. Ain't love grand?