Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dustin Brookshire's Project Verse

Just spent most of the morning putting together the application for Project Verse, a poetry competition modeled after TV's "Project Runway." From the website:

Dustin Brookshire, through I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin and Limp Wrist, is proud to announce Project Verse, the self-proclaimed “Project Runway” of the poetry world.

Project Verse is a free competition set to be a grueling but fun competition for poets. It’s a 10-week competition, and the winner will be announced week 11. Each Monday, an assignment will be posted in I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin. Poets will have to complete and submit the assignment by noon Friday of the same week. The judges will read and score the assignments over the weekend, and the judgment will be posted in I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin the following Monday.

Why am I doing this? Because I have discovered I write good poems to order. A number of poems from my forthcoming book Equal to the Earth came out of a similar multi-round competition organized by Poetry-Free-For-All. Most of my chapbook Payday Loans was written, a sonnet a day, during National Poetry Writing Month. There's something about a competition that gets my jizz flowing. The trick is to hook up a particular writing challenge with a dark fish in the unconscious. There must be a hook and a fish, for this fishing trip to be a success. Come fishing with me, when it begins, if I get in, that is.

As part of the application, we are asked to respond to a statement by Ellen Bryant Voigt: "It's all a draft until we die." Here's my riff on the theme:

I am wary of theories about writing poetry, and of clear-voiced instruction, and well-meaning advice. They are abstractions of the experience of one poet or another, and not the stuff of poetry. They are arguments that the arguer herself would refute on another morning when she has another cup of coffee. They are rhetoric—all, they exhort, all a draft—and we remember what Yeats said about the difference between rhetoric and poetry. A strong poem will justify any theory; no theory has ever justified a bad poem.

I am wary of advice because I am so susceptible to it. I have a child-like need for guidance, a child-like faith in formulae. I have a tendency to think there is a particular way of writing that will create good poems, not automatically, but diligently. If I practice conscientiously this eight-fold path or those five pillars of faith, I will be saved. And how innocuous appears to be the advice to see a poem always as a draft. It smells of sweet sawdust from a hardworking carpenter’s shop. It speaks like bell-toned steeples rising from small green hills.

It smacks of Puritanism. And if one has been fighting against one’s own puritanical streak all one’s life, one is rightly suspicious of the call for religious discipline, unrelieved work, and moral seriousness. One might want to say, in opposition, a poem is not a draft, a poem is a revelry. A poem does not see life as sanctified drudgery, brought to a thankful rest by death. Instead, a poem celebrates its moment, and a revision of the poem celebrates its own moment. In revision, there are losses, as well as gains, just as a new best friend cannot ever replace a dearly loved one. And who would not prefer partying with friends to ploughing the fields, a solitary draft animal?

2 comments:

fleuve-souterrain said...

Very interesting Jee. I have somewhat similar thoughts... anything theorized and straightjacketed seems lacking in a moral force to me, moral here meaning the inherent strength, nothign about our worldly moral-immoral paradigm.

I really loved this: "There's something about a competition that gets my jizz flowing. The trick is to hook up a particular writing challenge with a dark fish in the unconscious. There must be a hook and a fish, for this fishing trip to be a success."
I am a Piscean too and the fish metaphor goes well with me!

Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi fellow Piscean,
We fish in the same big ocean, and catch ourselves.