Saturday, September 08, 2007

Poetry & Media

I’m taking a class called “Poetry and Media.” One of our first assignments is to come to class with 5-10 minutes of reflections on “what the big terms in the course’s title mean to you: poetry and media. What do you think about when you consider either? What are your primary interests in each separately and in both together? can the two be contemplated as separate and distinct from one another? How does one inhere in the other . . . or not? What questions are the ones that pique your interests when you hear the terms, when you saw the course’s title and description? What are you ambitions for this course of study, both in individual terms and as far as our work as a group goes?”

So this is my working through of those questions.

Poetry to me means the compression of words and ideas into a package that we call a poem that is meant to delight or surprise or interrupt or inspire or disturb. I think a central element of poetry is that compression. It is in many ways a compression that resists and even explodes suppression. This may mean that poetry, for me, is always working against suppression and repression. That would, of course, be a very political meaning to poetry, which I would agree, but would also be contested by many. Still, I think that the compression of poetry is where it gets its power and that compression also implies either a dropping away of unessential elements or a beating out of bloat. Suppression and repression, I think, cannot flourish in an environment where there is a rejection of the unessential elements or a constant beating out of excess. Poetry is more than compression, however. It is words and ideas that are packaged together with an intention to create power for a reader. That power generally results in a experience of emotion - the entire array of emotions. I think my favorite poems are the ones that elicit these emotions: delight, surprise, interruption or interrogation, inspiration, or disturbance. There are, however, hundreds of others. Poetry has to be connected with a feeling, though, for me. If there isn’t an emotive response, if the response is purely intellectual, then I find I am less interested. I’ll concede that saying this may indicate my limitation as a reader, but that makes it no less true for me.

Media is the system through which information is shared. It’s interesting for me to think about this term because a part of my job until recently has been to garner media for the person for whom I worked. So I think a lot about media as the systems of public information and entertainment in the United States and around the world. Thinking of media only in that sense has always been stifling to me. The conventional systems of media in the US today - radio, television, and newspapers - I find quite limiting in their views of the world. They rarely hold a vision of a world that includes me or in which I want to be. That’s of course why the Internet and the new media which has been emerging over the past fifteen years has fascinated me - there is both a space for me and for many of the ideas and issues that move me. New media, the digital media, has brought a place to enter and a reason to enter the conversation. I think of media as both the way that information is shared, literally, the medium through which data, information, ideas, words are transmitted, but also as the system that generates and informs the ideas. There is a co-generative relationship between the thing, perhaps in this case poetry, and the platform, or media.

My primary interests in each of these are hard to synthesize into a small statement. I feel especially over the past two years that poetry is this thing that has just infused my life at every level. I can no longer say this is my primary interest in poetry. I suppose I could say as Donald Hall urges me to, that my primary interest is to write great poems. That is true, but it feels so bold face to say that, that I necessarily recoil. My primary interest in poetry is to be an informed reader, to find poems that I can fall in love with, to feel wonder at beauty in the world. My primary interest in media is in that co-generative relationship. It is also in how media stimulates creativity. How does the method of transmission effect the creation? I’m very interested in that question.

The biggest motivation that I have behind this class is my interest in looking at how texts were created and received during the women’s movement and the lesbian movement in the 1970s. There was a huge publishing movement by lesbians at that time. Not only were lots of women writing poetry, but they were publishing it for themselves. I’m interested in how those texts, created by women in the movement and published by women in the movement, worked to shape women’s and lesbian’s senses of identity, self, and politics during that time period. I’m interested in learning the tools of analysis that Professor Martha Nell Smith has as an intellectual to learn how to use them to apply them to lesbian poetry during the 1970s.

I also want to read great poetry and think about it and talk about it. This class already has a great reading list evolving so I know that it will be incredibly stimulating.

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