Poetry group last night brought up a lot of issues in my mind, some unsettling, some just open. Unlike most of our meetings in the past year, last night was all business (which after an almost 45 minute ride there and not being able to find parking, was OK with me, I suppose. . .) but I did miss the nitty-gritty poetry issues that we often discuss before workshopping. They seemed to insert themselves, somewhat, into discussion anyway. The first poem to be workshopped was a whopper, a single spaced prose poem, tight font, which covered an entire page. For me, this is an intimidating and daunting prospect- to read a poem of this magnitude and respond in five minutes or less is outside of my comfort zone. When faced with poems, especially of this magnitude, I need to THINK about them. Let them sink in and experience them. So I suggested that in the future, maybe we could post longer pieces on the blog page I set up for the workshop with a few hours to spare so those of us who are "a little slow" and pensive can have time to ingest it. The poet in question responded by saying that in the spirit of Dan Flavin (an artist who was discussed moments earlier) she was OK with an instantaneous response because the average time a museum-goer spends looking at a piece of art is something like 15 seconds. This is the kind of response she wanted to her poem. So we gave her poem the alloted 15 seconds and moved on Flavin-style through the rest of the night, workshopping 4 poems in about 1 1/2 hours (total actual workshopping time).
The more I think about this approach, the more I realize that I'm not OK with it. Maybe it's the poetry-idealist in me that thinks this art of poetry deserves a serious looking-at, that this is a serious art even if we want to trivialize it as a sort of "statement," aka "I hate Poets, capital 'P.'" I decided a long time ago to dedicate a large portion of my life and energy to this thing that has, in a sense, become my religion (hey, something had to fill the void and I've never been into drugs or heavy drinking. . .). And now, the time I spend with poetry has taken on a whole new meaning-- the time I spend with poetry is time I don't spend with my son, so I can't help but treat it as a serious subject. Maybe I do take it too seriously, but for me, that's the only way to take it. It's the only way I can see myself ever getting some major publications and eventually getting a book out so I can teach somewhere in Colorado close to where we'll be living. So when a poem is put in front of me, I want to take it serioulsy and give it the attention I think it deserves, which is more than 15 seconds.
And by the by, I do think it is possible to give a good response to a poem in 25 minutes or so even if you haven't read it before, but the longer and/or more complicated pieces , in my mind, do require more time.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe nothing any more is sacred in this world of soundbytes and headlines. Maybe the average reader only allots 60 seconds to the reading of a poem. But for me, poetry is a retreat from that quick and flashy synapse-triggering, migrane-inducing clip of the chaotic everyday life. It's a slow-down, a sacred space. And while I prescribe to a lot of post-modern idea(l)s, I hold this as a truth, which may make me a Poet, but I guess I'm OK with that. I'm OK with taking myself and poetry serioulsy, because if I don't take myself seriously, who else is going to take me serioulsy?