Failed post on poetry and personality

I can’t do it. I can’t post on “poetry and personality.” To do so I would have to a) define my terms and b) totalize, and honestly, every time I start to try to think about “personality” even pretend-methodically I can feel my mind start to flail about thinking well then I will have to know what a self is, won’t I, and then I start generating conjectures like the self is the sensorium, you know, that which loves and exults and suffers and gets bored, but then I wonder, isn’t it just my personality to reduce everything to sensation, to be so predictably emo? And is that my personality or my persona making those reductions? It could be that in fact I am truly much more methodical than my persona, who just likes to put a frosting of gaiety on her fatigue, and maybe under that fatigue there’s a kind of beautiful clockwork after all like a Cartesian animal.

What kind of animal? I imagine a kind of cat or donkey.

Reading Santayana on my iPhone:

The beauty of material is…the groundwork of all higher beauty, both in the object, whose form and meaning have to be lodged in something sensible, and in the mind, where sensuous ideas, being the first to emerge, are the first that can arouse delight.

To love glass beads because they are beautiful is barbarous, perhaps, but not vulgar…

Form cannot be the form of nothing. If, then, in finding or creating beauty, we ignore the materials of things, and attend only to their form, we miss an ever-present opportunity to heighten our effects.

Whenever the golden thread of pleasure enters that web of things which our intelligence is always busily spinning, it lends to the visible world that mysterious and subtle charm which we call beauty.

Etcetera. I could go on and on quoting this quaint philosopher (if only in an attempt to dodge my failure to address “poetry” and “personality” at all satisfactorily).

Bruce Andrews seemed very amused that I was reading Santayana on my iPhone (thanks to Project Gutenberg! Coolio!).

“You’re reading Santayana? George Santayana? That’s so… fifties!”

“I like the clear prose style. None of this… textuality nonsense…”

(that’s a joke. you understand that’s a joke, right?) (why is everything a joke for me? I should look at that.)

So, it’s Bruce’s personality to make comments like that, kind of affectionately sneering, and mine to be “sassy” (Bruce later in the conversation used the word to describe my personality) in response.

Personality, whatever it is, has an awful lot to do with voice, then, and voicings: what are they called, “performative utterances,” in the sense that I commit to a personality, promise the world at least a measure of repeated personality, in the accruing predictability of the kinds of statements I make and the way I inflect them. I shudder a little at the words voice and voicings, though, because I don’t want to mean them in any sort of Iowa-workshop way, but when I actually try to consider how I do mean them, I think it might actually not be very different. Those Iowa-workshoppians might not know it, but when they say a writer needs to “find her voice” what they really mean is that she needs to find a persona or personae to perform via utterances so that she can accrue an artificed writing personality and bequeath it “performatively” to the world. I do think that actual physical voice sounds and accents and lexicons give permissions and limits to the artifice. I mean like how Bruce sounds funny and caustic and sort of nasal, and how his voice is not small, and aren’t these aspects of his personality? My voice when I hear it sounds kind of pedantic, but I laugh a lot and use a lot of emphatic/ecstatic adjectives, or at least I think I do, and I think this has something to do with my personality as well. For those of you who are worrying about sincerity at this point, can’t we say that this voice to the extent that it is intrinsic, like really biologically so, it is “sincere”… and the rest is creative artifice, and leave it at that?

There’s something to be said, really, for living a life among poets and hearing them vivify their words with their peculiar voices. That certainly gives their poems even more personality. Kasey’s voice for example is deep and sonorous and metrically precise and also oddly goofy, a quality that contrasts with the other three qualities I mentioned but all the qualities very much define his poetics. I can’t look at a poem on a page by Katie, say, and not imagine it in her factual kind of deadpan voice punctuated with her sort of no-nonsense strong laughter, or read a poem of Drew’s online that I don’t hear in his special sarcastic/mystic/brainiac enunciation. I mean, right? Don’t these voices just ooze personality? And doesn’t whatever oozes inhere in the poems, even those poems that are composed only from “outside” materials? I’m thinking of Kenny reading at the BPC the transcript of the 9/11 newscast, for example, how the “art intelligence” of his voice transformed the words.

Oh okay but that’s reactionary, right, like I’m proposing some sort of essential self-voice that we already argued away in the 80s, right? But wait. What is this tenacious thing: personality?

I don’t know. I mean I’m not Santayana and I don’t have time to lay out my arguments in pretty aphorisms the way he did although it is fun to quote him. I have to get the words out REALLY FAST because tomorrow there will be some other whirlwind thought and also I have to blog about Terayama Shuji, I said I would, and besides I’m not doing this for school. I think a lot of poets behave as if what they are doing is something they are doing for school, and I say that not as an anti-academic, because I’m not, and I already said my voice sounds pedantic and a little snotty or self-conscious, and I’m a teacher, and I’m all for everyone learning as much as they can all the time, but then of course learning something and doing something for school are entirely different activities much of the time, now aren’t they. Is it a kind of torture reading this? I apologize in advance. I’m just trying to keep you with me in a simulacrum of real-time associative thought.

I suspect that when we read the work of writers who are no longer alive that we project our concept of their personality and voice onto the words, we deduce it from the syntax and the diction, and our projection sort of weaves into our Vygotskian stream of self-talk until we have an idea who is talking to us, even though that “person” is part “us.” Any biodata we are possessed of regarding the writer goes into the mix too, doesn’t it. I think even the most purist of us can’t keep it separate. Does anyone want to disagree? This is why I feel like I “know” Tolstoy (even in translation: sure, why not), Lewis Carroll, Gertrude Stein, etc.

It happens sometimes that the poetry a poet emits, though, and here I’m talking about poets I know, is strikingly different from how I conceive of their personality. This is very disorienting. I actually don’t want to give examples of that, because most often it is the personality I am more attracted to than the poetry, and the poetry disappoints me because I want it to be like the personality. Is this what it means to have not “found one’s voice”? When the disparity between the performed self in speech and the performed self in aesthetic writing is too great? It disturbs me that I might even think like that. That disparity is the essence of theatre, isn’t it? I don’t know, I’m confusing myself again. It strikes me though that in these cases what I am seeing is poets who are swayed by trends or who write how they think they ought to or out of maybe undeliberate pastiche of writers they admire? So that their enthusiasm or intention (the best media for “personality”) is interrupted or diluted by obligation in some cases? and possession (the extreme of “influence”) in others?

I really had intended to work on my movies tonight. It’s 10:11. I need to make better movies as I can see now how floppy the first one is. Or maybe I should just keep adding to it until I have a movie equivalent of that crazy painting of Jay deFeo’s? Since I made that blanket statement about no erasure? You see, I HATE when I totalize! I need to put away a pile of clothes. I need to not stare at a screen all the time. Do you guys remember this NY Times article? By Kevin Kelley?He wrote, I mean typed:

We are becoming people of the screen. The fluid and fleeting symbols on a screen pull us away from the classical notions of monumental authors and authority. On the screen, the subjective again trumps the objective. The past is a rush of data streams cut and rearranged into a new mashup, while truth is something you assemble yourself on your own screen as you jump from link to link.

OK look, it’s not that we don’t know that, that it’s not painfully obvious. It’s just a nice clear prose style, not like Santayana’s who also had a nice clear prose style, and nothing at all like mine because I apparently do not have a nice clear prose style even though I am not abstruse either. What can I say? I’m all over the place! I’m a total spaz [can we still say that?]! Help! Maybe it’s just my personality…

2 thoughts on “Failed post on poetry and personality

  1. I like that you imagine yourself as a “cat or donkey.” I like imagining an animal that, depending what angle you see it from, or the lighting, might resemble either a cat or donkey.I love this post. “Personality” seems to be an ubercategory, since it includes lots of more specific things like voice (several different meanings of voice in fact), sensation, persona, etc. Big categories that include many other categories, and resemble either cats or donkeys, are fun. I’m not sure one can talk about such a composite without strewing confusion. . . it’s not narrow enough, as we say in freshman comp. But it’s fun to read, as if you were interviewing yourself and unable to come to agreement on the meaning of the terms under discussion.

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