Thursday, September 06, 2007

Nate Pritts on H_NGM_N

Mr. Nate Pritts sent a very thoughtful response via email, which I'm posting here, with his permission.


Thanks for reading H_NGM_N so carefully, first & foremost, & for your words about it on your blog. To me, writing & publishing poetry is an imminently social act – almost one of promotion, where the implicit statement is “Read this.” To proclaim anything else would be disingenuous. So, yes, building a community is one of the most worthwhile things I can think to do. And coming across writings like yours is one of the real benefits to what I do.

And it’s funny how different communities overlap – I’ve met a lot of writers through our shared online gig, people who pulled me out of the listserv to say they’d seen H_NGM_N or my work somewhere, or who I’ve tagged because I’ve seen theirs. It’s great!

I’m writing this, really, to keep this dialogue going because even where you say you are being grumpy about Clay’s remark, you’re really just talking it out. I mean, you seem to take issue with his position (labeling it maybe redundant or maybe too conveniently sweeping?).

You know, I really think it’s impossible to judge fashion. Tony Hoagland has this great essay called something like “The Skittery Poem of the Moment” & my first read of that title made it sound as if he was proclaiming the jumpy poem as the current poem du jour. Now (I may be wrong) I read the “of the moment” part of that to indicate how the poem is grounded, an in process record.

So with that out there, I do think Clay’s statement has tremendous worth – both to him, to readers (of that particular review & those potential readers of Orlen’s work), &, yes, to Orlen himself.

Upon receiving my MFA from Warren Wilson College, I was given a diploma & a big carved walking stick. The idea behind this, related to me by the program’s director Pete Turchi, but possibly unverifiable in its accuracy, is that in the big dark forest of literary giants, the sticks help us to bang against the trunks as a way of finding our path.

I’ve always interpreted this a little violently. At times, I’ve taken my stick & tried to use it like an axe to hack down some trunks that stood in my way (I could name names). What I mean is that I think, in an individual’s aesthetic development, we need something to work against.
Sometimes, it even helps to think that “they’re all against us.” I think Clay is right to perceive that in certain communities (H_NGM_N may be one of them), “narrative poetry” (of the type Richard Hugo might recognize) is “out of fashion.” So (I’m projecting on behalf of my buddy Clay), his statement is grounded in his own deep appreciation for Orlen’s project which is similar to his own & which (despite Clay’s astounding publication record) might be seen as having few friends today.

But I would guess that your biggest objection comes from these kind of pronouncements – we all cut our hair, or narrative is or is not in fashion. I’m with you that these kinds of statements have the effect of dulling the vitality of what’s really going on around us. I still want to say that what Clay writes is worthwhile because it is his record of what is happening now.

He feels that there is not a lot of narrative poetry out there today; other people may feel oppressed by the weight of so much narrative poetry. OK. He said/She said. But finally and most importantly, his statement is one of acceptance, of realizing that everybody has something to learn from everyone. Meaning, every one of the factions existing in poetry these days would really be sorry if the ones they were working against disappeared. How boring would that be?

This stuff is all kind of nebulous & maybe it shows that I’m uncomfortable talking it out. But thanks again for unknowingly prodding me to work my brain this morning. You’re the best!


(I would have posted this as a comment but I don't blog.)


Small Fry said...

Any strange typos are mine, not Nate's and I'll correct them when I get home. Every computer at work is set up to process Japanese, not English, so I think the typography got a bit messed up when I cut and pasted his email.

Small Fry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mark wallace said...

I find this conversation very interesting; thanks to you both.

It makes sense to me that you can't reassert the value of something until you've come to an understanding of why others were devaluing it. You can assert it, sure, but not reassert it, which would require a response to the critique.

Criticisms of narrative poetry have been very complex, much more so than the concept of "fashion" can quite contain. Some of these critiques might include: 1) the questionable relation between the real and the notion of narrative realism (in either poetry or fiction), an issue which highlights the very unreal narrative arc of much narrative (narrative realism as we currently think of it, the Joyceian epiphany tale, is only about one hundred years old); 2) the demand that poetry "tell a story" has often come along with a rejection of other possibilities for poetry; 3) the issue of how narrative is connected to image, and whether the use of images can really be seen as an essential basis for writing poetry.

I think all of these ideas could be countered, and I think narrative poetry can still be of interest when it reckons with some of these questions, and sometimes even when it doesn't. But to call them simply issues of "fashion" is probably insufficient. These are real issues, not just questions of what's cool.