The following is the introduction to a book review I'm writing for the class. I thought it was particularly relevant to my experience of the past weeks, where a number of people have asked me questions about my work to which I could only reply: [*crickets*]. Through addressing another writer's ways of meandering around explaining her work, I've been able to pin down some ugly truths about a) why I avoid talking specifically about my work or reflecting on my processes and b) why it annoys me when others do the exact same thing. So, with no further adieu:
In No One’s Land
Ahsahta Press, 2007
In No One’s Land is Paige Ackerson-Kiely’s first book. In her author’s statement, published on the Ahsahta Press website, she engages in problematic indirection when she writes, “I find it difficult to discuss In No One’s Land or my work in general in any way that isn’t prefaced with: ‘I might have had a nebulous feeling about something, I don’t know what—I remember it was small and fleeting—at one time or another, but that, my friend, I cannot say with any certainty.’” It is the same kind of refrain we hear all the time from young poets—“I’m not the one to talk about my work,” or “I can’t really articulate what I was trying to do,” or “It just came out that way. It’s a mystery to me,” all of which seem to be translations of “Don’t look at me.” She takes a stab at more substantive commentary later, as she notes,
"David McDuff in his book Ice Around Our Lips described other work of Gripenberg’s era as ‘the elaboration of an austerely beautiful nature poetry in which man is portrayed as a lonely, alien guest awaiting reabsorption into a cosmic night.’ Although I would never embolden my own verse in such a lofty and lovely description, [my emphasis—TB] I cannot help but feel that there is some relationship there—if only because I clutched at it so unbecomingly…"
While I can appreciate that nice fat slice of humble pie, I also wonder if this sort of exaggerated humility is really benefiting writer or reader? It is as if the poet does not wish to commit to a reading of her own work. I can certainly sympathize. How many times have I criticized artist statements as useless, self-indulgent, or flat-out inaccurate? And how many times have I made similar claims of ignorance about my own work? As a reader, I am not entirely drawn in by these milquetoast attempts at creating a context for the work. As a writer, I am frightened by the mirror being held up to my own face.
So I wonder if this impulse of avoidance has anything to do with a fear of being made answerable for one's project. After all, when one actually says something, puts a concrete idea out into the world, one is opening up the (real or imagined floodgates) of criticism. Or maybe it's a more deeply seated fear that has to do with the possibility that, if one truly examines one's own work, one will find that one isn't actually saying anything. What if it's not about anything? What if it's an empty shell that is so coded and repellant to statement that there simply isn't anything to explain? All that time and effort for---nada.
Or maybe that's just my baggage.