Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dispatch from Prague: An Aesthetic Butting of Heads

Originally uploaded by trina.burke

As I've mentioned, I'm taking a workshop with Jack Myers here in Prague. Mr. Myers has some very definite ideas about poetry, which is not surprising. I've worked with a number of poets who are very passionate and very articulate about their personal poetic aesthetics. However, this is the first time I've worked with an instructor who is so vehement in impressing his own aesthetic values on his students. I'm not necessarily saying that this is a bad thing--it certainly gives me food for thought. I am forced to examine where my resistance to his statements about poetry comes from and this helps me to articulate my own ideas about poetry--which is never a bad thing.

And, despite my disagreement with the very foundation of many of his ideas, I find that Mr. Myers' critiques are often very insightful and helpful. It's a conundrum that, I think, centers around respect. I've heard about this so-called aesthetic war between more traditional and more elliptical (or avant-garde, or experimental, or whatever you want to call them) poets, but I never thought that anyone put much stake in it. It seems easy enough to me to respect what another artist is doing even if I don't get it or I don't like it; that is, to allow that it has a right to exist in the world, that it has value, that it should be made and there is room enough in the world for all kinds of art. What I am seeing here is a different viewpoint, wherein this elliptical poetry is considered to be the naive, overly clever, overly intellectual bumblings of youth. I am getting the message that I'll eventually (i.e. with age and, impliedly, wisdom) overcome my dedication to convolution in favor of simplicity and plainspeak. As the recipient of such messages, this feels like dismissal.

On the one hand, it makes me wonder whether all the things people say about MFA programs might be true--that they are (or can be)an indoctrination into the intellectualization of poetry, producing a legion of sense-eschewing zombies who worship at the pedestals of Jorie Graham, John Ashbery, et al. It is true that, prior to graduate school, I was writing mostly narrative poetry inspired by life events. I was "writing what I knew". However, I also think that those poems were mostly bad. I feel more confident in the writing I'm doing now, but maybe that's just a product of the stroking I've received over the past four years, the sense of belonging to a community rather than floating about in the abyss.

On the other hand, I think I'll keep doing what I'm doing for the most part. I've always kept issues of accessibility and clarity in the back of my head, and I will continue to do so.

In other news, Doug and I went to a number of museums this week. The Museum of Communism. The Veletrzni Palace. The Manes Gallery.

Among the things I saw, some favorites:

A video called "Cheerleader" that featured the artist singing a bad translation of Gwen Stefani's "What you Waiting for?" in a locker room while a group of undressed/undressing men alternately cheered and jeered her.

A wooden sculpture at the Manes gallery entitled "Woman Skier". It wore a hat of tits, had arms of tits, and stood on skis of tits.

A never-ending painting by an artist named Stibinek featuring robo-futurist figures on other planets. There were lots of egg shells and--surprise--tits and vaginas.

What will I remember most about Prague? Tits and vadge, everywhere!!!

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