"Certain tactics become deadeningly familiar: the privileging of specific subject matter
("Relate to me," you can almost hear some poems cry); the primacy of personal
experience and the assumption that language can contain it; the favorite foriegn
country that becomes a sort of grab bag for subject matter; the husk of anecdote
cracked for is nut of knowledge, the serious intellectual and psychological issues
that do a soft-focus fade-out into imagistic unknowingness; the case, even pride,
with which the poet accepts such unknowingness. Much of this poetry isn't "bad,"
exactly; you wish it were worse, in face because then you could more clearly
explain to yourself why a large dose of it-- a batch of books to review, say, or
an hour spent browsing magazines--leaves you feeling not simply numb but
guilty for that numbness, as if you were the only tainted thing in a world where
everything was perfectly clear, perfectly pleased with itself. Intensity is the only
anicdote-- of language, or experience, of ambition. In the presence of that intensity
all that is merely pleasant falls away." --- Wiman
On the other hand, I feel an urgent intense need, a push and pull if you will, to write about my life, the sexual abuse I experienced and the overwhelming abuse that leads one to constant self-doubt and insecurity. So, I am not really certain how I feel about much of what he says due to my own experiences which have a "need" to be fleshed out, understood and healed. And even Wiman seems to acknowledge that many of us write to heal some wound. Yet, maybe there is something banal about the self, in all its struggles, yet much of the self writing he may be referring to has no interest in language play, and language play in and of itself seems to differ from person to person (in terms of what is appealing and musical or discordant).
Writing in traditional forms proves difficult for me, particularly metrical form. And yet Wiman's insistence that great poems have form haunts me. And of course, some argue free verse has form, which I think is true, but who was it that said, "free verse is like playing tennis with the net down?"
Also, Wiman writes a great deal about the poet's ambitions, desires and disillusionment. One quote which moved me and helped me is the one below:
A man who long ago learned to hold each act in light of the distant life
in which he would repent it, who for years anticipated and even treasured,
with a kind of half-conscious, terrible clarity, the self as it would emerge from
the wreckage it created; a man grown equanimous and wise, devoid of ambition
now but, what luck, replete with everything ambition brings-- this house,
these admirers, regret softened by renown, and this moment in which to gather
his brood of wounds around him with an almost paternal pride, as lovely elegiac light
fills the room and all the intact past stands plain as a lawn. Spare me. A man can
vanish into what he's done, give himself so utterly to his actions that he becomes not
the wise survivor crawling from the chaos of his deeds, but the smooth and empty shell
they cast up. Who would believe this hollow noise is the sea?
It feels good to read again, as I've had great difficulty doing so the past couple of years.