Friday 13 April 2012

Rupert Loydell - An Essay Poem

Answering Back
for Harvey Hix

It's the time of year when my first years
read Robert Sheppard's 'The Education of Desire'
and I challenge them to think about
writing their poems differently.
They also get given Charles Bernstein
on how to read difficult poems
and a host of quotes from other authors
each articulating why and how they write.

This kind of thing has to complement
every writing workshop. How can we write
if we don't think about how we can write?
The students don't know, now we've moved on
to B.S. Johnson, Samuel Beckett and Ann Quin,
that Bernstein and Sheppard will be back
when we come to talk about poetics;
in fact Robert's visiting us to give a talk.

At our institution with and and
are more than simply words between English
and Creative Writing. To us, and means one
sits alongside the other, whereas with
means they're entwined. Literature and theory
coil around creativity, poems, stories, plays.
To management upstairs they are both ways
to sell our courses, offer options to the kids.

The same managers are never sure
if books of poems tick the research box.
Shouldn't we be writing essays about our work
or be out there giving academic talks?
Elsewhere, the battle's won, and when
I look out for examples I can use
I find Harvey Hix and Mark Amerika
working in relevant but different ways.

Hix uses quotes and persuasive argument
in poems that answer back to other poems
(he reminds us that Bernstein does this too),
whilst Amerika remixes his own and others' texts
to dialogue with and critique themselves,
sometimes just through juxtaposition,
sometimes through collage and appropriation;
old work to make new. Hix makes new work

to discuss the old, sonnets to discuss the sonnet.
But isn't all good criticism creative anyway?
Isn't good theory creative writing too?
Rob Pope cleverly and clearly argues that
writing to and writing through, rewriting,
are all forms of creative engagement
we must regard as critical thought and deed.
'We learn by observation and immersion':

the personal transformation Hix worries about,
the 'something more' that happens when sparks
turn into fire, when process and procedures
give birth to writing at its best, might happen
anyway. Let's take that out of the equation,
it can't be our concern. All we can do is help
each other think about how and why we might
take words and arrange them for ourselves.

Each must do that on their own, with the weight
of the past behind them, the invisible future
ahead. There is everything still to play for
and pedagogy cannot help us win. We need
writers who are passionate, will experiment
and play with language, understand the links
between painting, word and sound, how
'the body [is] a language and it talk[s] to itself',

which is how Paige Ackerson-Kiely would put it
if she wrote in the present tense. The isolated body,
the self others can never know, rewrites the world
only for itself. The mode, the process, the stance,
the means and object of individual learning
are all bound up in this. We can never move
beyond, can never know why writers write,
can only and relentlessly pursue lines of inquiry.

Works Cited

My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer, Paige Ackerson-Kiely
remixthebook, mark amerika
'The Difficult Poem', Charles Bernstein
Lines of Inquiry, H.L. Hix
Textual Intervention, Rob Pope
'The Education of Desire', Robert Sheppard

Rupert Loydell's latest collections are Wildlife (Shearsman, 2011) and The Fantasy Kid (Salt, 2010), his poems for children.

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