The implication of expository and argumentative nonfiction is that the author is The Authority (the word’s right there!) and those who would report or argue in different ways are, well, wrong. (This judgment is inherent in reporting (and not just arguments) at a deep level because what is a report (news, explication, interpretation, analysis, etc.) except a document making an implicit claim to be accurately prioritized and thorough) …
Maybe it’s arrogant to seek new forms — but it also seems arrogant to adopt the authorial tone/voice/attitude when writing within the forms. And I also thought this morning that it’s forms that I have to teach — I’ve thought about this in Rhet & Comp for years, since Mom said she taught college kids who didn’t seem to have knowledge of the forms. It’s useful to get along (to succeed) in school and in business (and other institutions, other groups) if you’re aware of the common forms (and if you’re aware that there are such things as forms). Forms are a convenient way to communicate (how a science-journal paper has a different form — a form shared among practitioners in a discipline — from, say, a police report or a commemorative poem). But I thought about how I’m not directly teaching sonnet or sestina forms — well, the sonnet a little, in that I teach the iambic rhythm form — rhythm, rhyme, these too seem types of form — forms, familiar patterns, of language. The heroic meter: it exists, it is declared, and then poets try to show their ability to write to it — they show off. OK, it’s not just showing off to write in a meter, as a meter can aid memory retention (as would benefit, say, a singer of lyrics). But, well, partly what a writer of a form wants is to be seen as good, capable and clever at filling the form. What can a songwriter do, how much can be accomplished in, say, a 3 ½ minute pop song? And some artists claim to like or value limitations (Twyla T says that — something in her book on creativity says something like, to those whom the gods wish to humble they give enormous resources).
But — but. Openness — it doesn’t take resources to let go of the forms. I don’t have anything that I want to advocate to others — and I don’t usually seek to entertain others through my writing, though I do wish to inspire them. Sure, at my job, I’ll teach some forms — I’ll talk to students about rhythm & rhyme and I’ll say that these are the levers of the language machine and it’s good for writers to know what levers, what tools, they have available. If I don’t point students to some forms, some tools, then I’ve got a vague-as-sh*t class (and I have done that sometimes in my career, pointed students toward an ill-defined ideal, and it tends not to be a helpful/useful approach within the classroom form).
And I think how I’ve realized just in recent years that journals were the process (the quasi-form, because it’s defined more as a process than as a product) that suited me, and I’ve realized only in recent days a second quasi-form that suits and pleases (satisfies) me, a second art-ideal that’s mine, that fits me, that satisfies me, something I don’t feel too limited in, and something that isn’t imposed from outside (my erasure & random-word poems). I had to find these on my own, and that I’ve done, and it’s deeply gratifying — and it’s just satisfying when something clicks in its proper place. Finally, I find something that meets my needs (which needs too needed discovery and refining) and so of course it was only me who could find what suited me. And so I probably can’t teach this to kids — I can’t teach them, each of them, what suits and fits them. They’re 17, 18, too young to fully understand themselves, though I actually did (I can see in retrospect) have some urges, impulses — feelings more than clearly defined ideas — that I, even as a teenager, liked certain types of poems (such as Brautigan’s as an example, but I even wrote that poem that poetry is for things that don’t fit in prose — not exactly what I believe now, but also not wrong — hinting that I liked openness) and that I liked Vonnegut’s less-traditional stories and that I liked to journal, to record my life experiences (sh*t, going back at least to my vacation journals of 1986, aged 12! And I started journaling regularly in my first year of college! I have journaled because I liked doing it and because it seemed valuable. I did things and liked things before I ununderstood well why I did them and liked them — and that’s not bad advice for young artists, too. Do things, try things — see which feel right (even if they don’t feel easy, exactly, but they feel valuable to do) and which don’t (I didn’t want to stay a reporter).
So, yeah, I think my experience in becoming myself is cool as hell — I can share that with students. Basically, try lots of things but trust your gut as to which are yours and which aren’t.
[From journal of Sun., 28 Aug. 2022, Journal 366, pages 60-63]
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