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|Smashing the Mirror for Luck: The Poem is Not the Muse
Meta-poetry. Poems about poems. Or poems about the process of writing poems. Or poems that mention that the narrator is writing a poem, has tried to write a poem, or is about to write a poem. Perhaps it began as an ironic device, a dabble here and there just for kicks. A way to write something – anything– when one doesn’t have anything to write about. For who better knows than a poet what a miserable task it can often be to actually write; and who else reads poetry but poets. Like some twisted 12-step method of commiseration only the task is not recovery. Every poet has tried it at least once. But for many, it has become an addiction of epidemic proportion.
OK– enough of the metaphor.
I am not innocent. I have written the poem about the writing of the very poem itself; about not wanting to write any more poems about [insert cliche topic]. And of course I still love a successful meta-poem now & then– socially. But enough is enough is enough.
Does this mean I don’t believe poetry should be the topic of scrutiny or debate? Certainly not– I believe an on-going intelligent conversation is absolutely vital to the health of modern poetics. But where is the arena for such scrutiny or debate? At what point does a playful ironic device become a devastating handicap?
So what’s the big deal– a poem’s just a poem, right? A smidgen of something as if it were merely a dash of salt or spice in the bigger recipe. You write one and go onto the next. No single poem can encompass all, and the worst kind of poem is the one that attempts to do so.
The big deal is that the meta-poem is like a snake eating its tail– devouring itself back to its mouth until there is nothing to swallow and nowhere to swallow it to.
Poetry about poetry is like a person who is in love with Love. A person in love with Love makes the person that is “loved” incidental. Such love erases individuality and surrenders to a set of abstract dogmatic values that no actual human being can embody. Such love tends to be a knee-jerk reaction to loneliness, or the fear of loneliness. Such love is not love at all but objectification. The “loved-one” becomes a symbol.
I believe the same thing happens to the poem under such circumstances. And while this may be an effective device, it ought to be used sparingly– as a smidgen of salt rather than as the total recipe.
I don’t expect, or even desire, the complete suspension of meta-poetry. It does have its place. But it is not the place itself. It’s not the walls and roof of the structure. It’s a nick-knack on a shelf in the corner.
Sure– the poet needs to use the poem as a mirror of the Self– but if the only image in that mirror is ourselves sitting at the typer, maybe it’s time to turn the typer off and go out for a beer. Or better yet, smash that mirror– toss its bits around town and see what we find.