Friday, January 25, 2008

Poetry Friday: Readers, fame and crushes

Writers sometimes have tortured relationships with their readers.

A couple of weeks ago, TadMack had an interesting poem by Charles Bukowski. His "Fame" ruminates on what it is to be known, to be read. Ultimately, Bukowski is dismissive of and condescending to his readers, calling them an "afterthought, the placenta, an accident." Jama mentioned in the comments that she didn't fully believe him. I don't either. While it's true that fame would be, in my opinion, pretty unpleasant, that doesn't mean the reader can be so arrogantly discarded. Writers like to be read.

And, a bit of Bukowski's ignorance comes through. Does he realize just how life-giving the placenta is as he casually bundles it with afterthoughts and accidents? He thinks of it as something that's simply expelled, like so much garbage, after the birth, rather than grasping that it's the thing that nurtured that growing life in the first place.

Without readers, a writer is only half alive.

"But I would write no matter what!" you protest, as Bukowski did.

I know.

So would I.

But isn't it pleasant when someone picks up your writing and says with a sigh, "Oh. How did she know?"

Billy Collins has a different approach.

In The Flight of the Reader, from Sailing Alone Around the Room, he muses about the relationship, tentative though it may be at times, and unbalanced.

Sometimes it's the reader who has fallen head over heels, and sometimes it's the writer, as the last stanza acknowledges with a blush:
It’s not like I have a crush on you
and instead of writing the five paragraph essay
I am sailing paper airplanes across the room at you –
It’s not that I can’t wait for the lunch bell
to see your face again.

It’s not like that. Not exactly.
Read the complete poem here.

And, did you know that you can go to this site and get free downloads of Billy Collins reading 34 of his poems?

Poetry Friday is being hosted today at Mentor Texts, Read Alouds & More. Find the whole round-up here.

And, next week, I'll be hosting. See you here next Friday morning.

6 comments:

jama said...

Excellent point about the placenta! And I did love this poem (first time reading it). Collins is always so readable -- is it because he IS conscious of his audience, and cares? I don't think he views us as afterthoughts at all.

Kelly Fineman said...

I adore Collins. Big-time. And I knew about the recitations, but had forgotten. And there's nothing like hearing him read his work. Or better, seeing him while he reads - his delivery is impeccable. It won my husband over to the notion of going to poetry readings, even. (He still talks about "The Lanyard" sometimes, because of how Collins delivered it.)

And I'd love to defend Bukowski and claim he was being ironic and that the reference to the placenta was intentional and that he feels that words sustain readers, but I don't like him enough to bother.

Karen E. said...

Kelly,
That's so funny, because I started to launch into the same speculation ... that he did indeed know what he was hinting at, that he was leading us to think on the motivation provided by the reader-placenta, how it nourishes creativity, knowing that someone will read this someday .... but, I, too, just ended up saying, "Naaahhh ...."

Beck said...

Charles Bukowski was a mean old drunk. I don't think his literary legacy is going to add up to much. Billy Collins crowd-pleasing bonhommie might not add up to much in the long run, either, but I LIKE him more.

John Mutford said...

I liked both the Bukowski and the Collins poem. I'm not sure it's ignorance on Bukowski's part at all. Unlike Collins, I think Bukowski was more focused on the poem of the moment rather than the grand scheme of things. He probably had a bad day with a particular reader (or readers) and captured it on paper. Collins seemed to be looking at the reader/writer relationship in general and over time. The whole placenta idea does, as Kelly almost said, come across as Bukowski's ironic acknowledgement that the reader is important.

Laura said...

Well, you just made me love that poem. Thank you.