Sunday

Reading Hirsch

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I've been reading E. Hirsch's How to Read a Poem, despite the ridiculous title, for several reasons.  First as autobiography. A life can be written by examining what have been markers in our lives as well as any other thing. Poems, cars (my friend Wayne Trapp), lovers, marriage, children, ornithology:  they all serve as points of departure for examining not only the subject at hand but the writer as well.  To write is to expose and could be why serious writing is often nerve-racking.  Even if not writing directly about oneself that self may be revealed all the same.

Who knows? I'm thinking this to be one of the primary difficulties of writing for many people.  How to hide the self, the person actually doing the writing?  Legions of writers become masters of this very thing.  Others become poets, collect noble prizes or blow their brains out.  Making art is a dangerous business. The risk is very real on a number of levels.  Fortunately for the dilettante the risk is proportionate to the level of challenge.  Staying in shallow water reduces the risk of drowning considerably.

I digress.  Hirsch is of interest to me in because he has been my opposite in terms of success.  There are no famous poets in today's world that are not also musicians.  His name is is not going to a big deal for most of us.  The big names like Frost, Sandburg, Browning, Dickinson are not part of who we are anymore as a culture. The poetry selves in bookstores diminish not yearly but monthly.

So what?  It's still important.  And Hirsch is important in that world.  Six books of poetry published to a measure of acclaim.  Most of the top prizes, including a MacArthur.  And for these past few years the head of the Guggenheim Foundation.  In no ways could he be considered obscure.  Like me.

And he's a good poet. He might not stand too near the shore (definitely in over his knees and takes a full body dip from time to time) but never so far out as to be concerned with his return. That limit appears to be the  price paid when an artist spends too much time, especially in the early years, in academia.  As he did.  The risk, as always, being commensurate with the potential for gain. Aesthetic gain.

And how can I compare my primary work, that of a painter, to a poet?  Because I believe them to be, if not the same, damn near it.  Some days I believe painting requires even more (my god, how could that be possible) than poetry because the medium of word is widely shared. The literacy rate of today's world is higher than it ever has been, regardless of how that skill is put to use.  And most of us have had a direct experience of writing.  Even if it is as humble a thing as signing a name, filling out a form or using a chat room.

Painting, on the other hand, is still exclusive to a much smaller group.  Even though, strangely enough, more people  have probably seen a painting than have read a poem.  Painters, we force ourselves on you in all sorts of public spaces.  Poets are much more discreet. All the same, we're in the boat, the poet and I.  And I know it.  Partly because I paint and write and know firsthand where they merge, where it becomes the same river. Back to our differences, Hirsch and I.  The main one being that he belongs in a way that I do not. To whom to what to where and when...next blog.

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