I am in the habit of saying: “Every poem is an opportunity to destroy my career.”
When I say it, I imagine completely new work. Maybe I abandon the typographic experiments of The Black Automaton in exchange for a more traditional sonnet crown. Or I leave behind my investigations into manhood for poems about birds. I mean to surprise readers who have come to expect a particular kind of poem from me. I mean to surprise myself as well.
I want it to mean that I am not afraid of trying something different, that I am not privileging my previous gestures, hiding behind what I know.
But what it doesn’t mean, necessarily, is that I write the poem that demands to be written. You can spend a lot of time not writing such a poem.
178. The four classes of play—if I can recall, I no longer own the book: competition, make-believe, chance and vertigo.
What a coincidence! I was just discussing these ideas with the students in my Information Society class. I wish I could remind Kearney that these ideas are from Roger Caillois, who uses the Greek terms: respectively, agon, mimesis, alea, and ilinx.
(And that link has a great set of explanations of the terms, including its relationship to improvisatory paidia and structured ludus.)
On a morning when I wake up with a crisis of faith, a crushing fear of failure, here comes Douglas Kearney:
Struggle presents the risk of failure. Loss can be a kind of failure. Contrast can intensify loss. If failure compels me—both in process and subject—to write a poem, establishing stakes is vital. There must be a cost. At some level, the rigor I aim for when composing a poem is a way of raising the stakes; the poem’s potential failure becomes a source of sweat I’ve sweat over. But that’s a matter of process. In subject, failure needs a thing to rupture, then deflate.
This is why public history is so important to my work. It comes with its own setup.
And with regard to my Heidegger project:
Still: what is the cost? What do I risk? I think the risk in the poems as poems is the chance that I could be grossly misunderstood. That my poems might be seen as merely making light of a tragedy. That I might have failed in my reckoning of cost and that in the end, I might have only heard what I wanted to hear.
The poems are ironic in intention, sure. But if they read/sound ironic, they fail. Which leads me back to cost as it relates to process.
The cost in the process—the aspect of poetic endeavor we can most control—was that in order to manage the voices of the animals, I had to occupy subject positions I disliked. I had to engage in a kind of cruelty that forced me to acknowledge my own capacity for it. My ability to disregard others’ suffering for my benefit.
I had to know something of myself and then ourselves. The bits that are the monster sometimes beat out the bits that are the hero. At terrible cost.