Thursday, February 12, 2009

Practices and Expression

Joseph Duemer posted an interesting response to a reading he participated in the other day, in which he discusses the "distinction between poetry as a set of practices and poetry as a mode of (self) expression."

He articulated that difference as "professionals" and "amateurs," terminology which he himself does not seem to feel comfortable with. But I appreciate his emphasis on the difference between those who write poetry to express themselves and those who, although they surely started out that way, have kept writing poetry for reasons "beyond" self-expression.

It's perhaps important for "professional" poets to keep this distinction in mind, which seems primary to me—and far more significant than differences among the "professionals" (who, whatever type of poetry they write, are all focused on "poetry as a set of practices," to borrow Joseph Duemer's precise formulation).


I once attended a workshop in Geneva with Ellen Hinsey (this would have been about 1998 or so), and at one point, when I raised my hand to answer a question she had asked (after waiting a bit to see if anybody else wanted to try), she said to me that I was a "professional" and she thought it would be good to hear what the others had to say. (She had already come to this conclusion based on a comment I had made earlier in the workshop.) That was a breakthrough moment for me: I may not have had many poems published at the time, but my emphasis on writing poetry "beyond" self-expression had been recognized, and from then on, I was more sure of myself as a poet!

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