But if you haven't experienced war, you can only have an idea about war. It is not wise to write about what you have not experienced. Compare poems by Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon to poems protesting war by those who have never seen combat, and this point becomes obvious.
Yes and no. I've never experienced being a man, say, so does that mean I can't write about bring one? If you leave enough space in your writing, and create the right patterns, it's the reader who will supply the experience - his own.ReplyDelete
I've written two fairly successful war poems, both on Afghanistan. In both, I focused on what Ruth Ellen Kocher keeps on about, the poet's relationship to the war. My question going into each was, given that I have a human reaction to the war or the situation why can't I write about it, as much as my relationship to a flower before me.ReplyDelete
The first one is in sideout side, published now nine years ago in the Quarterly Journal of Ideology, put out by the University of Louisiana at Shreveport. My idea was to focus on a single incident. There are formal aspects written in. Also, I should note that when it was read at the magazine's issue by the poetry editor Wendy Babiak, it was a hit. Notwithstanding the concrete aspects, I since have read it at the Goldmine Saloon in New Orleans, and then just this past year with David Amram in the background, which was very cool. It is well received. Note that I did not try to pretend the war situation, but could only be myself as the poet, creating something in reaction to a news article.
The second one is Photo Seven of Seven, published in Autumn Sky Poetry. It is ekphrasic, riffing off the award winning photo essay by Tyler Hicks, Taliban Execution. Again, form is important, including syllabics, which extends to the title, number of stanzas, and number of lines per stanza, and is intended for the sonic effect, the concrete too, but also the elegaic. It is one long sentence that ends. I am not creating from first hand knowledge, but using the ekphrasic for what it might be worth. Again, what is my relationship with what was or is going on in Afghanistan.
Neither of these poems are meant to compete with Wilfred Owen's work, or Brian Turner's. They were experiments to see if someone at a computer screen in Lowell MA, who was just too young to be drafted into the Viet Nam Conflict (or War), could write an Afghanistan war poem. Part of this came from my realizing that almost all of the poems I read from the Poets Against War project, were just bad, the diatribes of sorts meant to look like poems being the worst. But I have been meaning to take a closer look at what Jorie Graham has done in her travels to Europe.
But, Lee, you are a human, and so are men, and you have dealt with men all of your life. They are a part of your experience.ReplyDelete
And I would concede, Rus, that one can write about war without directly experiencing it, just as a historian can, or as Stephen Crane did.
But I can't help thinking that the sorts of things those I have known who have been in combat have told me about -- the fear, the nausea, the utter confusion, and the strange, desperate humor -- simply cannot be imagined or adequately simulated by those who have not had the experience. I also don't think there is any reason for poets to take it upon themselves to address every topic of importance. It's probably me, but generally speaking, I am not interested in what poets have to say, for instance, about geopolitics, a notable exception being Robert Conquest, who, as a diplomat, had direct experience of, among other things, the takeover of Bulgaria by the Soviets. Usually, when poets opine on such things I at least think of the Pfeiffer cartoon in which a woman announces to the world, "I am going to perform a dance for world hunger!"
By the way, Rus, your second poem works better for me, because it describes something that is there in front of one. We react to photos, often powerfully, often unforgettably. Oh, and the diatribe poems that you mention were precisely what I had in mind when I made my original comment.ReplyDelete
I have known men, and dealt with them, but that doesn't mean I share the experience of being one. That's part of what a writer does - imagines what he hasn't experienced. It's mostly a matter of just how well he does it. Experience aka authenticity is overrated.ReplyDelete
Well, Lee, you'll never convince me that a poem preaching about war written by someone who never faced enemy fire will be a match for one written by someone who has (presuming that both writers have comparable literary skills -- you do have to have those).ReplyDelete
If I were to write a play in which women had parts, and authenticity were important, I would pass the script by women, and listen for, "A woman would never say that." There are many cases in which this would not be necessary. However, when authenticity is what is wanted, the eye of someone with the characterized gender (or race or religion or whatever) would be a good idea.ReplyDelete
It just occurred to me that I recently came across just this problem. In the movie The Fighter, and fabulous movie btw, the actors were very careful to strive for Lowell's accent. The movie people also listened whenever the locals would say that they would never do something in a certain way. They did an imperfect but great job with the accent, and the acting. But it was as good as could be humanly expected. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo both deserved all the awards including the Oscars that they received.ReplyDelete
However, there was a great problem with the movie. We have in Lowell a very large Cambodian population. And they botched the Khmer and customs in the movie. Those of us who do not speak the langauge would not notice. It takes one to know one.
Interesting that you use the word 'preaching', Frank. I have my doubts that preaching has much place in contemporary poetry.ReplyDelete
And I wonder - entirely respectfully - whether you would really notice the lack of experience in an outstanding poem.
This is a very large topic, especially with regard to the experience of other cultures and races, and is often discussed: Can a white man, for example, write a black character? And what about historical novels? Surely you don't mean Mantel had no right to write Wolf Hall since she never experienced the period firsthand?
Well, Lee, I already covered my self re Mantel. Historians of necessity must often write of periods during which they have not lived. Which of course means that history is to a great degree imaginative. I used preaching because most "war" poems these days are editorials. They are also mostly about the poet, in particular about how sensitive and right thinking the poet is and how bad those who are night like the poet are. Awful things are happening in Ivory Coast right now, but I doubt if I could write a remotely good poem about it, because the poem would of necessity deal with generalities and hearsay. I might, however, be able to write a poem about the Liberian troubles of some decades back because I did see the video of Samuel Doe being tortured after he was captured by Charles Taylor's forces. But the poem would be about my experience of the video. As for a white man creating a black character -- and putting aside Jim in Huckleberry Finn -- well, there Joyce Cary's Mr. Johnson. But Cary had lived in Nigeria. As you say, it is a large topic.ReplyDelete