Monday, August 17, 2009

Ars Poetica

When I was a senior in college, up at the lovely lovely Bellingham Washington campus of Western Washington U,* I took a "Critical Theory" course. It was summer, and the warmest it ever really got in Bellingham was the mid 80s. The sun was like the friendlier, more cheerful, less vengeful cousin of the one here in the South.

A group of us took this course together, taught by one of the profs in the department who, while he exuded professor-ly-ness, was also a really nice guy. (Not that those two things are mutually exclusive, but this one was particularly neat.)

We started with Plato, ranged through the years up to Showalter & Fish & Derrida. It was super interesting. A lot of writers write about their "Poetic Arts" and those writings become theoretical grounds for other artists. I think that a dominant trope still for most artists (at least the ones I come into contact with) is the Romantic idea of the artist as someone in a fluffy poet shirt who quaffs red wine and communicates directly with the Muses (or perhaps angelic women with too white face & rosy cheeks).

Anyway. The point of this is: what is my poetic art? I love to write. I love poetry, the confessional poetry is my favorite, probably. Anne Sexton, in particular. I wish I crafted my poetry more, created sonnets, formal verse. I usually don't, and I write too many poems about writing poetry. For my fictional art, I am really interested in a type of Magical Realism. I thought I was going to write Urban Fantasy, but this summer, I've been reminded of the roots of my favorite things, and what I want to do is a lot more like what Alice Hoffman and/or Charles De Lint do. This kind of dreamy reality where it's entirely possible for the dragonfly buzzing around you to turn into a fairy, but that fairy doesn't necessarily then want to "do you." (Which is kind of the "urban fantasy" place that scenario would often go....)

My short short fairy tales this summer were partly inspired by a book Alice Hoffman wrote, called The Story Sisters. In it, she frames chapters with a fairy tale version of the real characters' lives. I often write about myth and fairy tale in my poetry (see. there's a connection intended in these paragraphs) but I felt less like shaping these journeys into poems than I sometimes do.

In Bellingham, the campus was just lovely. Up on a hill, towers peeking through tall trees. There was a small road that went through part of the campus, but I think the only thing that drove down there (if I'm remembering correctly) was the city bus. In front of the bookstore. There was a steep slope, and at the bottom, a bank of trees. In the middle of that bank of wild looking trees was an old fashioned street lamp. It truly looked, for all intents & purposes, like a waystation to Narnia or some other faery land. I used to imagine seeing someone magically appear beside that lamp. Perhaps, someday, I will, and I'll find my fictional place nearby.

*And it never snowed when I was there, and this picture isn't exactly the location I'm writing about-- it's quite nearby. You can see one of the lamps I'm talking about, though, and this is such a cool picture I had to put it on here. Such a nice campus. Looking at pictures of it just now reminds me and makes me super nostalgiac.