Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Advice to Poets from People Who Know Better

The art of advice is hard to master. I have failed completely at dispensing useful wisdom to others in every role of my life, in love, in friendship, in families, in poetry, in business, and (certainly, god help us all) as a youth soccer coach. In an undoubtedly related development, Other people's direct advice to me is impossible to follow. Forget whether or not the advice would be right for me, I can't even put it into practice to see. It's like a physical impediment.

Yet, sometimes, reading or listening to a smart someone on a particular matter—dog training, the mars rover, climate control—I find their words apt to my own private obsession. This is particularly true regarding my obsession with the completely magnetic and substance-less art, poems. Herewith, some bang-up, spot-on advice for poets (at least for this poet) from people talking about other things, all gleaned from the same July 11 issue of the New York Review of Books:
William Casey King's Ambition, A History cites a famous chapter title in Tocqueville's Democracy in America: "Why There are So Many Men of Ambition in the United Stats But So Few Lofty Ambitions."
Assignment: Define "Lofty." For that matter, define "Men of Ambition."
"We ought to be wary of the ambitious, [David Bromwich says that] Plutarch says, but we should court them when they are companionable. They are close to our deeper nature and their excess adds a welcome friction to the mediocrity of the human scene." 
Assignment: Define "Ambitious". Define "Mediocrity."

Then, some straight up advice that needs no further definition from a few guys who work the ground just adjacent to words:
"[Eric Fischl] writes that light, 'contains mystery and revelation simultaneously.'"
"Fischl remembers Chuck Close remarking that 'when you make something that looks like art, it's probably someone else's art.'"
"Alex Katz, in turn, told him that 'you have to learn to paint [write] as fast as you think. If you [write] faster than your ability to focus and concentrate, you will miss your mark—and if you paint slower than your inspiration, you'll get bored and distracted.'" 
Assignment: To Put into Practice.