Canadian poet Dennis Cooley says in his essay Breaking & Entering (Thoughts on Line Breaks):
I’ve been struck for some time how much formal departure disturbs readers. That’s not surprising, I guess, since it always generates uncertainties, but I don’t think the resistance—it varies in its outer fringes from panic to contempt—can be altogether excused. You find it everywhere: complaints about “mannered” phrasing, fretting about “unfashionable” (or “fashionable”) lining, querulous comments about “mere” technique or “flat” writing. Above all bad writing is “artificial”—this as a charge against art! What else can it be? The comments are hardly confined to novices. It’s been my experience that the fiercest resistance to any straying from left margins or lines based on simple units comes from people who should know better: editors, reviewers, and even—so help me—poets.*
The very act of writing authentically is one of rebellion.
Thanks indeed to poet Judith Fitzgerald for her excellent review, which has sent me in search of Cooley’s work, particularly where she says:
Still, Cooley’s powerfully moving and stunningly evocative long poem renders memory mutable and the future a possibility looking for a reason to be recalled through the prism of the past-imperfect (since, for Cooley, time exists only when it paradoxically ceases to do so, a fact that speaks as much to his layered linguistic experiments as his effortless achievements as one of the truly profound “language poets” this country proudly calls her own).
Update from comment: A sample PDF file of the anthology By Word of Mouth: the Poetry of Dennis Cooley, selected and introduced by Nicole Markotic, is available via this link.
*Is there anyone who can provide me a copy of the essay?
4 thoughts on “And now let us praise uncertainties”
Hi LM, and welcome back! My arm is still very stiff and sore post-op, so I’m only sitting for short stretches at my desk. I can’t wait to read about your trek, however.
Judith is always worth reading, BTW.
Yoiks I just don’t have the stamina to read the first comment–although I sense there’s some important points being made.
Lots of catching up to do and more tantalizing links to authors I should aquaint my illiterate self with. Thanks and hi Lee
After posting I discovered that a sample PDF file of the anthology By Word of Mouth: the Poetry of Dennis Cooley, selected by Nicole Markotic, is available here:
Unfortunately, the PDF file is only meant as a taster, and I was so infuriated by the random truncations that I've ordered the book itself, which I really can't afford this month.
Good question, Lee, one more writers ought to examine both in- and ex-trinsically. The paradox, of course, resides in the fact most writers who risk colouring outside the lines ultimately succeed. Here, although I’ve not read any of her work, I am thinking of the resistance J. K. Rowling encountered concerning the length of her books and the deficit in attention-spans of the most recent generation of young readers. Lucy Maud Montgomery also endured initial reprisals and dismissals, IIRC. Look at ’em, now. Harry and Anne are prolly the two best known figures in YA literature (and, LMM’s just achieved the singular distinction of being included in the New American Library series, I think it was).
BluntLee, when this one hears, You can’t do that, I think, I just did :); and, I’m going to keep doing it because it feels gut-honest right to and for me.
Example? When I told my editor on the McLuhan bio I planned to write this work of creative non-fiction in the present tense, her initial response was not, well, hostile; but, I think she felt some degree of trepidatious concern about my decision; however, she trusted me and I did write it in the present tense and it worked very well for her (and me).
Joyce was told and told not to write Finnegans Wake; but, he knew, intuitively, the road to literary health’s paved with good inventions that don’t match preconceptions.
It never made sense to me when someone said that I would not find a readership when, in fact, the opposite happened. I don’t have a huge one; but, I do have a loyal one and I cherish each of ’em. I think, I guess, you go with your gut and let others deal with the same ol’ shame ol’ rut. Works for me, at any rate.
In fact, you yourself do answer that question when you address authenticity and rebellion; so, I’m preaching to the choir of twenty-seven angels dancing on the head of the proverbial pin (which makes this a pin-headed, not a pig-headed, comment). Now, I just need to include dawgs and horses to appease PETA, hehehehe . . .
OMDawg, I do love the film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, though. Yowzer, yowzer!
Wha . . .? Yeah, Horace McCoy, the novelist, coloured outside the lines and paid for it in more ways than one; but, many years later, someone came along and appreciated the art enough to translate it to cinematics. How’s that? He challenged himself and, by extension, his readership. If we don’t continually renew ourselves through rebellion, we simply ink the same work over and over; a novel ain’t a novel unless it’s novel, IOW, IMO, anyway.
Also, IMO, although he’s not often cited among the Black Mask greats, he deserves more recognition than he currently receives. No one’s better than Chandler (unless you widen the margins to include F. Scott, say); but, McCoy’s up there and, I s’pose, almost a cult-classic writer in the same way Flann O’Brien or Hubert Selby Jr. is. Too bad, really. He’s best known, I think, for Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. (Was he right or what?)
You’ll love Cooley’s poetry. He does stuff with fonts, typography, spacing, and sequencing that makes me think of John Cage, for example.
Unfortunately, in the web version, you don’t see the sequence I quote properly because the template’s not capable of adjusting to fit anything that doesn’t justify on the left margin; and, that sequence actually justifies on the right, a little key that may interest you further in terms of his willingness to overturn the expected received “wisdom,” part of the charm of his writing, at least for me.
Thank you for the plug; made my day; and, if I’ve convinced just one reader to go a-hunting for a cut-above poet’s work, I’ve done my job, IMO. That makes my week :).
Yeowouch! One of them angels just pricked my finger for blabbing your news all over the cyberblock. Yay! I’d bleed for its finishment any day, eh? K.
Again, though, kudos on finishing the first draft of Corvus. That’s the kicker; and, of course, one always up-shuts on a kicker :).
Zipz Lip-Tipz Fitz