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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Mi voz de antaño dándome decretos
al revelar el don de mis fatigas.
Yo soy así: disfraz de los secretos
ocultos en maléficas ortigas.

¡Ya no hay más que decir! Los esqueletos
redundan en retoños y amigas
mientras bailan con centenarios retos
los pobres inventarios de mis ligas.

Me niego a contemplar las ataduras
que amarran sin causarme daño alguno.
Flor de heridas. Imperios rotos. Duras

penas sin artificio. Candelabros
de misérrimo pájaro... Luego uno
se despierta tarde entre descalabros.

Ok. That's pretty bad, but I wrote it fast. Metrically, it was not a problem. Rhyming is easy too, in Spanish. I didn't even go for the easy rhymes like -ido / -ado. Parts of it are non-sensical. I guess what I was trying to do was capture that rhetoric of the sonnet, the way that rhetoric conditions what you want to say. There is no way I could have said this without using the sonnet form. There is no previously existent mental state that this poem translates, though you might think it says something about me anyway. I let words pop into my head without intention, that turned out to be pretty good words, like "retoños." The argumentive structure follows almost naturally from the form: a narrative emerges with statement of the theme, the moment of crisis, the second try, the second crisis, and the aftermath.

If I wrote a sonnet a day I could get quite good. I think I improved already just by doing more daring stuff in the last tercet. It makes me respect Spanish poetry a little more... and a little less. What I mean is a bad sonnet, even a mediocre one, is really easy. If you reach for some baroque language it is even easier, because you have more lexical choices. I see how Borges could toss them off blindly, once he got the knack. He recycled a lot of lines. Neruda wrote good sonnets and bad. What's hard is to do one like Guillén "Muerte a lo lejos."

What people think is hard in poetry is not. Like, writing a sonnet. Any idiot can rhyme candelabros with descalabros. (Well, that's one I'm proud of, but it's a meager pride.) What's hard is what people think of as easy, like writing "This is just to say." Everyone thinks they could write that, but they can't.

It's even harder to write a sonnet that sounds like "This is just to say."

It's kind of an open secret that many famous poets can't necessarily write a poem. We all agree, though we all can't agree on which ones can and which ones can't. There's a solidarity effect, so that nobody will say so even if everyone knows. The same with once good poets who stop writing well.

[My ancient voice gives me decrees as it reveals the gift of my tribulations. That's what I'm like, a mask of the secrets hidden in malignant nettles. Nothing left to be said. Skeletons echo in offshoots and {female} friends while the poor inventories of my leagues dance with centenary challenges. I refuse to contemplate the ties that tie me without causing me harm. Flower of wounds. Broken empires. Hard pains without artficice. Candelabras of miserable bird... Then one wakes up late amid ruins.]

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