Friday, January 18, 2013

Victor Infante explains how the artistic selection process can sometimes be arbitrary and subjective in a good way.

From Victor Infante's eulogy blog entry for the late Jack McCarthy, a poet whose undeniable talent and grace Victor and I can both agree on.  The selected passage is interesting for its insight into how unconventional poets can sometimes be blessed with academia approval.  NEC refers to New England College, where Jack sometimes taught.

It was after his first reading at NEC -- to a packed house, I might add -- that I had one of my favorite conversations about Jack and his work, with poet and NEC professor Carol Frost. Carol is always an outspoken sort, and when we encountered him in the hall afterward, she was clearly wrestling with Jack's poetry.

I confided that Jack does a lot of things in his writing that normally drive me crazy, but when he does them, they all work. That's what makes him such an amazing artist. This answer seemed to satisfy Carol, but it also crystallized a lot for me, too. A lot of people treat poetry like it's a math problem, an equation to be solved. Jack put the lie to that in poem after poem. The "rules," such as they are, are there to help the writer coax nuance, meaning and emotion out of the poem. They're not an end unto themselves. And Jack could use any of the tools in the poet's toolbox with skill and precision -- his smaller lyrics, the ones that rarely made it to slams, are gorgeous -- but he always knew he didn't have to use any artifice if he didn't need to. Jack could just craft a story, and it would inevitably be a poem, would always be something a bit more than a jumble of sentences and sentiment. Because Jack was a real artist, and any arbitrary rules only applied when he found them convenient.

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