Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Devil's Engine, No. 2

When reading a poem or a poet for the first time, how do you know when you're in good hands? Or: as readers, how important is the feeling of trust?

David Starkey

Assuming the poet is capable, if not accomplished--and most people who publish widely enough for me to come across their work are--I think it depends more on me than on the poet. There are certain things I value in a poem--an idiosyncratic voice, rich diction, close attention to sound--and if those elements are present in a poem, I feel as though I'm in good hands. I'm less interested in extensive philosophizing and experimentation for its own sake, so while I can acknowledge that a poet with those predilections is talented, I may not want to spend as much time with her or his work. Maybe the issue isn't so much one of trust as desire. Yes, there are plenty of "good hands" out there; I just don't want to be in some of them....

Joshua Trotter

To me, as a reader, the feeling of trust is of extreme importance. And because I have a short attention span, trust must be gained quickly.

I find I quickly trust an author who shows control over medium and material.

More importantly, however, I trust an author who trusts me.

But I am an unreliable, invisible stranger. To trust me, the author must must have a high level of self-trust. This self-trust is signalled by: A willingness to surprise. A willingness to mix the serious with the not-so-serious. A willingness to go out on a limn

and risk losing me.

Thus, (to answer the first part of your question last) I know I’m in good hands when I don't feel like I'm being held by the hand.

Shane Neilson

Trust is fleeting. Most of the time I don't trust myself; I don't trust myself to know what I'm doing when writing, I don't trust myself to know when a poem is finished, I don't trust myself when I want to destroy a poem and completely reenvision it.I don't trust myself when I feel the urge to publish the poem in a magazine. (That urge to publish is an inherently untrustworthy one!) And, when I see the poem in print, I don't start trusting it then, either. I remember an interview I read 15 years ago in Poets and Writers. In it, a poet discussing his recently published book on a railway disaster said that his book consisted mostly of poems published in magazines, and that this was because he didn't trust the unpublished ones. Your question immediately made me think back to this interview, and provoked this question in me: why trust what someone else likes when I don't even fully trust what I like? It's outsourcing trust.

The question of trust is a very difficult one. But, if forced to answer it, I'd say trust the poem, and not the poet. That's an old answer, I know. I'd also say that trust is earned on a poem-by-poem basis. Good poets can hope to have only a few poems in their books... I've lost faith in a poet probably forty times over in any given collection.

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