Overrated Things

Installment #6

16. Adjectives (and, by extension, all things adjectival - this means you, adverbs). Though I have the feeling this item has more to do with my mood today than anything else, here goes: one of the more common problems I have with authors, generally, is adjective (mis)use. Too many otherwise intelligent wroters over-use adjectives when they are not called for, while ignoring adjectives when they are most needed. Now, I have no examples or supporing evidence for this one, only my gut instinct. But I am right. I will say this: good writing is useful to the imagination in that it supplies descriptions that help the reader devise his own, more complete, mental images. Writing built on poor adjective use hinders the descriptive/imaginative process and thus becomes an agent in its own demise.

17. Cellphones. I suppose this has been coming for some time, now. I have had a cellphone for several months, and my findings are simple: cellphones, while useful in some situations (an emergency is the obvious example), are annoying in many others (the grocery store, for instance), and they are obscenely popular largely for their high novelty value. That is the nail in the coffin: novelty. They are amusing for a while, but soon enough the novely of one's current cellphone clamors for something else: the fresh novelty of a newer model. Repeat, ad nauseum.

Email is the lumbering triceratops of interruption; cellphones are the velociraptor. Land-line phones are VD (it takes two to tango, you know); cellular phones are the bird-flu.

All together, now: "TURN THEM OFF!"

18. Poetics. Ouch; this one hurts.
This post on Ron Silliman's blog got me thinking about this today. Interestingly enough, today, Kevin Elliott was kind enough to provide, also via a blog post, more thought-provoking links regarding poetics.

Here's my thinking: while poetics can be a good thing inside certain circles, I have to agree with Greg over at g r a p e z that the poetic sphere has become largely self-interested, more concerned with impressing those of like mind and wiping out dissenters than with true large-scale community involvement - in leading, as poets once did. Poets and poetry communities need to begin formulating theories of poetry not around perfection and innovation (though such must be included in any valid poetics) but around connection: to other poets/poems, yes, but more importantly connection to the world-at-large, which, I am sad to say, has largely lost sight of poets (and I don't think because poets are so far ahead...)

Why, then, is poetics overrated? Because it has failed. It has failed to make progress in the only area of poetry that matters: its connection with the real reading world (whether or not the real reading world could still support great poets is another matter entirely). In developing various theories of poetry, poets have ignored the other half of existence: receptors. For that reason, I say quietly and in my small corner, "overrated."


Blogger a.b.smith said...

hmmm, that's an interesting thought about poetry having become self interested. And I guess you really could ask that question of any artistic field (fine art, music, poetry, etc.) The question I've long wondered is, "does the artist really have a responsibility to the common person or do they just exist to self-express? (which seems to be the trend of art in today's culture. Because there's as much criticism from the other side when people do art to please the masses. I guess it's probably somewhere in between.
Also, I was talking to a literary friend of mine last night about this and he posed the question of who left whom... was it the poets that left society behind or society that bailed on poets? Again probably some of both.

12:58 PM  
Blogger a.b.smith said...

ok, one more comment on this post... you're completely right about adjectives. They are over and mis used! Sometimes I wonder whether it's not and effect of our sensory based culture, that things (including words) start to lose meaning and therefor we use more to try and get the same effect. Sound like anything (yeah, any good drug). Not that words are drugs, but one thing I learned from a poet friend (prof.) at Spring Arbor is let the verbs talk. They are what move people. Not that a good adjective can't help, but that's all it was meant to do, help.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Thin Black Duke said...

The only thing that bugs me more than the abuse of adjectives is the writer that feels the need to attach "very" to every needless adjective.

I keep my cell phone ringer off most of the time (this may have more to do with my aversion to phones in general, though). I'm an English literature grad student! NO ONE needs to get in touch with me while I'm at the store, nor do I want to talk on the phone while I'm shopping. It's ridiculous. Can you believe I've heard more than one teacher's cell phone ring in the middle of class? One prof at the University of Denver actually answered! Yes, while he was teaching!

Poetics needs to be distinguished from theory. If we view poetics as simply "how one goes about writing poems" and "how one goes about reading poems," we loose the baggage that comes with too much theorizing. What matters is the reading and writing of poems. Nothing else.

Reading this post reminds me of a scene in Mo' Betta Blues. Denzel Washington is arguing that black people don't appreciate jazz. Wesley Snipes replies: "That's all bullshit. Everything, everything you just said is bullshit...The people don't come because you grandiose motherfuckers don't play shit that they like. If you played the shit that they liked, then the people would come. Simple as that."

Something to think about.

7:25 PM  
Blogger matt said...

andy: "The question I've long wondered is, "does the artist really have a responsibility to the common person or do they just exist to self-express?"

artists definitely have a responsibility, and i think at least part of it is a form of leadership... i've got to think about this more.

kevin: "If you played the shit that they liked, then the people would come. Simple as that."

i like this sentiment. makes me wonder if part of the problem is people thinking of themselves as the literate elite, who believe the material that pleases the masses doesn't qualify as poetry. for my money, this cannot be true, we cannot allow it to be, or poetry really will die. i've got to think about this way more, too.

2:34 PM  

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