the pleasure of discernment

I can’t do justice to the great readings tonight. I’m sort of cranky from ulcers and a long, long day. So instead… you get this.

As I drove home I was stuck with the thought of how much I love judging and discernment. I can’t stop doing it. I realize it’s obnoxious and sometimes out of place or unwelcome. I get such a kick out of hearing samples of the same people’s work over time. I’m always thinking, “Ah! This is a good one! Much better than last month’s workshopped-to-death thing that had all the edges smoothed off it!” or “Hmm, this is maybe the 6th time I’ve heard this person read, and now I have a handle on Their Trip. And yet tonight is different – they’re doing something unlike what they’ve done before.” So I compare people to themselves.

And of course comparing them to each other. I put people in categories, fuzzy ones, but I know I’m still ranking, ordering, grouping, looking for connections.

Rhymed doggerel about driving to work being stuck in traffic, or angst about one’s own body fluids, or … well, imagine your personal poetic hell in this space. Gosh darn it, at least that villanelle about chopping carrots on a granite countertop while bluebirds sing in the garden and Hurricane Katrina victims are eaten by crocodiles, at least it’s the best villanelle it can possibly be. Since I don’t want to live in a state of irony and snark (as I was dipping into just now with the imaginary Katrina carrots) I try to be analytical and fair-minded instead. With critical faculties turned up past 11, I’m guaranteed some entertainment.

Unfortunately… around the poetry-reading time of night, I am usually in some sort of fairly intense physical pain. The only way to deal with that is to think as hard as possible, for distraction.

Judgement is also a defense mechanism against boredom. Because I catch on quickly and people are often stunningly predictable… I can amuse myself during moments of literary tedium by making up theories, or considering what exactly makes it tedious and wondering why it isn’t tedious to everyone or what factors people are enjoying or what it means for the person who wrote it. Value IS relative in many ways. I have to dislocate the center of my judgement in order to get to the place where I can understand that relativity and see poetry newly. Yet… some writing still sucks and is dull. To me. For my purposes. At this particular moment. Oh, I could argue all day about this!

I’m not judging every second and in fact at some point during a poem I can abandon judgement or make my decision quickly and sit back to enjoy the ride, whatever that ride is. I can stop being Elitist McSnootypants for a brief moment, but then it kicks right back in afterwards.

When something is good…I am SO happy, relieved, excited, and inspired. Like Steve Arntson’s recitations tonight… and I would especially mention the open mike readings by Lisa Ortiz, Amy Miller, David Cummings, JC Watson… others. Like I said, I will check in tomorrow and write up the reading by Arntson and others. And in the next few days I’ll talk more about Anatole’s work and the tributes to Anatole we heard tonight; I hope with examples of his poetry. Charlotte lent me some journals from 12 years ago and I look forward to reading early… or earlier… poetry by various poets I’ve been hearing around town since 2001.

1 thought on “the pleasure of discernment

  1. I can’t thank you enough for inviting me to the reading. I was completely bowled over. Yet another outside I didn’t know was there. 🙂

    I will definitely be reading your writeup. Would love to be able to remember who read what, and learn the names of the writers, all new to me.

    I can see why Steve Arntson is a favorite – he was breathtaking.

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