I tend to be pretty hard on myself when it comes to my poetry. I think that's why I don't send my work out for publication more often. My stuff never seems good enough to me. In fact, sometimes it seems like I'm writing the same poems over and over and over. That worked for Walt Whitman. I don't think it works for me.
I've been following a discussion thread on the World Literature Forum recently. It concerns possible contenders for the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. It's a lively little debate that often ranges far off topic, as it does every year. In particular, I'm always struck by the polarizing quality of certain writers. Philip Roth has a strong contingent of supporters and detractors; the naysayers mostly sing the same song: Roth's work is lightweight, always focused on the same themes and ideas, misogynistic. During the Nobel season, Roth is the literary equivalent of liver and onions. You either love him or hate him. Certainly Roth's vision of American life (with its antisemitism and racism and sex) is no less valid than Nadine Gordimer's vision of South Africa under apartheid or Mo Yan's vision of communist China. They all have their writerly obsessions.
Yes, I repeat myself in my poetry. That's a part of being a poet, I guess. That's how collections of poems get written. Obsession is an undeniable part of any writer's make-up. One of my friends recently spent two years researching a book about the man who discovered the giant squid. I, myself, spent 47 days writing a book of 47 psalms. One psalm per day X 47 days = insanity. At the time, I didn't think I was obsessed. I thought I was driven.
Maybe I need to cut myself some slack. After all, writing about the same obsession over and over has worked well for many writers. Roth. Morrison. Faulkner. Frost. That's not bad company to be in. I wonder if Robert Frost ever thought to himself, "Maybe I should stop writing about trees and snow." I doubt it.
My question for Salinger is silly, but intriguing:
Will I ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature?
And the answer to that question is:
...I didn't say anything, though, naturally. All I said was English was my best subject...
English is my best subject, but I think that little passage is equivalent to the Magic 8-Ball answer "Try again later." Holden's not talking.
And neither is Saint Marty. He's waiting for the call from the Swedish Academy.
|Roth--always a bridesmaid...|