Lost in the Tachana Merkazit; or, Embracing Changing Poetic Tastes

I’m starting to feel a twinge of dread every time I open up a newly published book of poems from some of my favorite publishers. I read the blurbs and raves, think okay! as I open the first page. Read a poem, and hm. Read a poem, and falter. Read a poem, and fade. Read a poem read a poem, and I am lost in a maze, I cannot understand the announcements over the loudspeaker, I am in the Tel Aviv bus station again — a great place to get felafel (something about the added taste of diesel fuel?) but an easy place in which to feel confused.

I have this sense that the publishers are moving farther and farther away from work that I connect with, much less work that resembles my own. I am paranoid that I’m falling out of touch with the kind of poetry the modern world wants to publish, wants to read. I feel like people are connecting to poetry all around me and I’m standing in the middle of it lost. Is there a shift in taste happening? Or is it my tastes that are changing?

I guess there is indeed a kind of grace in contrast — this disconnected feeling makes it all the more wonderful when I stumble upon a book I do connect with, poems that inspire me, that cause me to wonder, to envy, to just enjoy. I fall upon them as a starving person. These are poems I can learn from, I think. These are poems toward which I can work.

It feels like I have to revisit my A-list of publishing houses because maybe it’s no longer worth it for me to fling my poems against their walls. I’m just not doing work they’re going to be into. The good news is that I need to keep reading and reading more widely among the many fine small publishing houses in the contemporary poetry world. In poetry’s house there are many mansions.

I appreciate Small Press Distribution’s lists of bestsellers and staff favorites. These have been great sources of publishers and authors new to me. Grace Cavalieri’s best-of lists in the Washington Independent Review of Books also has great leads.

Creating a new A-list is an opportunity. My bus is around here somewhere. But until I find it, there’s some good felafel to be had.

 

 

5 thoughts on “Lost in the Tachana Merkazit; or, Embracing Changing Poetic Tastes

  1. You write: “I have this sense that the publishers are moving farther and farther away from work that I connect with, much less work that resembles my own… I feel like people are connecting to poetry all around me and I’m standing in the middle of it lost. Is there a shift in taste happening? Or is it my tastes that are changing?
    I guess there is indeed a kind of grace in contrast — this disconnected feeling makes it all the more wonderful when I stumble upon a book I do connect with, poems that inspire me…”

    You are not alone in this quandary, condition, or state of wondering about one’s poetic relevance (I feel a bit snarky putting it that way)…I notice shifts in what journals and publishers seek, and that’s ok. Tastes SHOULD change, but good poetry has its own merits regardless of fashion. I feel it’s partly a choice of style. I may like an outfit that someone else is wearing, but the same outfit may not flatter me. And that’s ok. But the thing to remember is that there are “your” people, your readers, out there somewhere. So shift where you’ve been looking–as you suggest you plan to do.

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  2. This is sort of an elephant in the room. I read (and buy) a lot of poetry and find more of it than I like to admit very hard to wade through. I do try. In the realm of associative/dissociative narrative, I sometimes catch a wave and ride it in to shore, and feel exhilaration, but more often not. This is different from poems in which I don’t get the literary or cultural references, because I can google those. I’m not in a workshop where I could decipher meaning with others, but I think that would help. I tend to believe the lack is in me, but I’m never sure.

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    • I get tired sometimes of reading so hard to find something that catches me, and I too feel often the problem is mine. But then I remember how many pieces of art I see in any museum visit, and how if I find just one that transfixes me, I consider it a good day and a museum worth revisiting. I also have to remember that I often don’t love the entire oeuvre of any one writer, but individual poems can blow me away. So we read on! Courage!

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  3. When I took on my rather wild idea to read and blog about a poetry book every day during National Poetry Month, I made the decision that I would not be critical of any of the books. These were not “reviews.” I would let the poems wash over me and see what was left when I stood back up. There were moments when I really wanted to add some — opinion — and I think it’s pretty clear which books lit me up. But (!) reading with this attitude of curiosity coupled with my desire to learn something from each book, has borne so much fruit. It’s interesting, too, some of the books grew on me long after the day for reading them had come and gone. Certainly, a number of these were my clear favorites. I like what you say about “connecting with” the poems — it’s that book (of course!) that I want.

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    • What a great idea for poetry month. And to read with such an open spirit. I’m going to try to remember that. Curiosity and learning. Yes. I’ll try to remind my grumpy reader self of that… Thank you!

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