Friday, May 12, 2006

It's all Julie's fault ...

... for derailing my thoughts - which should be on things like writing up notes of meetings with various people, etc, etc. Instead Julie posted a short note about the wierd concept of publishing for prosterity. Which got me thinking.

I mean, I can understand people's desire to publish their poems. While it's not a desire I share with them, I can understand that there is a poetry community out there, and that publishing poems is somehow related to a person's standing or worth in the eyes of that community. Because poetry is, first and formost, a social construct and wherever you get social constructs you get hierarchies, and most people have a genetically driven need to climb as high as they possibly can within the hierarchies they associate with.

It's what I call The Great Game, and you're right in thinking I'm more of an audience than a competitor when it comes to playing.

But what's this "posterity" thingy that some people think is a good reason for poets to publish their work?

What is "posterity"? is succinct on the definition. Posterity is "Future generations: 'Everything he writes is consigned to posterity' (Joyce Carol Oates). No arguing with that definition.

But that means that I'm part of the posterity for all those poets who were publishing their poems down the centuries. I'm Shakespeare's posterity, Owen's posterity. Coleridge and Wordsworth wrote and published their poems for me. Whoever wrote down Beowulf and Gawain and Homer's Iliad did it for my benefit.

And what did I do to thank these wonderful people for their gift?

Well, at school I was made to sit down and dissect their poems. I cut open their strophes and rhymes and looked for the magic that (I was told) made them the best poems ever written. Some poems I was forced to memorise, some poems I was compelled to psychoanalyse by teachers who knew scarcely more about psychoanalysis than I did. Over the course of 12 years of formal schooling I spent perhaps a month at most in the company of these gifts.

Not once was I told to go away and read these poems for the pleasure they could give me. At no time was it suggested to me that my time with these poems served any purpose apart from furthering my education and contributing to a scorecard at the end of the term, the year.

These poems left to me were products to be processed, assessed and discarded. That's posterity for you.

Fuck posterity!


  1. I'm completely baffled by the idea that I would actually be helping the future by publishing my very small poems. It's weird.

  2. Clinical Dispensation

    There is something special
    about a knows-it-all,
    They don’t ask questions,
    or think beyond the pall.

    Such would be extravagant,
    risk exposure, perchance
    appear confused, or miss a step
    in some mysterious dance.

    In a land of safety and security,
    the power of conviction never,
    ever gets out of their control.
    Colorless, they stay forever clever.

  3. Julie - people are strange.

    hl - my poetry's right where the world can see it: on my website. I choose not to publish in the traditional manner because I do ask questions and test the assumptions. If you want to psychoanalyse my choices then go right ahead: see if I give a fuck.

    At least I have the guts to publish my work online under my very own real name, rather than hiding myself and my work behind a couple of initials.


  4. Publishing for posterity is one almost sure way to be disappointed. I mean, think of how many people were writing poems even fifty years ago and how many of them are still read now by anyone.

    There are so many routes to publication now - websites, blogs, self-publishing, chapbook imprints, major publishing houses - no one can complain they can't get their poems out to anyone, whatever way they choose (or are able) to do it.

    That's great, I think. Posterity will be less kind to virtually all of us. But it doesn't worry me that no one will read my poems after I am dead, and I don't suppose it will worry anyone else either.