Poetry is the Unknown Guest in the House

Poetry is the Unknown Guest in the House
 – according to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in Poetry as Insurgent Art

“Stash your sell-phone” 

20180101_121700569138754.jpgIn 2017 I used an app to delete all my contacts from my Facebook account, and decided to begin blogging again. I was concerned about what social media was doing to my reading comprehension, about what it was doing to my psyche.

I have read somewhere that we humans sort the world into discrete categories as best we can, so that we can make quick (and life-saving) decisions: a creature in the shadows whose breathing is audible, whose breath smells like copper is a Predator.

(It could be a deer, but better safe than sorry in the moment.)

It seems to me that this kind of quick judgement is the norm in a social media jungle. The immediacy. The rush. People (myself included) read a headline, write a quick opinion, and move on. It began to feel more like a cut-throat game of tag than a conversation.

Am I alone in feeling as though I’ve been continually on red alert? Watching, and defending myself against threats? Trolls. People whose politics differ from mine. The 10 things I am doing wrong in regard to my toaster oven – or my pentameter.

I was thinking about The Giver last night. And Brave New World. And wondering if anyone out there has written a dystopic novel in which the People in Power had managed to invent a kind of drug that entailed no manufacturing expenses, no distribution expenses, and one which the masses self-administered – eagerly – making people’s very minds bio-billboards for products (and non-products) for sale. One-click purchases for the dopamine junkies.

Possible titles? Likes. Or Attention Economy.

I feel as though I have fallen into a post-Absurdist rabbit hole of inclusion addiction.  The thought of being irrelevant and untethered in this international, intercultural, intergenerational buzz of avatars is terrifying.

“Great poets are the antennae of the race, with more than rabbit ears.” (L.F.)

What is it to be a poet in this world? International, intercultural, intergenerational. Virtual.

My social-media life was the opposite of poetry. Since 2016, I’ve experienced it as divisive. I am tired of labels.  Even the silly ones. What kind of pizza are you? Which French philosopher? I understand that categories are useful. Scientists find use in them. But poets shouldn’t. Poets are occupied with the truth. And the truth is always a platypus.

I crave the deep work. The work of sincere attention necessary for poetry. I want to close my eyes and rediscover my senses. I want to fight against the stenciled concepts I’ve adopted.

I was surprised, and pleased to see Donna Vorreyer’s tweet about a poetry blog revival last week.

“Poetry assuages our absolute loneliness in the lonely universe.” (L.F.)

I feel less alone in my longings, though still anxious. How can I participate in a poetry community in a healthy way?

Gertrude Stein said she wrote for strangers and herself. Last year I wrote open letters to specific people, as an attempt to ground myself in virtual relationships. This year, I will write open letters on the subject of poetry – to myself.  I will be working on my relationship with poetry.

“A poem is still a knock on the door of the unknown.” (L.F.) 

They say if a writer has a website or blog, we are obligated to consider that the reader is asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?”

If you have read this far, then I suppose you are the stranger to whom I’m writing: the unknown guest. I don’t know what’s in it for you. Maybe if a word here somehow opens a door to your own deep work, we are a poetry community in this immediate virtual space.

And maybe you will write back to this stranger, and show me a bit of your unknown?

Poetry is not a “product”, it is an elementary particle. […] The poet pieces the wild beast together. (L.F.)

Thank you for reading. 

(p.s. The poetry blog revival blogs can be reached via the links page.)

22 thoughts on “Poetry is the Unknown Guest in the House Leave a comment

  1. Thank goodness there’s no “Like” button. I enjoyed this so much, having seen it would’ve left me with a dilemma on whether or not to stand in silent solidarity by not clicking it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this, thank you. You know, I was so honoured to write those letters to you but, at the same time, I was so open in them … and I’m not so open in public. It’s something I’m still struggling with. How real, how honest, can I stand to be in this public arena.
    This piece of writing of yours handles it perfectly. Thank you for soothing me into my day with something beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ren,

    I love Ferlinghetti–his was the first “real” grown-up poetry reading I went to when I was 17, back in 1975 or 1976, when he was just about a year or two younger than I am now. It makes me happy to think of him still with us.

    And I love what you say about attention economy (such a loaded phrase!), and the terrible consumption and self-consumption that is a part of it, the spectacle we enjoy that comes with quick, instantaneous judgements and assassinations, all that keeps us awake with personal scores unsettled.

    I have to admit I’m pulled by the nostalgia of this poetry blog revitalization thing, where I get to regard the musings of so many thoughtful and sincere writers and poets. I have such misgivings here, too. Like you say, it’s a space where we can express something more of our own relationship to words and poetry, but it remains a virtual/public space that is inherently toxic, reductive, measurable, and degrading.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am also torn. How does one participate in a community without it being reduced to “titt for tatt” likes and promotion? – As for Ferlinghetti, I never read much of his work until 3 years ago – when I did a “wash” for a Norwegian translation of his collected works. It was such a priviledge – and I learned a lot from his so very American poetry. Nostaglia 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One challenge is, yes, “Do I have a reader?” So that is our “stranger.” {I do love that you mention The Giver. A good book.}

    It’s hard for me to believe that every public space must eventually become polluted, though perhaps that’s what humans do. Somehow, I thought we might be better than that–o, optimist! If poetry can somehow clear a space in the surroundings for ambiguity, for thought-provoking open-mindedness, for a sharing and airing of perspectives, I say let’s give it a try!

    I will see if I can get myself a Sun Boat and pole along with the eddies…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Before I forget, because forgetting has usurped laughter for me, check out the episode of “Black Mirror” called “Nosedive.” I think it will hurt you like it hurt me.

    I feel a little better about Facebook than you do, despite my having strong and stubborn opinions. I haven’t really encountered a whole lot of the animosity you have, and when I do, I simply delete–sometimes the person if not the person’s words. I don’t tolerate meanness or ugliness, and it’s my bulletin board. You want to spout hatred? Do it elsewhere. But if I do express an opinion, especially a controversial one, I expect to have other opinions returned to me. And I am good with that. I learn. I often change my mind. I think you have to change a little of your own perspective to sometimes see it as a conversation rather than tag.

    As for poetry, well, I miss my own. My relationship with poetry has become distant over the years, and I need to return to it, perhaps with a fresh look at Ferlinghetti. Because I have had some severe writers’ block over the years, those Facebook poems have been super helpful. And what’s in it for them? Well, people who contribute a word to my poem find themselves surprisingly invested. I get people to read poetry! That’s pretty amazing to me.

    I missed you and am glad to have you back. You’ll have to find the balance that’s right for you, of course. But I definitely missed you on Sundays, when you would always give me something to think about. Happy New Year.


    1. I have missed you, too. I loved that episode of Black Mirror. So many of those have such good writing. I do hope you return to poetry. It is how I met you and was drawn to you. A poem about a superhero – your incredibly sharp humor. You are amazing.


  7. Hi Ren,

    Another visitor from the Tour. On Social Media and in particular FB I have found it better when I made it friends only, it retained a sense of community then. That being said I listened to a podcast interview with the guy that used to be an ethicist for Google and he revealed how platforms have been shaped by the attention economy, and how that’s largely devoid of human oversight now.

    FB in particular is configured to keep you on site and connected for as long as possible and does so through insights gained from poker machine gaming, stringing out your dopamine hits, releasing notifications, not when they are sent but according to some algorithm calibrated to keep you hitting refresh “just in case”. He now runs a site dedicated to ensuring devices serve us not the other way round.

    Which brings me to the Tour. I have been blogging about poetry for four years and have found that to get eyes, let alone comments on my blog, I have had to resort to sharing it on Facebook. I get some discussion but it happens amongst friends and not a wider readership. I am hoping that the tour achieves its stated aims of building a community. It’s something I literally hunger for.


  8. It is a complex issue, isn’t it? Getting readers or comments – to what end? In the “old days” of blogging, it was often obvious who was commenting with off-hand remarks – sometimes amusingly off-topic – only to drive traffic back to their own blog – not to engage. I am trying very hard not to get pulled into or distracted by that. Community in terms of real discussion is important to me. Not stats. But it is difficult to keep that in mind. There is a great episode of Hidden Brain recently on attention economy and its history and evolution pre-FB. Interesting stuff. Looking forward to engaging with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Ren, Found you via the blogging tour. Can’t believe I found an Aggie theatre major who is a poet living in Norway. I lasted two years at TAMU before it ran me away. Lots to unpack there. Looking forward to following you on the blog tour. Lorena


  10. “recovering Texan” – should have guessed! Glad I get to be part of your poetry refuge! (I was a 2%er at best – went there after running from UTAustin’s theater program – went to A&M to study primatology [long story] a semester before returning to theater and just FINISHING.)


  11. Ren: thank you for finding me via the blogging tour of poets. You’ve captured my growing dismay at social media. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that it sucks one’s intelligence like a straw poked between one’s ears. At best FB alone has outlived its usefulness for me personally.

    Looking forward to finding better connections through poet bloggers and to making my site and posts better suited to my and their needs. Write on!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Your own words as well LF’s quotes are well received. Another beginning answer to a thirst (beginning, beginning, beginning) (will I ever feel grown up!?). And I am thirsty. One attribute I don’t much announce is being as moody as I am. Writing on one day I am at home with myself. Then the next the door becomes a wall. I am inconsistent, although consistently self-critical (except when I’m not). I have been away from writing longer than is good for well-beingness. Appreciative of this new community cluster (if also challenged) (also read apprehensive for my part). But I’m taking to heart what I initially read – TRY to write at least once a week, something, anything, including when I don’t know what I’m doing!

    Wm. Stafford once said, what if that perfect poem is sitting right there (probably out of sight) but the only way to arrive is to take those stepping stones on the path in front of you? You could even call that “an act of (poetic) faith”. Done not with a goal in mind but a willingness to move next to next. Editing needs go on vacation some of the time.

    And fair question is will useful/sane/experience/writing arrive outside of community?

    Lastly, it is nice to be “liked” but I’d rather a conversation. Do like-buttons serve any purpose other than sugar in a shallow diet? I like the idea of long driveways up to your home – meaning I can trust a guests interest as genuine. Thanks Ren.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Interesting post. It’s a loaded topic really. I have a love/hate dichotomy at work when it comes to social media.
    You ask what it means to be a poet in these times? For me, to be a true poet means to speak a truth, regardless of the backlash/reaction it may bring about. To be a poet means to speak a language, perhaps incomprehensible to most, but to those few other underliers on the other side….those who navigate the wilderness with us…it will resonate, ring true. Why publicly post? I think those of us who write from the very depths of of our being, cannot help but share. I think passing on our words becomes somewhat of a duty, almost like the tradition of passing on a
    oral native stories. It’s bread in the bones

    Liked by 1 person

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