What do you call it?

I was reading The Art of Recklessness, by Dean Young, and I pulled up short when I got to:

“We poets talked about craft, but what we meant were tricks and illusions. THE WRITING OF POETRY IS NOT A CRAFT.

WE ARE MAKING BIRDS, NOT BIRDCAGES.”

What? I’ve said it before: I love talking with fellow writers about craft. It took me a few days and looking up “craft” in the dictionary to understand that by bird cages, craft in this sense was more akin to making popsicle-stick projects at summer camp.

(This is in no way a reference to my fine-crafting friends who make beautiful quilts, and boxes, and collages, and many other gorgeous and useful things.)

I love saying craft, though, because it ties into witch craft and boats and all manner of things made. I also love craft because it implies process—some work, some consideration. It is the antithesis of a factory.

If not craft, then, I thought about how creativity is at its essence solving problems—or finding solutions: to the blank space on the page, to the hungry stomach, to any emptiness inside. That was working until I reached page 89:

“Poetry isn’t problem solving.”

Dang. Okay, can we say it’s about making choices—assuming that all poems are not born wholly on the page like Athena springing from her father’s forehead?

On page 153, “The emphasis on craft, on a series of procedures and techniques, is too much like the creation of perfectly safe nuclear reactors without acknowledging the necessity of radioactive matter for the core.”

Now, I’ll respectfully note two things:

  • Process, I believe, can open up writing, to get at that radioactive matter. I don’t think of process as a formula.
  • No nuclear reactor is perfectly save. (This book is from 2010, post-Chernobyl but pre-Fukushima.)

I kept reading and reached page 158: “Art is the presence of one mark above another, decisions about what is inside, what is outside. Poetry is the manifestation of decisiveness and affect within a charged field.”

I love that: “within a charged field.” So writing does include choices—what’s in and what’s out.

What do you call it? For now, I think I’ll keep calling it craft, and I’m happy to talk craft with you anytime.

And, my stubbornness aside, I recommend the book—a discussion of Picasso, Keats, Wordsworth, Rimbaud, Tzara, Breton, plus many others (Hamlet enters and exits and enters again), plus desecration, disruption, and irreverence.