Friday, March 6, 2015
Somewhat insipid but not worthless
This is one of my in-between-books; when I've finished with one novel but haven't decided which one to move on to next I'll read a chapter or two or even just a few pages out of an in-between-book to pass the time. I can't really remember when I started reading Poemcrazy, but I know it's been a long, mostly unpleasant, time.
I have an uncomfortable relationship with poetry. I write poetry, but I hate most of what I write. I read poetry, but I hate most of what I read. But the poetry that I've read that I don't hate is poetry that I love with a terrifying and potentially unhealthy intensity, and the poetry that I've written that I'm proud of tends to be prickly and morbid and really not very helpful to anyone in the long run.
Wooldridge's memoir/instruction manual is full of the kind of poetry that I hate (and yes, a lot of it is hers but sadly even more of the stuff that made me roll my eyes was written by children). It's crammed with exercises that seem too schlocky to take seriously but is so sincere that I've got to look at my own cynicism with a grain of salt.
I guess what really bugged me is that I don't think I'd get along with Wooldridge at all and most of this book is written in a very conversational style. Wooldridge tells you about wandering around in nature and renaming the flowers for the sheer joy of it and deciding what parts of Native American, Asian, and Indian cultures are important for her to use as writing tools - it's exactly the melange of nature-loving cuddliness and appropriation that you'd expect to find at a yoga retreat.
But, for all that Wolldridge's personality sets my teeth on edge, and for all that she spends what seems like an exhausting amount of time anthropomorphizing plants, animals, and the planet, a lot of the exercises and practice plans she has in the book are good ideas. I don't like her idea of word tickets (the cover photo includes a word ticket - a word taped to a raffle ticket that is used to help move poems along) - I think it's lazy and limiting - but making lists of words that have sounds you like, or describing the objects around you in detail, or creating alternate characters of yourself to write from are all fine ideas that I think would be very helpful to someone feeling a bit dried up at their creative fount.
So I'd probably never re-read this book again because there's a credulous description of a Ginko tree (and Wooldridge actually notes that the species is "sacred in the orient" - gag me with a fork, that's some prime '90s white western mysticism) manifesting a miracle to save herself that makes me want to get out a chainsaw and that sort of story happens every few pages, I would be willing to flip through occasionally to find exercises.
Wooldridge, Susan G. Poemcrazy. Clarkson Potter. New York: New York. 1996.