noun. 1. (surveying) a point to which a foresight and backsight are taken in levelling; turning point.
"Two worlds from a change point in history," he elaborated, noting her look of puzzlement. "One stemming from one decision, another from the alternate."
Key Out of Time, Andre Alice Norton
We change or are left behind. We hear this our entire lives, change is good, change is positive. I will add that change is often difficult. Are we allowed to admit this in our culture? Well, I’m saying it. Change is sometimes hard as hell. When you feel the familiar ground shift beneath your feet, of course you’ll reach for security, for the known. That is survival.
In poetry we are already in a niche that most of the world ignores. To break it down to hobbyists and academics, to those who dabble and those who take a paycheck . . . is only natural. That’s what we do. We compartmentalize and judge and demand that there is a pecking order. And when something shifts, we hold onto what works for us.
This is not a complaint, this is about letting go of the past. About accepting change. It is about looking forward and backward at the same time, which is supposedly an impossibility.
Millennial poets are in a different world than the rest of us. Everything is immediate. I should not have been surprised to find an ad for a new book of poetry by a young poet, nor that her book was on the shelf at a local bookstore. I intended to buy the book, but when I thumbed through it, was disappointed over the poems’ abject simplicity. I put the book back on the shelf and tumbled down the rabbit hole of questioning myself.
maybe they are good poems and I am out of sync with this new run of poetry
maybe I am being extra-critical
maybe my recent rejection is coloring my viewpoint
maybe I'm jealous of her success
I’ve slept on it. I’ve looked the poetry up online. And I’m still unmoved by these poems. But I’m not 20 and I’m not in the middle of defining myself. This poet is vibrant, totally engaged, and she is sharing her work on Instagram and Tumblr with thousands of followers who are quoting her and tattooing her words onto their bodies.
This is a change point in literature. A pivot. An awakening. At least for me.
This is the change I’m struggling with: the shift from the long development of craft to the immediacy of publication. I saw it coming when I could suddenly post my work online, when I could bypass editors and critics with my personal website. When I could self-publish.
I both feared and welcomed the change.
I welcomed the open-endedness because I believe everyone should write poetry. I don’t believe it’s for the few. l still cautioned new poets to read and study the poets that came before them, and to thoughtfully develop their craft. I have always told poets that it takes ten years to develop craft, to speak with a unique voice. I stand by that assessment and I challenge poets, myself included, to hesitate before sending a poem into the world. Give it time to grow into the best poem it can possibly be.
Be critical of your own work. Loving toward it, but critical.
I am not sure if craft matters to poets and readers as much as content anymore. If we can have hundreds of “friends” and still be lonely, if we can tell someone an awful truth and push send before we’ve considered the consequences, then of course contemporary poetry is going to be passionate and immediate and less contemplative. It is going to burst onto the page or Instagram without hesitancy.
I’m heading to the bookstore to buy that book. I’m going to read it from front to back as my husband drives us toward Oregon . . . and maybe, just maybe I’m going to appreciate what I missed the first time around. Even if I am not moved, I will listen to this particular voice, and I will give it the attention it deserves.
Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
― Rainer Maria Rilke