Writing Poetry after Youth

Any poet, if he is to survive as a writer beyond his twenty-fifth year, must alter; he must seek new literary influences; he will have different emotions to express. This is disconcerting to that public which likes a poet to spin his whole work out of the feelings of his youth;–T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry

T. S. Eliot wrote this insightful comment when he was 29.  He had written The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, but had not yet written The Waste Land.  It is a remarkable comment, since Eliot, himself, hadn’t “altered.”  His own style was still developing and his arguably best work was yet to come.  From my own personal experience, I think that there is something in this observation of Eliot’s.

Some time in my early 30’s my passion for poetry had dried up.  Those strong feelings of youth were being replaced by different motivations.  As Eliot writes, after 25, the poet “will have different emotions to express.”  It is fair to say that in early adulthood/late youth, emotions ruled my life.  But as I aged, deliberation and understanding the large question of how the world works and the still larger question of how the map of living unfolds became increasingly important.  So the verbal filigree of young passion yielded to more contemplative works. 

However, just beginning to tackle different life issues, expression proved a fresh start on language.  So my output was inferior during this period.  I remember a friend who liked my earlier poetry once exclaim to me, “You’ve lost it!”  And I had.  I had mostly lost youth.

But as time progressed, I became accustomed to the challenges that life throws at adults and my writing began to mature, too. I was aware of the loss of my muse in my early 30’s.  I knew that I wasn’t writing very well.  I knew that my friend was right, for then.  In fact, I had almost quit writing altogether; I did precipitously stop writing for long spells.  But I couldn’t stop writing. A new style developed for the new person I was since youth. Of the poems I’ve published, ¾ are “post-30’s” poems;–that is, poetry I wrote after the age of 30.  That which was lost was found! 

Eliot’s style underwent quite an alteration as he aged, as well.  As a literature major once told me, “The jury’s still out on Four Quartets” (1936-1942—when Eliot was aged 48-52).  But the jury returned a verdict on The Cocktail Party (premiered 1949); utter failure.  The difference in Eliot’s later work, compared with that of his earlier work, though, is not only a matter of Eliot’s age.  He had also undergone a religious conversion and meant to express it in his work.  This is a major “alteration!” And even if Eliot’s artistry matched his new spirituality, the critical reception would have been skewed by the counter-religious zeitgeist of the modern age. 

Writing poetry is a dance between grasping language, grasping life, and grasping art.  All this is likely to undergo revision and rewrites with the stages of living one will experience here, and perhaps, hereafter.

MANIFESTO

Blessings rarely fall upon creativity,

The blessed gift that gives blessings to the world

Would that all God’s people were prophets

Business demands compliance to management

Academia demands conformity to pedagogy

The workers and scholars who meet success

Want creativity, don’t want creativity, wanton creativity

Constrained in a cage, the wings of creativity chafe

But soaring flights of fancy ill bear containment

Even at peril, wings flex their wits

Affront establishment, norms, aesthetic strictures

Flout trends, tradition, transmission of style

Interested only in release of the muse, manifestation

Fractious under pressure to demur to stricture, structure

Nature knows no other course

And must be itself, be it bless or curse

Knowing blesses only at happy realizations of muse

The which only creative natures nurture

Must manifest, make, make known, appear, make apparent

LIVING MY OWN LIFE

Existential isolation was

En vogue

When I was in school

(Probably still is)

To which I added drunken dissipation

Upon graduation I found sobriety

And was terribly alone

Outside the “we” program

Despising my loneliness

In an otherwise paradisaical climate

 

I no longer feel alone

Which begins with Carol and us

There is the small church

Sacred community

In a world that has no place for religion

Out of vogue

 

Trends

 

But I have Carol

I have the church

I have sacred community

Which means more than any trend

I live my own life

I pay the consequences, reap the rewards

And think very little about some social construct of vogue