Wednesday, November 23, 2011

FINE ABSENCE, by Anne Bauer

Just finished reading FINE ABSENCE, a poetry chapbook by Anne Bauer. It is excellent, nearly every poem a knockout. But what it leaves me ruminating on now, in these moments following two consecutive read-throughs, is the question of Writing About Personal Topics, and especially Intending for Those Topics to be Read by an Audience.

FINE ABSENCE takes as its general theme the gap that death creates in the lives of those left living. More specifically, many of the poems Bauer includes in this collection are written about, and in the wake of, her father's passing. They are beautiful poems, remarkable for the intimacy of emotion they reveal. And that's what makes me wonder, now, what it means to write of a real, specific, intimate relationship in a forum meant for the public, for an amorphous mass of people you'll never know personally.

I suppose it's possible that the publication of FINE ABSENCE was a sort of accident, that it entailed no effort on the part of Bauer, that she submitted the collection to the Pavement Saw Press chapbook competition (which she won, which is why the collection was published) merely on a whim, that it was accepted and published so quickly and smoothly that Bauer never really had the time or inclination to consider the concept of an audience. Or, I suppose, it's also possible that someone else submitted the collection on her behalf, that it was accepted and published without any effort or desire on her part (that's what happened with Emily Dickinson, after all). But from what I know about poetry publication, these hypothetical scenarios are pretty unlikely. In almost every case, getting a collection of poetry published demands a significant level of committed effort from the author.

Of course, in this particular case I am grateful that Bauer made the effort, because otherwise I'd never have had a chance to read it. But still I wonder: what does it mean to write about the intimately personal and then make efforts to share that writing with an impersonal mass of people you'll never know?

And of course, I write poetry too, and until the last year I worked at getting my poetry published. Even now that I've lost interest in the submission process, when I write poems there is always, at some level, the idea that the poem is an effort to communicate with other people. I'm not just jotting down thoughts for my edification--there is always, to some extent, the goal to produce something with potential value to a greater audience than just my own self.

Why? Why do poets mine their personal lives for material to be presented to a public (a public which, it must be said, really isn't actually clamoring for poetry)? Why are poets driven to present their private selves to an anonymous crowd? Does it boil down to needy egos?


'The ghost with the most' said...

Would you put it over Boyle's Unpublished Blog Posts?

Marcos said...

Boyle and Bauer are writing different sort of poetry, and a comparison between them is sort of 'apples and oranges.' That said, I personally got more out of FINE ABSENCE.

'The ghost with the most' said...

They're both poetry. I see what you mean though. I just like comparisons. I just kind of started reading poetry. You should write a post about the different kinds. Might be cool.

Anne Bauer said...

Hi Marcos, I just this evening saw this post. Great blog! Thanks for your kind words about my poems. Glad you enjoyed them. While the poems are intensely personal, they are not all autobiographical. For example, I sometimes felt like my mother was the unstable one when I was growing up - fair or not - and that's how the mother in one poem came to be mentally ill. I was "telling it slant" in that instance to serve the truth of the poem. (I told Mom that people would think she was or had been ill, and asked if she wanted me to keep the publication on the down low. She said "no, if they know me, let them judge for themselves whether I am or not." Thanks, Mom.) That said, at least one who poet I hold in high regard disagrees and believes all poems must be autobiographical.

A needy ego could be a part of the reason why we write. I wouldn't be surprised. Poets and writers, after all, seek an audience time and again, we persist against a wall of near-constant rejection - for what? Validation? Something to put in our obits or to justify for our families the time we spent moving commas around? It could also be the work of our nobler human instincts to share our words in the hope of illuminating a truth and sparking connections with and for other people. The truth probably lies somewhere between those, between egotistic and altruistic. It's certainly not for money. Best regards, Anne Bauer

Marcos said...

Hi Anne. Thanks for visiting my blog, and for offering a comment. Interesting to know that FINE ABSENCE wasn't entirely autobiographical. You manage such an intimate tone in the collection that I never considered the possibility that you were 'telling it slant'. Makes me feel a bit foolish for making assumptions, though I suppose it says something about how well-crafted the poems are. It's really an excellent collection.

I hear what you're saying about writing for altruistic purposes, though personally I can't say that getting my stuff published has ever led to any significant feelings of human connection. Even on the very rare occasions of having had someone contact me to tell me something I wrote meant something to them, the main thing I've felt was a sort of awkwardness, a pressure to not spoil their esteem for my piece by fumbling with the personal interaction. Any connection that results seems pretty miniscule compared to something as plain (and relatively effortless) as having a chat with a friend.