Sunday, August 28, 2011
Poetry, History, and Philosophy
Poetry is more important than history or philosophy.
This is Andrew and Ariel-- they went to Book Expo of America for my publisher, Dreamspinner, this year, back in May. While they were there, a friend of mine from the Paranormal Romance Guild, another writer, Marianne Morea, saw my name, and said, "I know Amy!" and Andrew and Ariel said, "So do we!" and this picture was taken.
They're holding my titles.
This picture means a lot to me.
Besides the obvious--and most important--thing of finding friends in an industry that is, by nature, isolated, there's that whole "holding my titles" thing.
When I taught high school, I had quotes ALL over my room, including the one by Aristotle, up by the clock. It's got some interesting ramifications.
Back in the day--you know, when Aristotle roamed the earth and everything looked like the Houses of the Holy album cover by Led Zeppelin--poetry didn't strictly refer to the short lyric poem that everyone thinks of today, and it didn't just refer to the big, scary epic poems of Homer or Virgil or even Ovid, either. Back in the day, poetry also referred to the plays, both comic and tragic that were the core of the Greek Theatre (upon which the Renaissance theatre was based, and therefore, much of what we know about theatre now!)
One of Aristotle's crowning achievements was his "manual for writing and understanding fiction", Poetics. Some of his stuff, we take it upon ourselves to ignore--his insistence that a play only cover the span of twenty-four hours, for example, we feel free to wreak havoc with--but that doesn't mean it's not still with us. Some people think that the reason Romeo and Juliet meet, get married, get it on, and get dead, all in the span of a week was that Willy-boy was trying to follow the rules. He ended up breaking the in a big way with a lot of his other works, but remember, R&J was one of his early creations, and he hadn't quite found a way to tell Aristotle to piss off, he had his own voice, by then. The rules of Epic Poetry and the rules of a Tragic Hero and the Satiric Hero (I capitalize these concepts because I love them, and they are my friends) were Aristotle's, so we can all concede, boyfriend knew his shit. And boyfriend's shit was related to poetry. Today, when we're not talking about lyric poetry (which, granted, we hear more in music today, although there are some perfectly magnificent actual poets out there) we're talking epic or historical poems (fiction books) or plays (movies or theatre).
So, while that quote seems to apply just to hearts and flowers and Cavalier poets talking out their peen, what it really is talking about, is fiction.
I had the hardest time getting this idea across to my students.
See, here's the thing. How many of us watch the news and memorize parts of it? Hands up? Anyone? There's just too much to know, isn't there? How many of us have lived through actual warfare? Some of us, I know--there are veterans out there, to whom I am grateful every day--but in actual numbers, compared to the everyday citizen? Not so much.
Now how many of us remember who was the leader of the Department of Defense when the war in Iraq began? How about the Speaker of the House? Which countries are we occupying right now? Who are the leaders there? Do the populations in those countries support us or not? What is our personal philosophy regarding these occupations--do we have it sorted out for each political cause and are we sure we know which political cause is which in the Middle East? (Someone reading this probably has their shit sorted and their deets documented for this one--and I salute you. Hell, I kiss the ground at your bloody feet for it--because every time I try, I get the same mental block that I get when I try to remember which of the cube-like buildings in the Intel complex my husband works in. I don't care if it's the only two story one--they all look the same and my eyes glaze over and I end up driving to the wrong one on principle!)
Now how many of us watched The Green Zone, or The Hurt Locker, or The Messenger and cried, raged, tore our hair out or bit our nails in response to what the characters went through and the basic injustices
That is the difference between History, Philosophy, and Poetry.
History can inform, Philosophy can debate, but Poetry, and Poetry only, can create human beings out of information and opinion and give them life and make us feel for them and make us root for them and make us take their history and philosophy and internalize it and make it ours.
Poetry is the humanizing force behind the other two--and perhaps the most difficult to achieve. The Historian documents, and the Philosopher argues--Poetry does both. Poetry incorporates the time, the place, the pressures, the pain, and using characters, gives the cause voice. It's one thing to hear news reports about "casualties resulting in the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction"--but unless you were there, you don't see the crushing frustration, anger, confusion, and sheer, stinking rage that come with the blurb on the news, do you? Well, not unless someone turns that situation into poetry.
Pilgrim's Progress, the allegory my daughter was subjected to when she attended parochial school, is all about the Christians turning their histories and philosophies into literature. My daughter may not remember her Bible verses, but you can bet your ass she remembers Pilgrim's Progress--because that is the power of poetry.
I remember, back in the early eighties, I bought a lot of the Harlequin Presents romances, and the Silhouette ones as well. They were short, they were sweet, and I read some of them ad infinitum, even though the heroine was always virginal, the hero was always older, and the girl's virginity seemed to be of paramount importance to the entire transaction of falling in love. In the early nineties, I told Mate that the romances took a shift, and those same once-virginal girls were now divorcing the controlling bastards they'd fallen for when they were nineteen and marrying a guy who wouldn't mind changing diapers once in a while. The times had changed, and so had the romances. By the late nineties, the girls were not just not guarding their virginity like it was plutonium (thank Goddess!) they were also kicking ass, being spies, being Slayers, being tough, being smart, being whatever the fuck they wanted, including stay-at-home mommies if they were so inclined.
That poetry right there--and I know a fuckton of men who would laugh their balls off at the thought--changed the fucking world, and it changed it for the better.
Now, there are writers like me, who write about "non-traditional" families. It's not just the straight men and women getting laid who get to have the happily ever after. Now, the gay men and women get to have theirs too.
Still. Fucking. Poetry. Still important. Still the unstoppable combination of history, philosophy, and humanity to change the goddamned world.
So I'm bringing this up why?
I mean, my actual 'history' this weekend was pretty intense-- we had soccer opening day yesterday, got to watch my daughter officiate her first (three!) games, and watch her father give her "whistle blowing lessons" at the end of the first one because she needed to blow that thing with POWER, right? Got to watch Squish run around in a knot with a bunch of other kids, and got to watch Zoomboy get his pants beat off by ten year olds when he's only seven. Got to come home and be exhausted and knit and stare blankly at the screen and try to write. And that was just yesterday! Today there was Sun Splash, a water park with waterslides, where I went with my family. I wasn't planning to go, because I've got a deadline and the kids were tired, and we were going to chill, but at the last fucking gasp I changed direction and took the little kids with me and my husband and my friend and the big kids, and go we did.
I went to Sun Splash because this morning, I had one of those painful family conversations where you try to tell your parents something and they don't listen, and they tell you that you're wasting your life and your talents and you don't know what the real world is all about. After that conversation I didn't want to sit home and sulk when i should have been writing because I've got a deadline coming and I need to get my ass in gear.
My parents were telling me that writing fiction was not important. I needed to do something "important" with my life, and it would be one thing if I was writing "important" stuff, but what I'm doing isn't "important."
You can't bring Aristotle and Shakespeare and Homer and Virgil and The Hurt Locker and The Green Zone and old Harlequin Romances and Buffy the Vampire Slayer into an argument with your mother. You just can't. She'll accuse you of changing the subject.
She just doesn't get that those things ARE the subject, and that they ARE important, and they ARE changing the world.
Because those things are Poetry. And Poetry is more important than History or Philosophy.
And Poetry (of the modern, fictionalized sort!) is what I write--and what my friends write (waves at Ariel and Andrew)--and it is iron in my blood because I think it drives the world.
And what we do is important.