Sunday, October 17, 2004

Franz Wright

I heard Franz Wright read his poetry last night in Concord. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his recent collection, Walking To Martha's Vineyard. He's a great poet. He's a rather grumbly, funny reader. It was a lovely event.

I've studied a lot of poetry, I've written poetry, but getting a Master of Fine Arts degree at Columbia University in Fiction Writing, sets me up on the OTHER side of room, so to speak from the poets. In fact, last night I went to the reading with my friend who also went to Columbia and is a poet, Matthew Epstein. We were at Columbia at almost at the exact same time, but never met there. We met last year in a bookstore, and only happened to stumble on the fact that we both went to Columbia for the MFA as we got to be friends.

But in case I haven't made it clear, poets and the fiction writers are a bit like the Red Sox and the Yankees, oil and water, cats and dogs-- they don't always see eye to eye. Last night, in a room full of poets, I found their endless raw emotionalism and soul-searching really irksome. They are so hooked on words. They can have their adjectives, give me the verbs.

I told Matthew one of the reasons I veered away from poetry and towards fiction (besides not being any good at poetry) is that it always seemed to me that poets enjoyed wandering those rather dark alleys of the mind, boldly romping towards depression and I was NOT into that.

I said that when it came to literary self-destruction, it seemed like poets chose suicide often as not where fiction writers preferred adultery and whiskey to obliterate their lives. I guess neither path has much to recommend it, but at least one has more of an out-reaching urge. He didn't buy my theories.

Poets just give me the heeby-jeebies. They are willing to be so emotionally raw and open -- it's like people who want to walk around with no skin on. Ouch. How do people LIVE like that?! Of course, the truth is, I always feel inferior when hanging out with poets. They get closer and deeper to beauty and pain than any fiction writer ever does, I think. Their work seems more divine on some level. Again, a gross generalization, but really, who is more tender and brazen with words than the poets? Maybe lyricists, but that doesn't quite count, since they have music to create the one-two punch of real emotional depth.