The world has become an increasingly ruthless battlefield. The war over a seeming limitless resource—attention (which certainly does have a limit). And though it is often misleading to make comparisons across time, I think “My Melody” would have a difficult time securing media space in the present media landscape where so much of what we consume (or what we are encouraged to consume) is compressed and quickly digestible (if you can even call what most of us do with media “digestion”). Yes, there are pieces such as Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids”—running almost ten minutes—but I’ve never heard the song or seen the video broadcast entirely (not that I actually watch television or listen to anything but NPR).
These contemplations often bring me back to what I find frustrating about so much contemporary poetry—the lack of urgency, the ignorance, or unwillingness to accept, that it too exists on that battlefield where a high-tech war is being waged over the attention of human being. Were it something I could shout at journals, or at readings or even at my students sometimes, it would be this: “Interesting isn’t good enough!” Or, even more of an egregious assumption, merely interesting to you as the author.
I am not suggesting that curiosity and/or obsession are futile or unworthy spaces from which to begin writing, but in a world where so many screens—our tablets, our phones, our glasses and even watches—are competing for our attention (and we are, by nature, more visual- than text-sensitive), shouldn't poems have an awareness of not only how they may be interesting but also compelling, how they intend to attempt compulsion? Compulsion not propaganda—the latter has a more specific, too specific, ideological aim. But I see nothing wrong with writing that takes as its task compelling people to reengage and consider their humanity. A writer just acting out some curiosity on a page and hoping the reader comes along for the ride is, to me, an increasingly unrealistic desire. The work of poetry—the “labor,” as Amiri Baraka said—is to use language to communicate, to connect and pull us out of the orbits we have established around ourselves. I know the sensation of reading a poem that compels me to feel. I know the numbness of reading a poem and waiting for it to decide what, if anything, is the import of its words—its significance to me as a human being and not some idea-addicted text glutton. And I am a generous reader—it’s my job to be—so imagine everyone else for whose attention you are competing. And why are we writing if we are not seeking to communicate to, or connect with, as many fellow human beings as possible? The assumption that poetry is niche--is that a product of people’s reading habits or a product of poets' approach to poetry—what it is; how it speaks; and who should be reading it?
Writing, or rather getting a piece to the point where I am ready to release it to the world, has become much easier for me since I stopped thinking about creation as a relationship between myself and the art and started thinking of it as, primarily, a relationship between the art and the world. As a writer, that is a world of difference when it comes to accountability and focus.
There really are no “radio edits” in poetry. You have to deal with the whole as the author intended. Poets don’t have deejays to chop them up and make their art easier to consume. And I am not suggesting that it is towards “ease” that poets should be aspire but, rather, human urgency—so that when you do get that one moment before a modern readers’ eyes, a moment cached in a blur of other interesting stimuli, your poem is more than just that, written stimuli. Imagine, in that moment, that your poem allows readers to experience the implication of their own humanity in your work. It would likely transcend fodder. It would stem the acceleration of our days—not click-bait but stay-bait. That’s how I feel when I listen to “My Melody.” I know there are a million things flying around my head, but I also know that I want to be present this the song because it has made the effort to reach into me as opposed attempting to project itself on me, assuming I’ll be there to act as its screen.
I guess I could have just said sincerity beats assumption and saved myself six paragraphs. I could have said sweat the technique, too.