Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Ethics of Creative Non-Fiction and Proposition 8 (Part Two of a Series)

It’s always been odd to me that so many poets turn to writing memoir. Out of cynicism you could say that younger writers do this for a job: recently most of the MLA advertisements ask for at least some sort of accomplishment in non-fiction. This was one of several reasons why I began non-fiction. Health insurance seemed like a good thing to have.

Always having an interest in the autobiographical, I felt a certain amount of self-consciousness and shame in doing so. I still feel that the writing of the personal is a lesser, somewhat embarrassing endeavor, as I explained in the last post.

For me, memoir equals uncreative non-fiction. (This term creative non-fiction has, I feel, received a bad rap. As a pedagogical tool, it has benefits—something I will address in a later post).

As an undergraduate, the discovering of line and the exploration of the ways lines can look on the page excited me. To me, it also justified my use of the autobiographical. The personal was invigorated and redeemed by putting the material into a poem.

As I finished my first poetry manuscript, I noticed that my lines were growing longer and longer. This made me nervous.

This is what also made me nervous: I didn’t care how the lines were arranged on the page. I just wanted them to be there.

These moves also begged a central question: if I wasn’t paying attention and essentially ignored the basic units of poetry (the line and its look) how could I continue to justifiably shape the material into a poem?

It seemed like an unethical act.

Essentially, I was showing disrespect to poetry, something I loved.

Why call something by a name, if you no longer produced something that embodied that label?

I had no choice but to stop writing poetry until I figured out why I was compelled to do so.

That might be why lately I’ve written less poetry.

I suppose it may sound like a silly thing, but I’ve always feel that to not be interested in the primary formal issues of a particular genre means you should not write in it any longer. And for me, the line and the look are two of the most important formal issues of poetry.

I do understand that some people want to blur the lines of the lyric and non-fiction when possible. Call it the lyric essay. But that has always felt to me a preposterous undertaking. It seems like a self-justification, a lack of ethical courage to call something by an appropriate name.

With measures like Proposition 8, naming becomes even more important. People labeled homosexual cannot marry. To say that we shouldn’t name, we’re limiting ourselves, continues to allow for institutionalized discrimination. Our labels matter to the nation. By elasticizing the labels of our artistic creation encourages more of the same in other walks of life. Such as our art.

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