I haven't truly blogged in months. I've been busy with finishing One More Theory About Happiness, bits of travel, work on other projects, managing unreliable health care assistants, the holidays, you know, life. It's been difficult to carve out enough time, or mental space, to write something for here.
But my memoir is finished and it's a new year. I feel a bit of clearing inside my head. Which seems right when I read the following comment, left by Anonymous:
"Paul, while I am happy about your success, your poetry is weak and pretentious. I think you realize that yourself. I find it disturbing that everything is being sold on your physical issues. Yes, you have many poets recommending your work as illustrated in "Index," but notice that everyone puts them in the context that you are disabled.
Personally, I would be offended if that is why people read or publish your poetry. You need to allow your poetry to speak for itself--I think you would realize that the poetry is not very good. If you realized that, it might lead you to be a good poet. No one is willing to give you true criticism--I suspect you know it."
Oh, where to begin, friends? I don't care, and am not hurt, that someone might dislike my poems. It's hardly a novel opinion, I'm sure. But there are many more crucial elements in this comment which are objectionable, presumptuous, offensive, and, in the end, just plain wrong.
It is a mistake to presume one knows what another person understands, what they "realize." I have not done so for you and would appreciate the same courtesy in return. Whether or not I agree or disagree with you, I know enough to avoid such basic rudeness. Maybe you do, maybe you don't.
As far as the blurbs which appear on the back of Index, you should know that blurbs often are edited. A blurb may arrive in much longer form, talking about many different aspects of a book. A publisher sometimes will shape blurbs to focus on one of those aspects, for whatever reasons. Ecco is an imprint of HarperCollins, one of the largest publishers in the world, and they create books in order to sell them. Blurbs are, it should be remembered, sales tools, a kind of ad or commercial. Not poems.
What I find disturbing is the tacit implication you make that disability, and all its very real trauma and difficulty, are not suitable subject material for poetry. Because that is precisely your point: that the presence of disability does not allow the poems to "speak" for themselves. That poetry cannot contain such material without being corrupted. This line of thinking is depressingly unimaginative, not to mention dangerous.
For a bit of close reading, this: you write, "Personally, I would be offended if that is why people read or publish your poetry." You say you would be offended if that is why people read my poetry. We are not the same person. You are not me. I suggest that this is the crux of the matter. There is a kind of blending in your mind between us. I don't know why. But it's this blurring which allows you to presume what I know. It's what enables your closing remarks: if only I would listen to you. If only.
My friend, I am lucky to be alive today. Consider the twisted line of your thinking when you suggest my disability has been some kind of help to my career. In truth, it is in most ways an absolute detriment. I type with a plastic stick in my mouth. One key at a time. I work hard. I truly hope you don't now know, and never have to, what I mean, what this is like. If you do, my hope is that you would know better.