Saturday, November 12, 2005

On the Process of Writing a Poem - Language and an "Asian-American" Identity?

When you are writing the first draft of a poem, do you pay attention to your use of language or to an "identity" of yours (racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, gender, etc.)? If you have been following this blog, you may think that I have blogged extensively about this subject before, but I have not. Here I am speaking of the actual process of making a poem.

Essentially, I am personalizing the identity-language debate, making it a debate concerning one's own work. There is no right or wrong answer, because I am asking what "you" actually do in the composition of a poem, and no government is not big enough yet to stop you from your own individual act of artistic creation.

Here is my own opinion: First, if you do not care whether you are writing a good or bad poem, if you are not writing for the sake of the art of poetry, if you do not want to publish, then this question should not matter to you. You should feel free to write random goobledygook about daisies in Lichtenstein or rant all about cruising down the mean streets of Monterey Park in the Honda that your parents bought for you. This is not a poetry-fascist state: we have so many stresses in our daily lives that it would be unfair of me to argue for denying the right of people to compose poems just for the pure fun of it without being burdened by the pressures and pleasures of craft.

Second, if you do care, I think that both a veering towards language and a veering towards identity present opportunities and perils. If you choose the former, focusing on words and sounds and the structure of language, then you may come up with a highly original poem in terms of style and language, but you risk losing the emotional center of your poem -- the deep-down feeling that drove you to write it in the first place and presumably will drive your readers to enjoy reading it. If you choose the latter, for example, focusing on your Korean-American identity, then you may get your point across forcefully, but you risk losing the ability to turn well-crafted, original phrases that can startle, entertain, and illuminate the complex intricacies of language and life.

Third, at this point in my life, I would have to say that I am focusing more on the language and craft of the poem, while I am writing a poem myself. Of course, I think that it always depends on the particular poem. But I am not purposefully channeling everything into any one identity in general, which I am enjoying and think is good, because it helps liberate me from being too obvious or preachy, even though this does not mean that my poems are not still haunted by multiple questions of identity.

But do not take anything here as the final word. With each poem, as a reader and writer, I try to bring to the table an open-mindedness, hoping that my own perspective on poetry will change for the better, whatever that "goodness" or "betterness" may entail, and these days, as always, it is nice to have hope for the good.


Blogger hamal said...

Thanks for the insight on your process. I have for some time been thinking a lot about what kind of awareness is happening when I am driven to writing a poem. I often find myself cramped up with many inhibitions and head trip:
am I being too "inside"?
shouldn't I be making a statement and what kind?
what would Lawson Inada think of this?
what would my favorite fifth grade teacher think of this?
is this really me or is it Satan? shouldn't I be doing the laundry instead?

By the way, your blog is one of my favorite blogs in the world.

3:25 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Hamal, thanks! Yeah, I think that it is important to think about the writing process, at least from time to time.

3:42 PM  
Blogger faceturnsread said...

In my writing I've also come across having to select which identity to write under...sometimes, even when I come across a poem I feel I'm forced into a I read/write as a poet or do I read/write as a Filipina American/Person of Color? I've come across many writers (Whitman for one) who's craft and technique I respect, but who's politics I am at odds with. It's a difficult positionto be in.

I think my approach and goal now is to do both, to reconcile the craft and the personal/social politics of identity in a poem. At the same time I feel to be able to do that I need to find readers who can call me on both the craft and cultural elements.

4:17 AM  

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