Lately have been dwelling (in a very inconclusive way) on the relation between poetry & the poet-as-person. Actually this started a week or so ago, I think, with an odd sort of "involuntary memory" of Proust. Proust just popped into my mind, out of nowhere. & then a few days later I was having this slight memory, which seems to recur every few years, of being absorbed in reading French poets (Rimbaud, Baudelaire) in high school. Sitting on this kind of outdoor porch, barefoot, with a paperback & a french dictionary. & then have been thinking more lately about an old manuscript of mine (currently under consideration by a publisher), which combines prose & poetry - a memoir-fiction & the poems that came out of it.
Anyway, what am I rambling on about here? Vague thoughts lately about the public figure or dramatic impression that a poet makes in today's culture(s). The "public career", the image, the impression. Exactly how poets emerge (so variously) into public view. & what all this has to do with the poetry itself.
Forever, it seems, I've behaved as a kind of purist - trying to avoid any "extra-literary" manipulation of public taste. No po-biz for me. No chumming up with potential supporters among more-established poets. No cliques. No careerism. "Pure" in that I see all that as diluting - corrupting, even - any honest, disinterested appreciation of the work itself.
I still feel that way. But I'm starting to think there is a kind of gray area between the poet & the work - which is the dramatic figure the poet cuts in society. Basically, this involves the relation between the poems and the author's presentation of personal experience (autobiography, identity). This is not necessarily solitary or narcissistic, if the presentation of that experience has a moral-historical dimension - a critical dimension.
Anyway, I'm wondering how much culture demands not only poems, but poets. Poets whose articulation and transmission of their individual history - their own sense of their historical situation and context - is felt as necessary by culture at large.
Not sure if this makes any sense. In a way it's a sort of chicken-&-egg dilemma. There's no public interest, if the poems are not forcefully magnetic in their own right. But perhaps the dramatization of the poet's experience - the poet's self-dramatization - is a necessary part of that magnetism. (Geoffrey Freidin's interesting book on Mandelstam, A Coat of Many Colors, dwells on this issue of the "charismatic" element in Russian poetry.) If culture is one big drama - if all the world's a stage, & history is a play ("Everyman") - then perhaps culture demands (on some semi-conscious level?) the poet as representative figure.
I suppose Emerson had something to say about that. & Walt was listening. (& Robert Frost - look at the carefully-designed folksy figure he cut in the world!)
My wondering has to do with what all that has to do with poetry-making itself? & where do I fit into all that? (Here's "Henry", folks - trying to dig himself out of 100 yrs of Impersonality!!)
There has been the insistent playing around with autobiography as a kind of iconic literary re-enactment - the Berrymanish "Henry" chronicles; Stubborn Grew as a version of Rabelais... But thinking of my (unpublished) memoir-poetry mix - I'm wondering whether somehow the autobiographical offers the (potential) public a (potential) entrance into my poetry : a way to finally apprehend its existence - to enjoy it for what it actually is (in its own proper context & milieu)...
(It's definitely a comedy, all right. Call it Wishful Thinking, or something like that.)
Heck, what a huge kermuffle this issue has been over the last 100 yrs. The modernist demand for objectivity, impersonality - the sense that the making of a work of art is unfinished or illegitimate if it doesn't transcend the personal. There are libraries full of books on artistic subjectivity, identity, personality, impersonality...