There’s no craft

by craigepplin

This is me writing as a fan and not a critic, to use a succinct formulation I once heard from a friend of mine.

I was on the bus the other day, browsing my Twitter feed, when I came across a link to an essay by my new favorite writer, the poet Eileen Myles. I first discovered her work when we published some of her poems in Rattapallax, and I had bought her book The Importance of Being Iceland (2009), which I read sporadically and abandoned in the bustle of moving to New York (too heavy to carry around while running errands; I become a complete bitch when I have to carry things around). But it’s after hearing her speak at the New School the other night and subsequently buying her novel Inferno (2010) that I really fell in love. I feel altered and resonant when I read her work. Anyway, the essay I read on my cracked-screen phone the other night has a beautiful section that I want to reproduce here. This is it:

Now when someone teaches craft in poetry or talks about the craft of poetry or gives a craft talk I’m chiefly disturbed in relationship to perfection. I think that is the aim of that craft talk. A relationship to the beautiful, the good. The better poem. And that seems antiquated to me. Because now is perfect, is beautiful, though deeply flawed. I believe in a historically assembled moment and a poem is a reflection of that. An assemblage. It’s made out of time, literally. So there’s no craft, but I can talk about time and making and art. Almost any art in some way but poetry.

It’s smart. Craft, she seems to be saying, is tied to an ahistorical concept of the poem, whereas the poem is a historical development. Not in the sense that the various forms of poetry (epic, for example, or lyrical poetry) are tied to historical conditions, which is of course true, but because every object is a historical becoming. A poem is an assemblage, a temporary accretion of energy that emerges from a turbulent flow. It’s a river that’s become an eddy, to use Manuel DeLanda’s terms. (He’s an author I was thrilled to see mentioned in Inferno.) Craft is not like that; it imagines the world as a placid lake. The world is not like that.

All this has been on my mind over the last couple days; I’ve also been making my way through DeLanda’s Philosophy and Simulation (2011) lately; that’s probably why.