Thursday, June 01, 2006

Serving poetry, with a side of religion

I’m here to serve poetry. It’s not here to serve me. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it’s not always so easy to live by.

As long as I was just writing stuff and putting it up on my blog for friends to look at and go “oooh”, poetry was an activity without consequences. Yes, I’m aware that as soon as you put something out on the Internet, it’s exposed to a potential audience of millions—but the key word there is “potential”. The number of personal blogs out there is huge and growing steadily. Most of the millions of people reading the Internet everyday will never see my blog, because it’s simply another grain of sand on the electronic beach.

I could have stayed content in my little safe zone. But, for those of you familiar with Blogspot’s templates—mine was originally their “Harbor” template, the one with the lighthouse and the nifty cloud pictures. Early on, I replaced the lighthouse with a bridge. (It’s the bridge at Astoria, for any fellow webfeet in the audience.) I don’t think I knew it at the time, but this blog is about going places, making connections, forging off into the unknown... knocking from inside.

Over the last year it’s become clear to me that I’m a poet with a mission. The mission seems to be this: to find the widest possible audience for the poems that come through me. To serve them up to as many readers and listeners as possible. To serve the cause of poetry, by kindling an interest, insh’Allah, by becoming the cause of poetry in others as well. I don’t see myself as an evangelist (God forbid), but I definitely have a message, or messages, to get out.

I’ve done things I never would have imagined I’d do: I’ve sent work to (and been published in) several online journals. I have stuff in submission at a number of paper journals. Poems from this blog have appeared in a number of other places around the Web and there are more to come: in the next few weeks I’ll be profiled at Asian-American Poetry and have some stuff up at Golden Lantern. I’ve also put a fair amount of effort into networking in the blogosphere: hosting the ProgFaithBlogCarn was a big step in that direction and I continue to stay active with it. All this from someone who’s basically asocial and introverted.

Serving poetry requires me to do some things I’d rather not. If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know that I’m a strong advocate of formal poetry as opposed to free verse (not that I don’t do free verse, I just don’t think one should do it all the time). I was paging through the Poet’s Market, looking for journals to submit to, and crossing off any that said “free verse only”. Then I pulled up short: “No, you don’t get to do that; you don’t get to cut yourself off from potential markets because of your personal preferences. You’re here to serve poetry.” The nafs said: “But... but what about my artistic integrity?” God said: “Shut up and do your job.” So, yeah, I’m submitting to some of those journals as well, though obviously I’m not sending them sonnets.

This is not to say I’ll submit to just anywhere. I had a small crisis of conscience when an online journal I was fairly excited about submitting to (one that favored formal poetry) turned out to be a contributor to “Poets For the War”, and had published some pretty hateful anti-Iraqi and anti-Islamic stuff. On the one hand, on stylistic grounds, this e-rag seemed like a good fit and could I afford to pass it up? On the other hand, how could I stand to support something like that? On the third hand, if they did accept any of my stuff (I thought it fairly likely they’d reject out of hand if they realized I was a Muslim), maybe I’d make a favorable impression and help soften some people’s attitudes?

I’m sorry to say there was no great moral resolution. I noticed the site hadn’t actually been updated since fall 2004 and the promised winter 2004 issue had never been posted... this was in fall 2005. My conscience doesn’t require me to think too hard about submitting to journals that are clearly defunct...

So what’s it all about? It’s about resisting those self-indulgent little urges. It’s one of the reasons I don’t write much poetry about myself and what’s going on in my life. It’s about making myself, not creative exactly, but “transmissive”. I work hard at transmitting the inspirations that come to me as clearly and effectively as I can, and it doesn’t stop with the words on paper: it goes on into the blogosphere, across the Internet, insh’Allah out into the sea of paper that surrounds us. It’s not going to get out there by itself, I have to push it.

Mostly it’s about remembering who really owns “my” poetry. I’ve written about this at some length here. This writing, this transmitting of poetry, is one of my ways of serving Allah, to Whom all things in the heavens and earth belong. The publishing part isn’t as much fun as the writing, but it’s a necessary part of the task.

1 comment:

jillypoet said...

I really enjoyed reading this. I admire how much thought you put into your poetry and your onw act of writing. Until now, I have just been writing poetry, never thinking about why. Thinking often about how to do it better, more often, with more success, but never thinking why?

You have given me much to think about. Thanks!