THE TYPE A POET; or
Free Floating Hostility
Drive to Self-destruction
Increasingly, these characteristics can be seen in poets of all ages. Talk about insecurity of status. A poet cant freelance and make enough money writing poetry to support herself in the mannour to which shed like to become accustomed.
Talk about drive to self-destruction. Remember the immortal lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay?
I burn my candle at both ends,
It will not last the night
But oh my foes and oh my friends,
It makes a lovely light.
[Less well-known are the mortal lines of Samuel Hoffenstein:
I burned my candle at both ends,
And now I have neither foes nor friends;
For all the lovely light begotten,
Im paying now in feeling rotten.]
Status insecurity and self-destructiveness aside, the Type-A Poet poses another, perhaps more insidious threat to our culture. The Type-A Poet jeopardizes the very foundations of the poetry. Like virtually all classic Type-A personalities, the Type-A Poet tends to be an aggressive, hyperproductive person, success-oriented, intense and driven.
The Type-A Poet threatens the poetry industry in much the same way that renegade diamond producers undermine the diamond industry, and in the same way that the discovery of new oil deposits threatens the Seven Sisters and OPEC.
A surplus of diamonds brings down the price of gem quality stones.
Therefore, as everyone knows, diamond production is carefully controlled by an
international cartel so that sparkling chips of carbon can continue to be a girls
best friend at an inflated price. Without the cartel, the diamond would be equally
available to the Colonels Lady and Judy OGrady, at a dime a dozen.
Similarly OPEC keeps oil prices artificially high by the pretence of exploratory drilling and the continuance of a carefully controlled flow in a time of actual surplus stocks (not to mention a conspiracy against the mass production of methane and hydrogen powered vehicles).
In the field of poetry, however, there are no cartels to control verse production. There is no Organization of Poetry Producing Regions (OPPR) to set poetry export quotas. Alas, there are no poetry unions with covert slow-down rules to regulate the fabrication and manufacture of verse.
In effect, every poet is an unregulated entrepreneuran untrammeled gyppowith fealty to Self only, and liege to the sun.
Fortunately, most poets have an innate governor, an internal controller that
regulates output. They ordinarily do not one should say, cannot
dash off a poem every 30 minutes, like a Toyota or an Apple computer coming off a
robot-manned assembly line.
For most poets, the assembly of a poem takes more time. It takes a period of gestation and incubation following the shimmering, and frequently discombobulating, burst of inspiration. (Walt Whitman: I was simmering, simmering, simmering Emerson brought me to a boil.)
The actual writing inditing of a poem may be done in white hot passion. But then the artificer allows the creation to cool, and she revises, rewrites seeking the apt expression, the precise objective correlative, le mot juste that makes the poem formally and organically whole. [OED2: 1717 Prior To the Earl of Oxford 4 Smiling, bid her freely write What her happy thoughts indite.]
In other words, this gyppo poet poses little or no threat to the Art. In fact, the average bard, by stressing the difficulty of writing poetry by dwelling on the excruciating agonies of the exquisite sensibilities of poethood serves to enhance the mystique surrounding poetic creation.
The Type-A Poet is, as Walt Kelley put it, a horse of another feather. The Type-A Poet does not bide her time and wait for inspiration to strike. Nor does she coyly court the Muses.
The Type-A Poet takes the daughters of Memnosysne and Zeus by the horns and turns them every way but loose. The Type-A Poet did not graduate from a Poetry Assertiveness Training Workshop. She invented it.
Translated into practice: The Type-A Poet writes with an almost demonic possession, with a fury unconstrained by traditional values. Writes with a contempt for moderation, for boundaries, for anything that stands in the way of writing and publishing. There is no mystique, no creative agony, and definitely no writer's block words are mere grist for the poetry mills, for the electronic typewriters, the ubiquitous computers and wordprocessors.
When X. J. Kennedy wrote To a Now-Type Poet, he undoubtedly had a Type-A Poet in mind:
Your stoned heads least whim jotted down white hot?
Enough confusion of my own, Ive got.
For the Type-A Poet, writing a poem is no longer a communion with the Muse, a sacred engagement with the wellsprings of Art. Writing becomes routine, like doing the dishes. The prolific propensities of the Type-A Poet have resulted in the routinization of poetry. The only rule is: Get in print at any cost. [The Y2K rule is: Get a web page at any cost.]
Robert Frost once commented that writing free form verse was like playing tennis with the net down. The Type-A Poet doesnt care if the nets down. The Type-A Poet doesnt care if theres a net at all. To hell with nets! comes the Type-A Poets shrill manifesto. To hell with rackets, and to hell with balls!
And, one might add, to hell with quality control. Productions the bottom line. Units of poetry.
Think: Output . . . and Quota.
You do not ask your Type-A Poet, How many poems did you write today? You ask, How many books did you write today?
In the early l970s, guru Sri ChinmoyThe Worlds Greatest Poet
was given a party in lower Manhattan by his disciples. The celebration honored the
gurus great feat of writing 208 poems in one day, handily eclipsing his former
all-time high of one hundred and five poems in a single day.
They are one indivisible
They are one invincible
They are one a tornado
of Gods stupendous smile
Toppling the towers of sorrow
Fear and defeat.
In a recent year, one widely published poet who teaches at a university in Utah had five books of poetry published. He was then still in his thirties. At that rate of publication, if he lives his biblical threescore and ten, his collected works can easily reach 100-200 volumes, all other things being equal.
Is he a Type-A Poet? Well, if it walks like a Type-A Poet, smells like a Type-A Poet, talks like a Type-A Poet and writes like a Type-A Poet . . . .
Other exemplars of the Type-A Poet syndrome:
But aren't these examples just harmless manifestations of the itch to publish?
Here's what sociologist Robert K. Merton wrote about the so-called harmless itch to publish: Physicians of the soul will at once see beneath this plain English phrase and recognise the malignant disease known since the days of Juvenal, as the insanible scribendi cacoethes.
It strikes scholars and scientists, says Merton, and appears to be propagated by carriers who have been abundantly rewarded for effusions of print. Merton adds ominously, . . .[W]ith the growth in the number of periodicals and with the urgent needs of publishers to keep their presses busy, the disease threatens to become endemic. [On the Shoulders of Giants]
Merton made his observations in 1965. Much earlier, in the 18th century, Jonathan Swift recorded symptoms of his affliction, his incurable disease, which seemed to turn everthing into poetry:
And since too oft debauchd by praise,
Tis now grown an incurable disease:
In vain to quench this foolish fire I try
In wisdom and philosophy:
In vain all wholesome herbs I sow,
Where nought but weeds will grow;
What eer I plant (like corn on barren earth),
By an equivocal birth,
Seeds, and runs up poetry.
With the microcomputer revolution and the explosive growth in quick-print technology, the disease is not merely endemic it is epidemic and pandemic. OED2 :: 1713 Addison Spect. No. 532 31 Juvenal terms [this distemper] a Cacoethes, which is a hard word for a disease called in plain English, The itch of writing. This Cacoethes is as epidemical as the small pox.
Other non-infected poets have seen the hazards stemming from the untreated Type-A Poet: In her journals, Sylvia Plath expressed her revulsion for the pressure-cooker poetry dashed off by poet Ralph Rogers:
Rogers sickened Ted and me the minute he walked into Pauls living room with his slick nervous smile, his jittery huckster hand jingling money in his pants pocket. . . . Ralph Rogers, it develops, has a handy little storage closet (personal, private) called the subconscious or, more glibly, the subliminal, where he tosses all his old dreams, his ideas and visions. Buzz, snip, handy little demons get to work, and presto! a few hours, days or months later he writes out a poemzip-zip. . . . Why anyone can write; He even wrote a poem in twenty minutes on stage for a show called Creation While you Watchone guy improvised mood music, another painted while Ralph Rogers fished up a mood poem in his unconscious and wrote it on the blackboardthats pressure-cooker poetry.
Is there a cure for the Type-A Poet? In l872, Oliver Wendell Holmes waggishly suggested a kind of literary police to control poets out of control. Naturally, the First Amendment precludes such tactics. And, in fact, Holmes had more charitable counsel:
If I were a literary Pope sending out an Encyclical, I would tell these inexperienced young persons [who have literary aspirations] that nothing is so frequent as to mistake an ordinary human gift for a special and extraordinary endowment. . . [N]obody except editors and school teachers and here and there a literary man knows how common is the capacity of rhyming and prattling in readable prose, especially among young women of a certain degree of education. In my character of Pontiff, I should tell these young persons that most of them labored under a delusion. It is very hard to believe it; one feels so full of intelligence and so decidedly superior to ones dull relations and schoolmates; one writes so easily and the lines sound so prettily to ones self; there are such felicities of expression, just like those we hear quoted from the great poets; and besides one has been told by so many friends that all one had to do was to print and be famous! Delusion, my poor dear, delusion, at least nineteen times out twenty, yes, ninety-nine times in a hundred.
As with every compulsive behavior from alcoholism and cocaine addiction to gambling, smoking and sex addiction the best course is complete abstinence from the self-destructive activity. [See William James on habit.]
Type-A Poets could form self-help groups, Poets Anonymous (PA), for social support. And Type-A Poets might benefit from eating lower on the hog by adhering to a lowfat dietary regimen rich in legumes, complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber.
In addition to improved diet and noncompetitive exercise, the Type-A Poet should engage in some form of stress management. There are a variety of excellent stress reduction techniques to choose from, ranging from Jacobsons classic Progressive Relaxation techniques to Dr. Herbert Bensons streamlined version the highly touted 20-minute Relaxation Response ideal for frenetic Type-A poets-on-the-go.
The importance of curbing the spread of the Type-A Poet cannot be overemphasized. In a poet, cacoethes scribendi is an insidious monomania, to be sure. But more important, the Type-A Poet poses a hazard to the Art itself, poses a clear and present danger to the survival of poetry in our time. You are either part of the solution, or you are part of the problem.
If you want to be part of the solution, you might want to check your own Type-A Poet symptoms by taking the simple, but profoundly useful, quiz on the next page:
©1999, 2000 Mark Worden, Morris Street Writers Group
|The Type-A Poet (or Cacoethes Scribendi),is part of a series on poetry, Advice To Young Poets, which includes A Lucidist Manifesto, The Worden Report, Aid to Dependent Poets, The Guinness Gambit, Tips on Marketing, Science & Poetry, Poetry & Health, etc. Many of these pieces first appeared as guest editorials in The Small Press Review umpteen years ago.|