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On Manifestos, Arrogance and Judgment

Manifestos are arrogant.

But so is any scribble to paper or canvas because art is an act of arrogance. When God created the world it was an act of arrogance.

The creation of a creation myth that ascribed creation to God was an act of arrogance.

Arrogance is an ugly trait. Silence, however, can signal oppression.

A manifesto is a lesser evil than no manifesto.

But be suspicious of manifestos. Pound’s manifesto for Imagism (1913) was contradicted by his manifesto for Vorticism (1914).

Anything you believe about poetry has an exception. You can espouse something for years, and then someone, somewhere, will write an effective poem that refutes what you have espoused.

‘There is more than one way to skin a cat’ may be the only statement about poetry that has no exception.

Empathise with your poems and apply empathy to others’ work. Don’t be quick to dismiss something that ‘isn’t to your taste.’ But dismissal is sometimes necessary to your integrity.

Eradicate any potential for boredom so your own poems are less likely to be dismissed.

Flirt with bad taste, then flirt with worse taste.

All poetic modes go in and out of fashion.

Issue-driven writing is beloved by publicists and journalists. Is it brave, cathartic or exploitative? Is it, in some measure, all three? Do you want to write poems that browbeat readers into a position of sympathy or approval? If you do, then make your poems worthy of your readers’ trust.

In life we are expected to tell the truth, but in art we can lie. Why wouldn’t we lie? Expect that other artists are lying too. Don’t presume autobiography except in the broadest sense, or unless the poet says that his/her work is memoir.

Your politics are likely to be egalitarian. You don’t have special admiration for individuals who went to posh fee-paying schools. Why, then, would you have unquestioning admiration for poems with prestigious publishers or whose authors appear on lists?

Don’t be arrogant, except in your art. Be your ugliest and most beautiful self in your art.


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Image Credits:

Image: Eno Transmission Center, Oil on canvas. Collection Laura Davey Solomon, New York. Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery, New York.

Image credit: Angela Dufresne