you should never tell your students to write what they know because, of course, they know nothing

The more delicate components of the work pay attention to craft. I’m probably technically oriented and it seems to me that among the poets that I know, many are very lazy and very dumb. I always joke with my students that poetry couldn’t possibly be as hard as they think it is, because if it were as hard as they thought it was, poets wouldn’t do it. Really, they’re the laziest, stupidest people I know. They became poets in part because they were demoted to that job, right? You should never tell your students to write what they know because, of course, they know nothing: they’re poets! If they knew something, they’d be in that disciple actually doing it: they’d be in history or physics or math or business or whatever it is where they could excel. I find this very distressing that the challenge of being a poet in effect to showcase something wondrous or uncanny, if not sublime, about the use of language itself, that we tend to think that because we’re conditioned to use language every day as part of a social contract, we should all be incipient poets, when in fact people have actually dedicated years or decades of their lives to this kind of practice in order to become adept at it and I think that craft and technique are part of that.

- Christian Bök, from Q&A of a talk at Kelly Writers House, UPenn, November 18, 2009, as quoted by Kenneth Goldsmith on the Harriet blog.

p.s. Want some CanCon bonus points? You can hear him say almost the same thing while on Canadian soil one week later at The Cage Match of Canadian Poetry (with Carmine Starnino).

p.p.s. Who says the "avant-garde" and "mainstream" can't agree on anything?


Zachariah Wells said...

Wow, I had the impression that much of what Bok was saying in the "cage match" was rehearsed boiler plate, but that's unreal. No wonder he came off sounding like a politician in mid-campaign, while Carmine actually seemed to be trying to answer questions.

Rob Taylor said...

I'm sure he gets a lot of stock questions, so having a few stock answers seems reasonable enough, if a bit dull (for him as much as for us).

Personally, I'd be annoyed only if the stock answers weren't entertaining, so I think he can get away with it this time...