Kona’s column 14: Dalliance or defection? Dipping the toes in prose
February 3, 2011
Writers and would-be writers are always being advised to “do a blog” for PR purposes, as though this were some mechanistic process akin to a self-assessment tax return or a used-car listing in the local classifieds.
Despite being something of an IT geek, with an acknowledged tendency to engender new websites on the most tenuous of justifications, I’ve spend years signally failing to “do a blog.” (I’ve had a “Poem Of The Week” section on one of my sites for several years, which is built using blog software, but presumably this doesn’t count because it consists of – you guessed it – poems, rather than “blog”.) I didn’t blog because I didn’t feel like I had anything in particular that I needed to blog about, and the Internet already contains a massive superfluity of dutiful and pointless daily vacuity.
However, I have a really rather clichéd tendency to dream up new projects over the Christmas holiday break, and this year was no exception. I’ve always had a vague intention (ok, ok, “pathetic recurring fantasy”) of writing a reflective, subjective non-fiction book that waltzes along the tops of all my favourite soapboxes, and to this end I’ve been keeping a file of notes, links and ramblings that might be relevant. Looking through this file in December, it dawned on me that the tantalisingly vaporous book might work just as well as a blog. Shortly after Christmas, ‘that elusive clarity’ was born, and I became another tiny cog in the rolling juggernaut that is the blogosphere.
I’ll be honest: as a poet, it’s pretty scary to commit to writing and publishing prose on a daily basis. All kinds of anxieties swim up: “Will I use up all my creativity on the blog, and have none left for poems?” “Will people like my prose more than my poetry?” “Am I doing this because I secretly want to run away from poems and ghostwrite salacious and lucrative celebrity memoirs instead?” I’m finding out the answers to these questions as I go along.
So far, I seem to have enough creative oomph to go around, but this doesn’t surprise me: if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past three years of weekly poem-posting, it’s that creativity is an abundant thing. It’s been interesting to find that certain preoccupations tend to feature in both spheres simultaneously; for example, when I first started the blog, I had a couple of posts about failure and a poem called How to fail in the same week. (Not much psychoanalysis required to understand that particular coincidence, methinks.)
As far as readership goes, prose-blogging has been a little bittersweet. Poets will publicly acknowledge that contemporary poetry has a relatively “select” audience, but privately we like to fantasize that everyone secretly adores it, and that the world is always rushing off to read poems on the quiet behind the bike sheds. Having both a poetry and a prose blog dispels this wishful imagining rather effectively; based on my current brief experience, it seems to be an order of magnitude easier to get people to read prose blog posts than it is to get them to read poems. (This could be because I’m a genius prose writer and/or a truly dire poet, I suppose, but somehow I don’t think the relative attention levels are much to do with the intrinsic quality of either blog). Perversely, I think this supports the idea of providing prose commentaries as a way of helping new readers begin to explore poetry, but that’s a different soapbox…
Regarding the temptations of jumping ship and abandoning poetry for prose – well, I don’t think that was ever a very realistic fear. I enjoy writing prose, and I think I’m benefiting in all kinds of ways from the discipline of daily blog posting, but the pleasure of writing poetry is quite different: more concentrated, less dominated by conscious reasoning, more revelatory, less evanescent. I don’t think I’d bother writing a blog if nobody read it (I could just keep a diary instead) – but I’d continue to write readerless poems “into the void”, because the act of reaching for them is so deliciously tantalising, the act of uncovering them so profoundly clarifying, the act of refining them so intrinsically satisfying. Whatever the rewards of blogging, I don’t think they’ll ever quite match up to that.
Kona Macphee is a UK-born, Australian-bred poet now living and working in Scotland. This column is a monthly feature. Kona also facilitates the Poetry Society Poetry Surgeries – keep an eye on our events page for further information on the next surgeries. You can also hear Kona on the SPL podcast ‘Witching Hour’and follow her on Twitter.