The week on CLUBHOUSE got started with a pretty heated discussion about “prompts”–are they good or are they bad? *Insert exasperated sigh*.
Needless to say, the conversation overwhelmingly didn’t go well, as some misunderstood the intention behind it. I now realize that there is a disparity of experience where this is concerned. Some people are never asked to give a prompt; they’ve never been asked teach me how to write trauma poetry. For that reason, they won’t get it. They won’ t understand how exhausting it is to constantly have people asking you to give them something to write about, or the sentiment that, really, as a poet, you should be able to figure this out on your own. Are you an artist or a hobbyist?
Listen, I have no issue with prompts in general; it’s the abuse of prompts that is concerning, and the fact that it comes out of stifled creativity. I can’t really wrap my head around a person being asked to be a feature poet—to display who they are through their work—and them not having the capacity to demonstrate that without being … prompted. How would anyone else be able to reach into the depths of your person and pull out what is most essential for an audience to know about you?
In all of the back and forth, the misinterpretations, and the attempts to backhand the conversation in the mouth because, how dare you critique an artf orm that, in its subjectivity is there to be critiqued???, there was this —ennui, or what the French call spiritual boredom. It never rose to the surface, but that’s what was swimming around underneath it all; a boredom with the notion of 20 “poets” producing variations of the same poem, in the same shared space. It’s akin to showing up to a buffet where there’s fried chicken fried with 20 different combinations of seasonings and breading. It’s the same chicken, and there’s not really going to be that difference between them all; and honestly after a while, it all tastes the same.
Poetry is personal; it is a convergence of the spiritual, emotional, the intellectual, and the experiential; but at its core, it should be inherently personal. That is not to say that you can’t take a prompt and make it personal, but if you adopt a child, although you have a child whom you love as your own with every fiber of being, blood nevertheless—at least at the biological level—raises up a mild disconnection. (I know, I’m walking a fine line here because someone reading this may have been adopted. Please don’t take offense; here what I’m saying in the spirit it’s intended). Were the situation to arise that someone needed a transplant, no matter how much they love one another, or how much they are devoted to the ideality and fundamental reality of their functioning as a family, that notion is interdicted by their disparity of blood. And therein lies the distinction in poetry. I may give you a prompt. You may write the poem. It may be the thing you needed to write. But somewhere beneath it all lives a slight disconnection of process that is important in the generativity of the poet.
I’m saying you have to learn eventually how to get to it on your own. It’s fine to be guided, to ride on training wheels initially, but at some point you are expected to push off and soar without assistance. That should be the goal of the poet, and it is the distinction between the artist and the hobbyist.