If you look back through history, you’re not that concerned with magazines. You start saying to yourself, I should be trying to write like Nabokov, not like Dave Eggers, like Chekov, not like Zadie Smith. You start trying to find models that you think are eternal, that will endure. You begin to develop a sense for what is fashion and what is not fashion.
Once you’re teaching, you see it all the time. Three or four years ago, I taught a class called “The Perfect Poem.” I said, All we’re going to study in this class is perfect poems. We’re not going to study imperfect poems. We’re only interested in the absolute best poem. Every week, I would give them five or six poems they had never seen—maybe a few had seen them—and I would have them rank the poems by quality, one to six. Interesting: If there were twenty-four kids in the class, twenty of them would have picked the same number one poem. Now two, three, four, five, six, would shuffle around. But the best poem, everybody knew. I used to point that out. I said, “At this level, there’s a lot of disagreement, at this level, there’s not a lot of disagreement.”
If you go to John Ashbery, and you say, “Is Musee des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden a great poem?,” he can quote it. You go to Seamus Heaney, and he can quote it. You go to Terrance Hayes, and he can quote it. Everybody loves that poem, and it’s not entirely an accident.
This is my commonplace book and sometime-journal.
I blog at SpiritualFriendship.org.
My book is here: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.
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