Monday, September 17, 2012

August Kleinzahler on his ideal reader

From August Kleinzahler's 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize Speech:

I have a very personal, very particular notion of the ideal reader of poetry, my ideal reader. It is, in fact, a composite of readers I know or have known. It is not another poet, probably not another writer, though it could very well be a painter or musician or photographer. It is not a teacher of literature, though it might be a teacher of medicine or economics, say. It is someone of catholic reading tastes and broad knowledge: a serious reader, serious about the pleasure of reading.

The nature of this pleasure involves a degree of difficulty and resistance. This pleasure is not to be confused with diversion, even the cultivated diversion provided by authors like Elmore Leonard. My ideal reader has read widely enough, actively read, and with a certain degree of attention, that upon encountering a patch of dead syntax, tortured diction, bluff gesture, rote strategy, the ingratiating stylistic doffing of the hat or mechanical development and resolution the lights come on and the show is over. After all, it is 2005 and my reader doesn’t have a great deal of time – for time has vanished with inflated rents and the blitzkrieg of what’s cheerfully called information, information to be attended to, and I’m talking right now. The oriental notion of idleness as a civilized activity, or period of time without focused activity, that arena of floating consciousness in which poems are usually conceived or poems are picked up at random and read with unexpected pleasure – these sorts of sessions of empty or unplanned time are regarded as undesirable, perhaps worrisome, even dangerous, in so far that they may be the precursor of a pathological condition. So my reader demands action, complexity and intensity from reading, be it history, fiction, journalism or sci-fi. And the ideal reader of whom I speak demands the most and gets the most from poetry because poetry is the most distilled, complex and satisfying among all forms of writing, at least for the serious, cultivated reader, my ideal reader.
It gets a bit mixed-up once he names his ideal reader Khalid (a taxi driver from Karachi, no less) but until then...

This has nothing to do with this speech, but whenever I think of Kleinzahler, I think of Anthony Bourdain having a drink with him in some ancient episode of No Reservations.

Just, like a nugget of information thrown out there. No poetry can come of this detail.

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