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writing offensively.

November 20, 2010

this is something that i have been chewing over in my brain for a while.

i’m workshopping a poem on wednesday that i knew would be “controversial”, for lack of a better word. (that word just holds odd meaning to it. i hesitate to use it.) i told my mother about it on the phone, predicting that it would be an interesting workshop. a part of me is scared, but a part of me knows that the poetry class i am in only wants poems to become better, so i know that whatever happens they will edit accordingly. they are not malicious but hard working.

my friend ben let me know that my poem was kind of offensive, and he’s right. i know that he’s right. and i kind of meant for it to be offensive, or at least very, very thought-provoking. (or just provoking). as of late, i’ve really been thinking about the way i write about queer culture, and have been trying to pay specific attention to appropriation. it’s my “white female straightness” that comes into play. i sort of tackle this issue in my blog post about having the right to write but it’s never going to be something that i’m going to digest totally because i’m going to fuck this up again and again. i’m going to offensive and i’m going to end up appropriating a culture that isn’t mine, and i’m going to subversive, and i’m going to get in trouble, and i’m going to offend people and hurt people’s feelings. i don’t want to do anything of these things, but i know they are going to happen. and that is why i have good honest friends who tell me when i’m being a dickhead, and i value those friends and editors above all else. and it’s going to come down to me being able to balance being a dickhead with being a good writer.

the poem i submitted is a very angry poem. i know it is. i often write a lot of poems in anger but this is something beyond. and while i wanted to remove the cocksure from the poem, and leave the emotion, i think some of the cocksure is still there. it’s an odd piece of writing and i’ve never really done anything like this before. it’s me, but it is most certainly not me. i don’t want to use the term “alter-ego” because i really really hate when artists or writers use an alter-ego as a crutch or an escape mechanism, and also it’s pretentious. it’s me if i were completely rage-filled and if i spoke in rage and only rage. it’s me, writing about being upset that my “white female straightness” was misinterpreted and that my feelings were hurt. it’s an interesting way to go about a poem, and yes, it’s controversial – picture, if you will, a man writing a poem about a woman being sexist to him. that is essentially what i am doing, but instead i am writing about being a straight person whose feelings were hurt by someone who is not straight. i’m angry, in this poem, that my straightness was used against me. yeah – it sounds shitty and it sounds cocky, and i’m not sure that i wrote it correctly, because people have already been offended by it. i am writing from a place of privilege, and a place of ignorance in a way. but i am also writing from a place of absolute, genuine emotion, the most undiluted form of emotion.

the poem is not me, it’s the speaker in the poem. and i think my class will be able to figure that out, but if not, i’ve just told them. oops. and this is partially sparked from what i am writing in thesis form because as of late i’ve been writing a lot of fights in my thesis – awful, hurtful fights between a straight character who just doesn’t understand and cannot understand, and a character who is not straight. i’ve been writing a lot of disconnect, a lot of anger and hatred, and this is related to that.

and i don’t want to offend anybody, but i when i write things like that, i write them from a place that can’t be edited right off the bat. the poem that comes out is the rawest, the crudest, the least refined thing, and is bright with emotion, and is offensive, and has to be strapped down.

and this is where my blog post comes into play. because sometimes i write offensive things. my last poem had a racial slur in it – against my own race – and this poem is obviously offensive, too. i take risks in writing, and sometimes they fall flat and awful, and sometimes they work. and i don’t want to be considered an asshole when i write, because that is not my intention, and people who know me will know that, but people who don’t know me, and who only read my work, don’t hear it read, don’t meet me face to face – they will not know that. as ben said, he is editing it from both a place of knowing me, and then also being a reader who doesn’t know me.

and another one of my friends told me once that if “you don’t offend somebody with your work then you aren’t doing your job as a writer.” i can see the value in this statement. if something is clear and true and comes from the gut or the heart or the soul or the head or wherever you write from, there is a good solid chance that it will be perceived as offensive. if something is offensive, it will get a discussion going, and that can be a good thing. it will make people think and rethink, and that can be a good thing.

so there’s the thing – is it better to write safer things that aren’t going to offend anybody? if i want to be sold, if i want to make money, is that the best option? if i want to keep friends? i don’t want to hurt people’s feelings and i don’t want to be perceived as an ass-hat. or is it better to just let loose and not censor yourself and let whatever comes out come out? (obviously there is a middle ground here somewhere, but for the sake of the argument i’m explaining the two polar opposites.)

i do want to risk things. i do want to make people discuss subject matter, and think really hard about their own prejudices and previously set minds, and i want to think about my own prejudices and my own privilege and my own culture, too. so much has been happening lately that has been shaking my own belief systems, my own writing to the core, and it’s a good thing. i KNOW that it’s a good thing. i want to be thought-provoking. i don’t want to be a jerk. i don’t want to be cruel or homophobic or sexist or racist, and i am not inherently these things. but if i can’t express the chance urge or hurt or anger in writing, in a poem, then where can i do it? if i don’t do it now, i will never do it.

for the people in my poetry class – know that i know that the poem is controversial, and that while we can talk a lot about the subject matter and how it theoretically relates to society, i also want to talk about the writing. i’m scared shitless for this workshop. i will be the first to admit it. and i didn’t write the poem correctly, and i’m sure that i didn’t write this blog post correctly either, but there you have it. all i can do is be honest in my writing, and not coddle my workshops, and take risks, and fail, and look stupid, and look cruel, but take the criticism, and be raked over the coals, and redeem myself, and then fuck it all up again. i make mistakes, and i try. that’s what i do.

i hope this made sort-of sense without sounding cocky or shitty. my brain looks like scrambled eggs right now and i’m FAR TOO excited about the snow in vancouver.

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