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Creativity, Originality, and Eccentricity

by Joseph S. Salemi

I don’t know why it should be so, but I have a propensity to attract the attention of eccentric persons. Three times, at three separate academic conferences, I have been cornered by earnest little nerds who insisted on telling me their crackpot theory of who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. I happen to think that all anti-Stratfordians are obtuse cranks with a deficient sense of Elizabethan literature, and I made that view very clear to each of these three tormentors. But it didn’t help. In every case, they wouldn’t let me go until I had heard all the mind-numbing twists of their scenarios of forgery and conspiracy.

Then there was the nut at MLA who, having found out that I am a poet, insisted on outlining his scheme for reconciling free verse and metrical verse by using snippets of each as random glosses on the other. He planned to start with Milton, interlarding every ten lines of Paradise Lost with passages from Ginsberg’s Howl. He wanted to know if I would be interested in collaborating with him on the project. I tried to be polite and not laugh in his face. Luckily the MLA conference is a big operation, so I managed to get lost in the crowds.

In fact, rampant eccentricity is one of the main reasons I stopped attending poetry readings. It was nice to meet one’s friends and fellow poets, but there was no way to avoid the garrulous old lady who wanted you to assess her one hundred haiku on her pet cat; or the ex-mental patient wearing a rope for a belt; or the grim environmentalist with an interminable epic on pollution, badgering you to locate a publisher for it. Then there were the dry drunks, the enragés, the fag-hags, and the feminists. The last straw for me was the reading at which a performance-poet tossed confetti in the air as he half-sung and half-chanted his opaque work. “Basta,” I told myself, “I don’t need this swiving idiocy.”

Later on my mentor, Alfred Dorn, tried to convince me to give poetry readings another shot. His basic argument was this: “We have to tolerate the weak sisters.” I replied “Alfred, you’re a much more patient man than I am.”

One of the attitudinal problems of the present day is the confusion of eccentricity, creativity, and originality. They are not the same thing at all, despite what kindergarten teachers may tell you. They are separate and often completely independent of each other. Let’s consider each in turn.

Creativity is an interior wellspring of dynamism that impels one to rearrange pre-existent reality (like matter or language) into something beautiful. It’s an itch to make, to produce, to harmonize disparate elements into a formal whole. I may feel an urge to build a piece of furniture according to some design in my thoughts, or to bind an old book in an attractive cover, or to put together a sonnet by employing a new conceit or image. To use a rare and antique word, creativity is daedal. The term is from the Greek daidaleos, which means “cunningly or curiously wrought.” (The name of the mythical Greek artisan Daedalus is based on this word.) Creativity is daedal because it involves two things: an urge to work, and a concomitant desire to make the product of that work as perfect and as embellished as possible. Truly creative people don’t just “let it all hang out,” as the stupid 60s cliché has it. They are meticulous and picky and fussy. They work hard to produce something harmonious and aesthetically satisfying, and which shows off their virtù. That’s what it means to be daedal.

Originality is another thing altogether. Originality is what might be called one’s “voice” or “signature” or “fingerprint.” As the act of creation goes on, aspects of one’s idiosyncratic personal identity, habits, and attitudes become inextricably embedded in the emerging product. For example, it is said that metallurgists can analyze an unmixed sample of gold and tell you, by its profile of trace elements, in exactly what part of the world the gold was mined. The same is true for works of art. They manifest in their very structure and texture the personal source from which they took life. That is what is correctly meant by “originality.” The work of art shows signs of its origin. Originality does not mean, as many persons think, the process of coming up with something totally new and unheard-of. Originality is the penumbra of unique personal style that surrounds creativity’s products.

Now let’s look at the cuckoo in the nest: eccentricity. Eccentricity is neither creative nor original. As its etymology suggests, it refers to being “off-center,” like the misplaced axle of a wheel. An eccentric is one who acts in an outré manner, behaving in ways that simply do not comport with ordinary conventional expectations. Let me emphasize that this does not allude to issues of taste or opinion. Eating tripe and onions every night or being a member of the Flat Earth Society doesn’t necessarily make you an eccentric. Eccentricity means being erratic and unpredictable in a way that is somewhat disturbing or unsettling to others. Someone whose house is filled with stray cats is an eccentric. Or who refuses to remove his hat at the dinner table. Or who wears a red-and-white checkered suit in public. Or who insists on playing a trombone at 4 AM. There’s a kind of pathetic haplessness about eccentrics, as if they were mental defectives, or silly drama-queens, or just ornery misfits. The normal response of most people to eccentricity is not so much anger as exasperation.

In the arts, eccentricity is always disastrous. It leads persons to do things that are utterly without aesthetic justification or rationale. A lot of the silly, off-the-wall craziness that goes on in the mainstream arts today is solely the result of eccentricity, and nothing else. There is no “creativity” involved therein. Eccentricity in the arts is just a puerile need to be obstreperous or shocking, out of allegiance to some esprit contrariant. Much of what is called “performance” art, or “conceptual” art, or “aleatory” art is not a manifestation of creative energy or originality. It is just bizarre eccentricity, not far removed from the mental state of the Collyer brothers, or Hetty Green, or the elderly Howard Hughes. The only major difference is that the artists posture in public, and sometimes manage to snag grant money.

I can already hear the chorus: Blake was an eccentric! Whitman was an eccentric! Well, that’s simply untrue. Examine the life and work habits of either man. Blake had a volcanic creativity that he channeled into the most complex and rigorous forms. Not only did he elaborate an intricate private mythology, he also invented his own unique method of engraving and printing books. That is profoundly daedal, as all true creativity must be. Just because Blake could be a bit strange and unconventional has no bearing whatsoever on the rigorous way in which he exercised his immense talent. As for Whitman, the man who spent decades in painstaking revision of edition after edition of Leaves of Grass is an example of pure daedal creativity.

As I have argued frequently in the past, a great many contemporary problems are due to the misconceptions and distortions of Deweyite ideology in our schools. That is certainly the case in regard to the confusion of creativity, originality, and eccentricity. Because of their reflexive tendency to favor impulse and feeling over restraint and structure, Deweyites will always reward spontaneity and immediacy in students. It’s a matter of principle with them. Don’t give me an argument over this—I’m a teacher and I have seen it up close! A child who hands in a slovenly, fingerpainted mess will get a big gold star for “energy” and “vitality,” while another child who hands in a carefully delineated picture will be told that it is “insufficiently exciting,” or “too controlled.” Teachers with attitudes like that are criminals, and murderers of true creativity. They deserve to rot in hell.

As a result of these distortions, there is a major difference between the way we look at art and the way our ancestors did. Whereas in the past artistic creativity was assumed to be governed by order, restraint, and patterned symmetry, today most people unconsciously assume that the reverse is true—namely, that artistic creativity is by its nature chaotic, wild, unrestrained, and freaky. What was once the purview of Apollo is now considered the realm of Dionysos. If you don’t think this is an important and far-reaching change, think harder. An aesthetic history of the last century could be written taking the collapse of Apollonian criteria as the ultimate source of all changes and style shifts.

Dionysos is a great god, as Pentheus learned in the most savage manner. All honor to him. But he is not the god of poetry and the other arts. We poets are beholden to the rational order and chaste harmony of the Delian deity, whose cold restraint and measured rhythms are a signature of our labors. When Apollo is the guardian of the arts, you get Mozart and Bach. Make Dionysos the ruler of the arts, and you get Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger.

Don’t be drunk and disorderly. Be daedal.

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38 Responses

  1. Anna J. Arredondo

    Joseph,

    Thank you for this essay. In the first half, I love your precise and concise definitions of creativity, originality, and eccentricity. You have put into words what I (and I suspect many of those who frequent this page) have long felt in my gut.

    Much in the second half was new to me, and I appreciate the history and your insights into how society at large got to where it is today.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Many thanks for your kind words. I’m glad I can speak for many others who feel the same as I do.

      Reply
  2. Jan Darling

    Thank you, Dr Salemi, for your lucid and informative essay. I particularly enjoyed your final reference to Apollo and Dionysos.
    It would improve teaching standards if your essay were included in every course of English literature as it forces one’s critical faculties into action.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Thanks for your comments. It would be impossible, under current conditions in academia, to include in one’s course materials any essay criticizing the sick mentality that now governs most humanities departments. Their takeover by French critical theorists, Marxists, gender feminists, wokesters, affirmative-action nonentities, and Queer Theory partisans is at this point total.

      Reply
  3. Shaun C. Duncan

    Well said, Joseph. I have a poem on precisely this sort of artist due to appear in the next couple of days and hopefully your essay will make my work seem more insightful than it actually is. Thank you.

    The sad thing is we no longer even have genuine eccentrics in the arts who might at least throw out some intriguing outsider work from time to time. Now we have bland, bureaucratic types with their carefully rehearsed quirks – people who I have described as wanting to be mistaken for artists. They’ll use daddy’s money to have the finest plastic surgeon to painlessly remove an ear but they’ll never actually learn to paint. In pop culture we no longer have Dionysian figures like Elvis, but a corporate simulacra peddling out and out filth to children. I’ve heard our situation described as an anti-culture (perhaps by you?) and I can’t think of a better word for it.

    Reply
    • Joseph S, Salemi

      You’re right about that — there aren’t that many real eccentrics anymore, since eccentricity involves a certain immovable individualism and disdain for conventional opinion. One of the few left is Banksy, who actually produced a work of art that self-destructed after being purchased, and who tends to place his artwork in seedy public spaces. As you say, most on-the-make artists today are totally into sucking up to orthodox trends, and fitting in with where the money and the power lie.

      Reply
  4. Paul Freeman

    A ‘cunningly wrought’ essay, Joseph. Your example of a student bringing a spontaneous (unwrought) piece of artwork to the teacher which resembles finger-painting and getting higher praise than more considered works, really hit home.

    A few weeks back I read Blake’s ‘To the Evening Star’ (blank verse, lots of amazing imagery). It inspired me to write a piece ‘To the Morning Star’. From conception to what I so far consider the final effort took more than two weeks. Another piece I’m working on, about the James Webb Telescope, is also taking the long route when a slipshod version would have taken an hour.

    Thanks for framing the concepts of creativity, originality and eccentricity so well.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Blake was barely noticed in his own time, and was described by the critic Leigh Hunt as “a harmless lunatic.” But he labored fiercely to work in his chosen mode, and he never let adverse criticism affect his style. He was openly contemptuous of the popular artistic fashions of the day, and remained loyal to the clean, straight lines of engraving.

      I hope we will see your poems here.

      Reply
  5. Brian Yapko

    A great essay, Joseph, which really helps identify one of the things that is so unsatisfactory about modern poetry and other artforms. You mention “performance art” and I think that is one of the critical points concerning what is eccentric versus what is daedal. In my experience, a great many artists, writers (musicians, too) are so starved for attention that they throw out anything they can just to be shocking without the slightest interest in whether it is actually good. It’s like dying one’s hair pink or announcing gender fluidity. Perhaps they are eccentric at some level but I see them as cynically and deliberately attention-grabbing. They “create” garbage because it’s easy and it gets them unearned gold stars. It’s a manipulation. Faux eccentricity is chosen by some as a strategy – whether it is to get attention or money or a date, who can say? But it is rewarded. It’s really quite horrible.

    But I must confess that your essay actually pulled me in with its discussion of Shakespeare-denial. This is a subject which invariably makes my blood boil because it’s a) stupid; b) elitist; c) evidence-denying and d) history-denying. The gist of the argument seems to be that Shakespeare was of too low a class and did not have a sufficiently advanced education to account for the quality and subject-matter of his plays. It’s a condescending argument which itself fails to account for the fact that a powerful imagination coupled with true genius can achieve great things irrespective of humble beginnings. I’m convinced that the Shakespeare deniers don’t care about the actual evidence. For some bizarre they don’t WANT Shakespeare to be the author of his plays and so they cherry-pick and confabulate. It is very nefarious since it is yet another way of canceling and rewriting history – albeit in this case for reasons I find unfathomable.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Brian, you are right about many modern artists using faux-eccentricity as a tool to grab attention. What’s scary is that it often works! (see Banksy). That’s the reason I wonder, when observing some posturing schmuck doing stupid things in art, if he is serious or just angling for a grant. At the root of the problem are powerful institutions like the MOMA or the Whitney or the Guggenheim encouraging and sponsoring this kind of meaningless crap, and thereby giving it an undeserved status.

      As for the Shakespeare question, I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of the insane anti-Stratfordians. They’ve now become fixed in place, like a dormant strain of herpes simplex. And yes, what motivates them is sheer class snobbery, as the Folger Library used to declare in the introductions to their small paperback printings of Shakespeare’s plays. Just because Shakespeare came from a modest family in the shires, never went to university, had “small Latine and lesse Greek,” worked for a living, and was not connected at court, pompous pseudoscholars claim that he couldn’t possibly have written the great works ascribed to him. They had to have been written by some more exalted figure like Francis Bacon, or Sir Philip Sidney, or the Earl of Oxford.

      What bullshit. We have more solid evidence for Shakespeare’s authorship of his works, and of his recognition by other literary figures of his day, than we have for the work of several other Elizabethan/Jacobean writers.

      Reply
  6. C.B. Anderson

    It comes as no surprise, Joseph, that, in this age of sloppy thinking, many persons conflate the three terms you discuss. In this essay you have drawn distinctions based on real differences, and by doing so have provided a refreshing escape from nominalism.

    Similarly, nowadays there are a great many who seem unable to understand that there is a big difference between virtue-signaling and being virtuous.

    Reply
  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    I have gained much from this frank and enlightening essay. For me, these words shine a much-needed light: “We poets are beholden to the rational order and chaste harmony of the Delian deity, whose cold restraint and measured rhythms are a signature of our labors.” – thank you!

    Some of my favorite poets (John Whitworth, Wendy Cope, and John Betjeman, to name a few) have a very down to earth attitude when it comes to their wondrous way with words. The late John Whitworth won many prestigious contests. I remember reading somewhere that when one of these contests was the people’s choice, he won every year. When the judging was changed to a chosen panel of ‘experts’ in the field, he lost. Perhaps poets feel they have to play to the gallery of those in the know and adopt all manner of the ‘in’ eccentricities to do it.

    As for the “eccentric” Banksy – I think he’s part of the political establishment. How else could one get away with graffiti for decades in a country with surveillance cameras everywhere unless that criminal act (no matter how artistic) was an asset to those on the other side of the lens. Banksy supports the very causes that are screaming for the downfall of the Western world… I’m certain that if Banksy’s style changed to that of Norman Rockwell, he would be outed, shamed, and cancelled in five minutes flat.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I love John Whitworth’s style. He could make a list of the most improbably related things and put them together into a delightful and comic confection. He was one of Britain’s best poets, and of course he was cordially hated by the U.K. Poetic Establishment.

      You may be on to something about how Banksy gets away with his public creations. Everything he makes now has an astronomical price tag on it, so it is in the financial interest of certain powerful persons to make sure that his stuff is safeguarded, collected, and curated. The same thing happened with Keith Haring and Basquiat, who have now been metamorphed into huge corporate entities that generate endless cash, like any NGO foundation.

      None of this is related to “art.” It’s just high-level speculative investment.

      Reply
      • a

        a couple folks i’m friends with who got booted from utube made a connection to money laundering as well

  8. Roy E. Peterson

    This is a much-needed essay exploring the world of the insane urbane. Your well-defined differentiation of creativity-originality-eccentricity is inspired and insightful. I can imagine the nut-jobs coming up to you and attempting to present their misguided theories and concepts. I am in complete agreement with everything presented in your essay and thank you for stimulating my own thoughts.

    Reply
  9. Adam Wasem

    Thanks for putting in the work on this, Joseph. Essential critical categorization like this is a great service that is too seldom performed by any critic anymore. No correctives to contemporary arts culture can be applied until the problems have first been identified, and you have gone a long way towards that. Once you’ve identified the problem, of course, that begs the question of why? Why are there so many artistic eccentrics? Why are they so celebrated in academia and the media? I have some theories as to why, though they’d take much more space than is seemly in this forum to elucidate. But I think you hint at the answer when you state “The only major difference is the artists posture in public, and sometimes manage to snag grant money.” As the old saying goes, “The poor are crazy, the rich are eccentric.” In the context of your essay, we could reframe it as, “The loon screaming on the street corner is crazy, the one who’s snagged an NEA grant for it is an artist.” I have a feeling that if the grant money somehow disappeared, all the insanity masquerading as “art” would dry up too, and pretty quickly at that.

    Reply
  10. Sally Cook

    Dear Joe –
    You have given me a lot to think about, as you always do, I think that is why I view you as the best essayist in nation.

    Much of what I know of poetry is intuitive, or was simply so ingrained in me by my mother and grandmother that sometimes I feel as if I was born knowing it. By the age of 12 I had been studying piano for 8 years.
    So when I began writing poetry, curiously, for me, notes morphed into words, and all other attributes of musical expression became verbal. It was pure hell for a four year old but something for which I will always be immensely grateful. You might say my grandmother, a great eccentric, and my mother, a genuine creative person were complicit in their desire to make an artist of me — and they did.

    Reply
  11. Joseph S. Salemi

    Sally, let me say something about originality and your work, both as a poet and a painter.

    In my above essay I wrote “Originality is the penumbra of unique personal style that surrounds creativity’s products.” There are some poets whose work I can IMMEDIATELY recognize, just by reading a few lines, because I can see the origins of that work at once, in the personality and characteristics that shine in them. You are one of those poets. So is Susan Bryant, so is C.B. Anderson, so was John Whitworth, and so are several poets who appear frequently in TRINACRIA.

    And the same is true for your paintings, Sally. They are unique and inimitable.

    Reply
  12. Lannie David Brockstein

    “As a student, I couldn’t suffer reading anymore Shakespeare. But then my art teacher taught me that for centuries, historians of White male privilege in their racism and sexism did whitewash the fact that Shakespeare was actually Black and transgender! Upon learning that, I gained a new appreciation for the Bard who is famous for his having written, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” ~ Every woke retard.

    Reply
  13. Joseph S. Salemi

    Attention everyone: Here’s something that has just been reported in The New York Post (July 29, 2022), p. 25:

    The “artist” Matthew Griffin pulled a pickle out of a McDonald’s cheeseburger, stuck it onto a New Zealand art-gallery ceiling — and is charging $6,200 for the work.

    The place degraded enough to allow this to happen is The Michael Lett Gallery in Auckland, N.Z.

    Reply
  14. David Holper

    Thank you for your essay. I appreciated much of what you had to say in differentiating these three categories, and your thinking definitely illuminated a good deal that rings true not just to me but to everyone else who commented here. However, I find your use of “fag hag” offensive and unnecessary. It’s as if you are playing to the countercultural cheap seats. Also, your idea that Blake was not eccentric but a craftsman of language seems like a false dichotomy: he was both. Of course, you or other readers will lambast me for not celebrating your brilliance, but I thought you might like to hear from someone who is not entirely persuaded by your thinking.

    Reply
    • Lannie David Brockstein

      Several officers of the Hampshire Police’s Thinkpol unit agree that the notorious verbal outlaw, Joseph S. Salemi, whose deplorably poor Social Credit System score is an international disgrace, should be apprehended, handcuffed, arrested, and then sentenced to ten long years of hard labour at an outsourced concentration camp in Chairman Xi’s China for the serious thoughtcrime of having used words in an offensive manner, which caused the hypnotized David Holper to suffer a moment of anxiety that has sparked his soul to stop being enslaved by the government’s morally retarded woke ideology.

      Daily Mail (July 31st, 2022) – “Moment army veteran is arrested ‘for causing anxiety’ after retweeting meme of swastika made out of Pride flags as force is condemned by its own crime commissioner for the ‘proportionality and necessity’ of its response”: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11066477/Veteran-arrested-causing-anxiety-retweeting-meme-swastika-Pride-flags.html

      Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Dear David Holper —

      If you look up “fag hag” on Wikipedia you will learn that it is a phrase invented by the gay subculture and used freely by them, and has spread around the world and been translated into many languages. You’ll even see a photo of “Miss Fag Hag of 2010” at a public celebration in New York.

      Before you decide to virtue-signal by calling something offensive, perhaps you should first ascertain if the words are understood to be offensive by those who have invented and employed them.

      Reply
  15. Larry Lefkowitz

    Larry Lefkowitz

    The Poetry Reading

    Most of the men and women entering the small auditorium set aside for the poetry reading leaned on their canes or the supportive arms of companions or mates. Such an apparently life-long love of poetry touched her, though the full reading room was a surprise. The first fully attended reading that she, a veteran, if desultory, attendee of poetry readings could remember – aside from readings by known poets. Even readings by less known but still “known” poets had not been so packed. And this evening’s reader was not even reading her own poetry, but that of Emily Dickinson. Which is why she had come: she doted on Dickenson. Still, the full room amazed her.
    A scattering of applause, almost as if against the wishes of the audience, greeted the reader when she strode to the dais. If an incarnation, she had come upon the scene at a later stage of existence than the first Dickenson: she was perhaps sixty-five, gray-haired, determined of mouth, erect of body. Dickinson might very well have appeared thus, she mused, had she reached this age.
    The imperious eagle eyes of the reader fell upon the audience which, for its part, stared at the reader, almost in anger, it seemed, not a smile among them. Curious.
    A preface to Dickinson’s poems read by the reader revealed a competent reading voice. But not such a voice as to explain the packed house; not a cult-forming voice, and the audience, almost exclusively, was the age of the reader. What drew them? The question nagged, though was forgotten as she readied herself to hear the incomparable Dickenson.
    Size circumscribes – it has no room
    For petty furniture –
    The giant tolerates no gnat
    For ease of Gianture –

    Repudiates it, all the more –
    Because intrinsic size
    Ignores the possibility
    Of Calumnies – or Flies.

    Nicely read in a measured, cultivated, smoothly delivered style. She observed the audience out of the corner of her eye. She was amazed. Indifference or hostility seemed to be the uniform response. What was going on here? Did the reader have so many relatives?
    A secret told –
    Ceases to be a Secret- then –
    A secret – kept
    That can appall but One –

    Better of it – continual be afraid –
    Than it –
    And Whom you told it to – beside –
    The poems, adequately read, moved on.
    And yet the atmosphere reminded her of something oppressive, as if the audience were a captive audience. At the intermission, when the reader strode off the stage, the applause was there, but hardly spontaneous, although it seemed to increase slightly when the reader, stopping in mid-stride, stared at them. Almost as if she stared them into greater applause!
    The audience gathered in small groups, conversing in hushed tones. It slowly gained upon her: they all know each other, as if habitués. Overhearing their conversations, she was startled by a singular aspect: no one talked about the poetry reading! As if each one came out of obedience to some force, unconnected whatsoever to the reading. She, herself, was ignored, or looked at pityingly. Why pityingly? she wondered.
    The second half of the poetry reading was as perfunctorily received as the first. If anything, the jaws of the listeners set tighter save for a few about to doze off, who suddenly catching themselves, threw frightened looks in the direction of the reader, as if they feared a rebuke for not paying attention to every word.
    An oppressive silence seemed to grasp the room, broken only when the reader, having finished her reading, marched off the stage to a smattering of applause. And then a strange thing occurred. No one shook hands with the reader. No one gathered around her. The listeners hurried out of the auditorium. The reader stood aside, almost as if counting the listeners who attended.
    Her curiosity could no longer be repressed. Once safely outside the building in which the reading had taken place, she approached a woman from the library with whom she was on a nodding basis. “Did you enjoy the reading?” she inquired.
    The woman’s fierce look surprised her. “Enjoy it?” she almost spit out, “It is hardly a question of enjoyment.”
    Taken aback, she could only mumble, “What else?”
    The woman gave a frightened glance about her as if to confirm that they couldn’t be overheard. By whom? Certainly not the reader. Bestowing on her a sharp look, the woman said, “You talk as if you were here out of choice.”
    “What else?” she replied. “You don’t mean to tell me that the spirit of Emily Dickinson dragged you here.”
    “A spirit far more corporeal . . .”
    “Not –“
    “Who else?”
    “But . . . how?”
    “Suasion – and not very gentle. She has the means. In my case, being privy to a secret. The price of its remaining a secret is my attendance.”
    “At the poetry reading! You’re joking.”
    She shook her head sadly. “I wish I were. And not just a poetry reading. Every one of them.”
    “Every one? For how long?”
    “In my case, for thirty years.”
    The woman half-smiled at her shocked look. “You could call us poetry lovers.”
    There was something in the word “us” that caused a shiver to course up her spine that would have delighted Emily Dickinson. “Surely the others –“ she stopped, unable to give voice to the thought that caused her to feel faint. “Surely –“ was all that she could bring herself to utter.
    “Every one,” the woman replied.
    “Every one – you can’t mean –“
    “She has something on everybody,” she added viciously. “You must have been the only person in the room she had nothing on. She is assured a full house.” The woman started to walk away, and then turned back. “You could call it the longest successful poetry reading in the history of contemporary poetry,” she said, tearing the program into little pieces.

    Reply
  16. Amrita Valan

    Shared this as a pertinent and meaningful read for every writer and creative person.
    I thought sitting on poem written a year ago showed my lack of creativity. But actually fussing and tinkering over them fine tuning them is daedal. I stand happily corrected.

    Reply
  17. Patricia Redfern

    As one new to writing poetry, I know that poetry needs a metered form. I read amateur poets or, even those who write for years in free verse. For me, this is akin to drowning in a swamp. Worse, each week a new form in created, like” Bite Size Poetry”. What is that? Drive in poetry? Does one get a pickle for reading it?
    It is three sentences and nothing more. Beauty is so important in poetry. Writing quality poetry is a first consideration, Plus having someone like you here with your directness and you respond on this site, tells me you honor other poets.
    I truly value you and James Sale, especially.,a wonderful poet and mentor.
    Grateful for your forthrightness. This is a more than a moving piece.
    Gratefully, Patricia

    Reply
  18. Kathleen M Farrell

    That “writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” is
    really true for poetry. Thank you for your work.

    Reply
  19. Steven Kent

    As both a musician and a poet, I’ve had multiple conversations about this phenomenon as it plays out in the world of music, specifically in songwriting. Some of my friends adore immensely overrated rock lyricists such as Jim Morrison (The Doors) and Kurt Cobain (Nirvana). In case his work doesn’t come immediately to mind, here’s a sample of the former’s “genius”:

    There’s a killer on the road;
    His brain is squirming like a toad.

    At the same time, these friends regularly lambaste acts such as Billy Joel and the Eagles for excessive devotion to their craft–“It’s too perfect,” goes a common response, as if this were a valid indictment. For comparison, here’s a sample from the latter’s catalog:

    Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds, boy,
    She’ll beat you if she’s able;
    You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.
    Now it seems to me some fine things
    Have been laid upon your table,
    But you only want the ones that you can’t get.

    Rhyme, metaphor, attention to meter, logical progression of ideas–all anathema to those who believe that musical “artists” should be struck by a burst of Dionysian inspiration and simply channel what they receive into their songs. Meh.

    Reply
  20. Mark Botts

    Dear Joseph S. Salemi,

    Thank you for this essay. Well done.

    The opening narrative revealed what is true and what my daughter and I walked into about a week ago at a local coffee house that includes a backroom called: The Pigment Sanctuary. The artwork in the sanctuary prompted a discussion on our ride home about craftsmanship (creativity) and voice (originality) and self-expression (eccentricity).

    Your explanation of creativity, originality, and eccentricity is pristinely clear.

    Respectfully,

    Mark Botts

    Reply
  21. Sim

    I don’t want to be harsh, but this is just intolerance of differences, of people being people, wrapped up in some classical references for an intellectual flavour.
    You come off as a bit of a miserable dick.
    I myself am snobby about literature but I dont apply the same critique to amateur poets reading at bars. It’s just a bit of fun.
    If neurodivergent people upset you so much, grow a thicker skin.

    Reply
    • Mike Bryant

      Sim, I don’t want to be harsh, either. But, it seems that you are being “harsh” and “intolerant” yourself! You are displaying the very traits you are calling down. You have wrapped your criticism in some pseudo psychological double-speak with a virtue-signaling flavor. Have you ever heard of projection?
      The word “neurodivergent” was apparently invented about twenty years ago. Are you saying that all poets that read in bars are neurodivergent? Isn’t that condescending and arrogant? Are you the new judge of even poets reading in bars. Do you know that they are only “having fun.” According to you, they are not serious poets. You do like to pigeonhole people. Every single mind is unique, even yours. Perhaps neurodivergency is preventing you from understanding the essay. Show some tolerance. Embrace those who are different than you.

      Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      You don’t want to be harsh, Sim? You are a complete amateur in the skill of being harsh. Let me give you a free lesson:

      You’re clearly a diversity freak, who has learned to spout the standard claptrap about “differences,” which is the left-liberal code word for ignoring the standards by which sane persons judge achievement, mediocrity, and failure. Did you pick that up from some professor in college? Congratulations. You’re letter-perfect.

      “Neurodivergent people”? What the bloody hell does that mean? From its etymology I assume that anyone “neurodivergent” is mentally ill, or brain-damaged. A good case could be made that a great many modern “artists” are in those categories. If you like hanging out in bars to listen to them recite poems, well… everyone to his own taste, I suppose.

      As for my skin, it’s already pretty thick. But the thickness doesn’t prevent me from perceiving when someone (like you) is a flaming jackass.

      Have a nice day.

      Reply

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