Thursday, July 31, 2008

Boring


An apt title for the blog, don't you think? Speaking of boring, I looked it up in the OED online--a terribly boring thing to do if, unlike a tiny percentage of the population, you think (quite rationally) that looking words up on the OED is tediously nerdy or nerdily tedious, or just plain wrong. Anyway, some info:

1840 T. HOOK Fitzherbert III. iv. 66 Emily was patiently enduring..Miss Matthews's boring vanities.

I was a bit surprised that the word, with this connotation, apparently arose in the written language so relatively late, a mere nine years before the California Gold Rush, which was probably more boring than its name makes it sound. Digging for gold is terribly boring work, although my father didn't think so.

Anyway, it looks as though the adjective, as deployed this way, springs directly from boring as in boring into--like a drill. Monotonous, unrelenting. Let us leap to the next point and avoid a boring transition:

Karl Shapiro, among others, insisted that the single most reliable test of a poem's worth [aside from historical worth, etc.] was whether the reader wanted to read it again--not necessarily right away (although that would be fine), but tomorrow, or next week, or five years from now. I think this also means that the poem isn't boring, but I suppose the poem has to be more than just not boring. Now a hop, as opposed to a leap:

Samuel Johnson, one of the most discerning readers ever, apparently got bored with one of the great poems ever, Paradise Lost. He agreed that Milton's blank-verse tour de force, or tour de paradise, was terrific, but he also famously said of the epic poem, "No one wished it longer." I feel the same way about films by Oliver Stone and John Cassavetes, not that the latter two are in Milton's league; on the other hand, did Milton ever direct a film? I think not. A sideways hop:

My "urban hike," which I attempt to take every other day (cycling in place on the other every other day, speaking of boring [but heart healthy, or so they tell me] exercise), takes me on the same vaguely circular route. Going in a different direction helps, and sometimes I stop halfway and do something, like drink espresso or observe Moldavians. Today, however, I was thinking that what really makes a familiar route interesting is simply paying attention. To the tiniest scrap of something someone throws away, for example. Or one weird rock. Or what people try to do with and to their yards. Or a cat, watching you as if you were dinner.

A high school teacher, attempting to teach us to write poetry, made a similar point. He told us to go outside and "really look at the world"--and then write. His implicit argument was that whatever one saw (and heard, etc.) was interesting, by definition, because it existed and because we would, he hoped, apply attention to it. I think it was a vaguely Zen point he was making, and I'm not sure whether "vaguely Zen" is redundant or not. It's still a great prompt for writing a poem--or story or essay: A) Assume that wherever you are, you are in an interesting place, and B) just observe the heck out of the place, pouring your attention into it and receiving all its particularity in return, and C) write.

Write.
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