IN DEFENSE OF GROWING UP (at least artistically…)
I've mentioned the poet Jack Gilbert (no relation, sadly) on this page before. He passed away a few months ago, and left a small hole in the world when he passed. The other day, I was looking for interviews with him, which are rare, and I found a good one from back in the 1960's, when he was interviewed by Gordon Lish. At one point, he quite articulately goes after the Beat Poets—not because he believes they were untalented (on the contrary; he thought they were incredibly gifted) but because they never wanted to grow up. Because of that, he says, they never became the great artists they ought to have been.
"Growing up" as an artist, in Jack Gilbert's view, didn't necessarily mean getting married and buying a house in the suburbs, but seems to mean something more along the lines of harnessing your energies in a serious and disciplined manner, and letting go of childish rebellions in order to make more deeply considered work. Here, he says it better:
"Mostly (they failed) because of inadequate character and the repudiation of intelligence. Most of the poets of the movement are incapable of maturity…They apotheosize all the infantile qualities: impulsiveness, resentment of discipline, mistrust of authority and order, egocentricity, and all the rest. At first this gave their work the freshness and energy that's usual when gifted children start out in any field: poetry, science, music, chess, whatever. But it also has a similar tendency to come to nothing. To predictably pass through a stage of exaggeration and a kind of hysteria, followed by bitterness, and finally a withered passivity….It's sad and rather frightening to see people of such native talent ending up in such juvenality…They talk about love, but they experience almost none. Neither for people nor the world…And because they have so little genuine appetite for the world, they go in constant fear of boredom. That's why they are quiet so little. After all, there is something radically wrong when you have to go to always more violent and stranger devices to get a response. A man who delights in the world isn't so dependent on drugs and alcohol and novelty…."
YES. Yes, yes, yes.
I have always been a big defender of discipline. I have seen so many brilliant young stars dry up into nothing because—addicted to the high of sudden inspiration—they refuse to slow down and do the steadfast work required for any great endeavor. I like the idea that you have to "go quiet", that you have to be sober, that you have be serious. There is such a fear that this will lead to boring results, but it doesn't; it just leads to results, period.
Attached here, a favorite Jack Gilbert poem—written by a man who really knew how to be alive, and who was not afraid to labor for greatness.
BACK TO WORK, EVERYONE!
Failing and Flying by Jack Gilbert
Failing and Flying – by Jack Gilbert. Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew. It's the same when love comes to an end, or the marriage fails and people say they knew it was a mistake, that everybody said it would never work. T