Not long ago, Susan M. Schultz stood reading poetry before a class of undergraduate psychology majors, who just minutes ago were reviewing episodic memory with their dynamic Memory and the Mind professor, Erica Kleinknect. The students seemed to quickly engage this creative approach to the ideas they were studying. After Schultz read, one young man asked a follow-up question about George Oppen (Schultz had alluded to Oppen earlier). I think he asked about whether traces of Oppen's dementia showed up in his late poetry. A discussion about George Oppen! And in a psychology class! Lovely.
Though not formally trained as either a playwright or a labor historian, Nowak has embarked into those specialized terrains as an inquisitive, rigorous poet. To be sure, Mark may well resist this oversimple categorization as a poet—despite holding an MFA and publishing widely in the field of poetry—as it could pigeonhole him in poetry circles whereas he works regularly in labor history circles, speaking widely at labor-history conferences and events.
One evening with Jules and our daughter, Jessi, I wandered a warehouse of open studios near the Willamette River in northeast Portland. We came upon organic chemist David Cordes painting a narrative of organic chemistry and nationalism; a couple operating as florists who sold nothing and displayed no floral arrangements, but urged people to try their homemade sweetbread; and a woman who urged visitors to arrange glass designs from bowls of crushed glass, which she offered to fire in the kiln, with no mention of charge. A startling-lack-of-explicit commerce continued from studio space to studio space. Our last stop of the evening was a space where a tightrope was bolted a foot off the floor.
In her last post, Kaia wrote about inexpertise as a possibly positive interventionary poetry stance.
Many of us have a conflicted relationship with experts and expertise. To be sure, in general, contemporary society demands increased reliance on and deference toward experts and expertise. Pay heed to the news any day of the week—whether it be television or radio or a newspaper—and you’ll find a cavalcade of experts expertly asserting expertise.
On the positive side, experts can provide us with shortcuts, time-savers, insider insights, and thought-provoking analysis. Not a day goes by when I don’t appreciate an expert offering shrewd dissection of a topic I hadn’t quite thought of in that particular way.
Inexpert investigation in poetry opens a space: what is left open is left open. “The highly rewarded entrepreneurial strategy of forging ahead with an air of mastery no-matter-what spawns impatience for the point or gist,” Joan Retallack writes in The Poethical Wager. What get lost are “values that encourage the necessarily inefficient, methodically haphazard inquiry characteristic of actually living with ideas” (51).
Enter inexpert investigation. A poet can bring fanciful fortitude to her investigation without commandeering it. After all, the poem need not serve as the final word, but rather, as an opening up for others to engage. A poet might be attuned to unlikely connections. Situational rhymes. An alchemy of juxtapositions.
This inexpertise involves responsibility—via responding. Listening.