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self-consciousness

from “Self-Consciousness” by Tony Hoagland:

When a person takes the step toward learning more of craft and its history, more of artifice—when, for example, a person crosses the threshold of an MFA program—she chooses to end a childhood in artlessness. She gives up some of the innocent infatuation, the naïveté, the adolescent grandiosity, maybe even some of the natural grace of the beginner. “They are good poets because they don’t know yet how hard it is to write a poem,” I have heard a teacher say, a bit tartly, of her beginning poetry class.

This initiation into knowledge will infect the learner with the virus of self-consciousness. As a consequence of learning of the existence of the poems of W.H. Auden, or Marianne Moore, or Louise Glück, your writing may suddenly seem horribly simplistic, crude as crayon drawings on Masonite. Now the poem, even as you are making it, seems stiff, clumsy, and obvious. Now your work may become, in compensation, coy and encoded.

Yet that very knowledge, which can inhibit and choke, can also inspire and challenge. Self-consciousness is the necessary border crossing of craft, skill, and even of poetic ambition.”

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