Friday, May 4, 2012

"Variations (for Three Old Saws)" by Stephen Yenser - Slate Magazine

"Variations (for Three Old Saws)" by Stephen Yenser - Slate Magazine:



Poetry makes nothing happen, of course, but that this the point of it all, to have a medium that is the verbal concentration of the human mind struggling along in the world outside an individual's innate sense of exclusivity. Stumbling, bumbling, jaw dropping in amazement or reacting in horrified disgust, poetry in the modern sense isn't a means of argument, the vehicle for proving yourself right about how existence should be arranged and what those results would be. 

Poetry undermines the permanent hubris that is humanity's great curse and introduces again to the grain of the cement that meets us when we fall.  

It makes nothing happens--planes still fall from the sky, celebrities commit suicide, genocide rages everywhere, babies are born with or without soft music playing--but it does stake the sting from the Sucker Punch of Irony we meet when we turn the corner while looking other direction.

Poems about poetry making nothing happen, though, are nothing to be proud of; clever poems about being clever and concluding, outright or by implication , that one's verbal brilliance is inevitable, instinctual, an unstoppable music we make in-spite of group consensus or occasion, is the lamest, shallowest of vanities. It is, so this poem subtly implies, the condition of being human. No. It is the condition of having a bankrupt imagination.

If there are no ideas in things you can find, don't write.

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"All poems are about poetry," or so the claim goes, but that has never been a convincing line of defense. In that sense, poetry is always about poetry the way all writing is about writing, in that a writer cannot advance the form unless he actively works against the standards and practices--even the theory of practice--that came before him. This view is deconstructionist, an old hat evasion that use to sufficed when a critic didn't want to discuss author intention nor technique. But poetry is a writing above all else and writing in general has the purpose of communicating something that regular discursive writing cannot--to take in the world and describe experiences in, whatever that happens to be. I think that we have a good many poets who would rather preen on the page than write something memorable. 

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