Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Long Winded Extract from an On Line Discussion About Poetry

A New Yorker cartoon shows two dogs in a den, one on chair, in front of a computer monitor , talking to another dog seated on the floor. The dog in the chair tells his friend "No one knows you're a dog on the Internet."

Exactly, and I suppose that's the appeal of forums and blogs; one is at liberty to represent themselves as having some competence and insight on a subject. One might even convince readers, or some of them at least, that one has professional expertise;one might even have something interesting to say. I don't know if the words that following are interesting beyond coffeehouse chatter--I think the points are sound enough--but here they are. Judge them as you will, and call me a jerk if you think I'm a deluded dealer in obvious asides.-tb

He was typing furiously to get a response to me before I shut off the computer, and sure enough, after refreshing the computer monitor, there was his nickname on a new post, attempting a counter argument in a protracted discussion (or competing rants, if you will) about the uses and role of art and poetry in this world. He wrote “ART used to create a response in LIFE. “

It's the other way around, replied, and continued; Art is a response TO life, a creative way for us to find new ways of experiencing what otherwise an incoherent flux of activity that only bullied us about with out any of us having the vaguest idea of how to better our lot. Life, as sheer process and force of nature, cannot be swayed by pure acts of will or bold imagination; art, besides leaving civilization with personal expressions of who we are and how we felt while we were alive, is also a engagement of our senses and skills that empower us to solve problems, to maintain a sense of humor, faith in something greater than our lone human selves, and provide with a means to live better lives. Art is a means for us to bring our imagination to bear on this planet, to create something for our selves that make this existence bearable, and at times joyous.

One discussion I had recently was interesting in that the person I was spoke with insisted that technique was over rated and that “…form is immaterial... so long as it creates the desired effect”. I scratched my chin and offered that one can usually have an effect of any sort only if the form is effective in getting across the intangible things you want your poems to address. One may effuse and rhapsodize all they want, but beyond a certain readership already inclined toward sentimental barbarity (the breathless pursuit of trite expression and banal conclusion, a defense mechanism, I believe, that shields the nervous from thinking bolder, or at least clearer about the larger implications of their actions in a world beyond themselves), the larger readership, small though it may be, will gain nothing, remember nothing from odd lines that exclaim obvious annoyances and joys. War is bad. Love hurts. Babies area cute. Mean people suck.

Millions of poems written by thousands of furious scribblers don’t get much further than these belated realizations, and it is understandable while yet millions more walk away from poems that are uniformly unmemorable, with hardly a quotable line or pithy adage to be drawn from them. This is all very sad because what comes forth in these untidy ossifications are notions that are revelatory and previously unrevealed to the writers themselves but which otherwise rest on the bottom of the fish tank like so much glass seashells.

Form matters because it means that one has learned their lessons about writing—poetry, though expressive of the soul’s yearnings and all, is writing, remember, subject to rules of clarity, precision, diction. One may do what one wants to do with language only after the lessons are learned, which is to say internalized. Form does matter, as in grammar, language skill, syntax, et al. A writer is more or less required to know the mechanics of writing and something about poetry before their efforts reach the level of art of any consideration. One cannot break the rules unless one knows the rules. The poet ought to desire the effect, but the insistence that a work have the "desired effect" is a slippery bit of business. Individual readers will bring their own experience to bear when they read and interpret the work; a bit of themselves will color how they recognize the particular ideas and instances the poet writes of. The poets' task, better said, is to write their material in a way that it elicits a response in the first place. For the most part, the dimensions of response are none of the writers' business.

Poetry... without effect... is meaningless babble.

Too broad a statement, covering as it does too many centuries of poetry, ideas about poetry, cultures in which poetry is written, et al. "Effect" is another slippery word; what one doesn't personally respond to may well be and probably is someone else’s' core moral truth. There is also the reasonable possibility that the reader finding something foul in a style of writing is unaware of the standards and requirements the style needs. What isn’t understood straight away is often condemned out of hand, without inspection, and it’s not unlike many to be willful in their refusing to learn something about writing aesthetics they didn’t know before. This fact doesn’t lessen the quality of the complainer’s preferred bards, periods and dictions; indeed, some of the poets might be embarrassed at the use of their name for cultural intolerance. Still others, like Eliot or Pound, would join a chorus of condemnation in short order, as long as the controversy involved further vilification of Jews.

That said, let us conclude that no one reading this the Ideal Reader, earnestly reading literature without preconceptions as to an art’s need to bolster unchanging certainties, and that we do the best we do to understand how something works on its own terms. It’s the cliché we hear from time to time, the search for similarities among ourselves rather than the concentration on obvious differences. We can reject the similarities if we like, but it helps to have a humane preference as to what one leans toward in the service of creating a life worth living rather than merely wallowing in the bitter juice of sour grapes

My adversary changes the subject, a dig at the universities and their secular relativism: At worst it is pseudo-intellectual drivel indented to impress Academic pundits. Take that!! Have at you!!!

You're writing about a particular KIND of academic poetry, I wrote back, and went off on another riff; this is suspect, and here condemn hundreds of poets and their work without a fair reading. It's hard work, I know, trying to keep abreast of what's available, what's being written, and a lot of it is bad, stale, calcified on the page, but a good amount of it is daring and fresh, contains verve, engages ideas and the real world at the same time, and otherwise performs what has always been the principle mission of the poet, to find new ways of experiencing the world, and inspiring new ways of living within it in a larger sense of community.

Poetry, at core, is about ideas and intellectual concepts as much as it is about feelings, and far less about sentiment. Without the kind of rigor these "intellectual" poets bring to bear on their work, there'd be nothing but a dull gallery of old and brittle styles for us to choose from, a juke box full of scratchy records, rhymes of old dead men that we ceaselessly imitate without a wit about why these old lyrics were written in the first place. I would say these old tunes were first written to bring some NEW IDEAS to our consciousness, some new perceptions to fire our sense of a larger and more interesting life. This is something we can’t afford to stop doing. At best it elevates the spirit or creates deep emotional response. Life, I believe, is something whose final, "fixed" meaning is unknowable, and is, really, something we bring "meaning" to by dint of our actions.What we have done, said, written will speak for us when we aren't able to rant, cajole, seduce and wave our arms as we attempt to persuade others that we're a benefit to the race. This, of course, makes life neither inherently good nor bad, though we do have it in our power to agree on acceptable, workable, flexible definitions of what constitutes the "good life" and what actions make for the ill. Life, though, is more than just "mankind". It is EVERYTHING, and we are just here visiting. The quality of the visit, though, is entirely within our grasps.

He didn’t answer and I was tired, and it was then I noticed the neighbor’s television was on, and loud. David Letterman was barking his quips about Regis Philbin, his voice muffled as it filtered through my radiator. It was time to shut things down and go to sleep/

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:28 AM PDT

    You take the good with the bad, I suppose. The internet makes everyone think they are a writer or an expert on anything they wish to be, but at the same time, they allow this sort of discourse. That is, assuming you have fun arguing over the internet, which I happen to do.


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