Monday, September 5, 2011

Poetry mongering

Poetry without strict meter or rhyme is hardly formless if it is done well, since I think the aesthetic of the early modernists, from Whitman through Eliot, Pound WC Williams and up through the present day was to model cadences on the inflections of real speech. Idealized speech, of course, but speech all the same as the inspiration for jettisoning the mathematical formulations that dominated serious poetry.

There is something in the best of lines of non-rhyming, unmetered poems that gets at a number of verbal nuances that might otherwise not be available to a poet concerned with adhering to a conventional approach. 

As with metered verse, we have concern ourselves over which poets have an ear, a musical sensibility that can select the right words for a difficult perception to get across, and who know when to pause, to construct a high, frantic rhetoric, when to calm down, when to stop talking. Robert Creeley, John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara , Thomas Lux, masters of free verse, geniuses even, are every bit important to the history and extension of poetry and poetic gesture as were the usual suspects lurking in the ranks of the older dead white males.

We do have blather, of course we do, we have pompous and amorphous spewings of pretentious , slender lined tripe that is hideously dreadful, but this, I think, is the case for poetry in general, regardless of era, style, aesthetic, politics; most poets are awful and what they write deserves a can of gasoline and a match. The point of it all, among other points to consider and define, is discussing what makes for a good unrhymed poem. I would present Creeley and Thomas Lux as examples, and I would go as far to maintain that John Ashbery, Ron Silliman and Ishmael Reed are no less perfect examples, though of a more expansive, abstract leaning. It's a big subject within a bigger tent.

Critics and philosophers have debated the utility of art since The Republic and before , and aside from some inspired manifestos about how the surest art will revolutionize and utterly transform the human experience with the material and spiritual realms, the general consensus, so far as my academic and independent readings, is that art's basic function is to create joy, IE, pleasure, entertainment by any other term. In those terms, art is hedonistic by default, created and sought out because it pleases the creator and the observer. What moral/philosophical/sociological/political insight or "lessons" the art conveys or that one discerns is merely incidental. Aesthetics ,of course, is not a philosophy, but merely a kind of inquiry--it is a practice that can be attached to virtually any moral or philosophical undertaking. Hedonism , though, is not a philosophy at all, and I don't recall reading any serious defense or affirmative presentation of the "do your own thing' approach in over four decades.

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