5 jun. 2007

There are two equal and opposite fallacies. One is that the colloquial direct style is and should be the ideal for all poetic writing. That you should never write anything that couldn't be said. The other fallacy is that poetic language needs to mark its distance, be its own separate language. I could teach a whole course just on those two ideas and their permutations. Both are false, I suppose, and they are mutually exclusive on the face of it. Yet both are just true enough to create confusion.

It is true that a direct, colloquial style with lots of concrete visual imagery and speech rhythms will usually be pretty good. (With the caveat in the post below that this is not an easy thing to do. Some people can't even speak colloquially.) By the same token, a big part of what's bad writing is the product of the "shimmering glimmering school." In other words, the idea that putting a lot of flashy words in is a good idea. The Derek Walcott fallacy.

On the other hand, this primacy of the colloquial direct style is oppressively puritanical without the counterbalance of the opposite idea, that poetry needs to encompass and engage language beyond the immediacy of what one might verisimilarly utter in real life. Poetry is the fullness of language, not a limited selection. Styles that seem colloquial often aren't as direct as they seem, and people often can't state accurately what the diction of a poem actually is. (That is, they might not realize how elevated it is. There are many degrees of elevation. For example, when Williams speaks of "love's obscure and insatiable appetite." That's a nuggest of "literary" writing but it seems colloquial in the context of a poem about some sparrows by the iron fence post, barely seen for the dry leaves that half cover them, stirring up the leaves...

8 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

If you teach that course, can you do it on-line, so I can take it?

Joseph Duemer dijo...

What you say seems true, Jonathan. I agree that poetry as a whole ought to cover the "fullness of language," though of course any given poem presents a limited range, or selection of diction(s).

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, Joseph. Any single poet, or poem, would be limited in relation to this idea of "fullness."

John dijo...

This is where Antin is so valuable: The colloquial style is usually as fictional as any, because actual speech is usually a mess, full of starts and stops and backtracking and "um." (I try to hear "um" as a variant of "om," a meditation-syllable.)

What passes as colloquial is often idealized middle-class prose-speech, either jaunty and boho, like Berrigan in his talky mode, or, heck, white collar and quietudinous, in the Silliman sense of quietudinous.

Both the the jaunty boho talky mode and the quietudinous meditative mode tend toward monochromaticism. Actual messy talk is almost always more musical and more polychromatic.

Joseph Duemer dijo...

Antin's practice is interesting & useful, but if it's true that "actual messy talk is almost always more musical and more polychromatic" than more formal poetries, that pretty much erases literature. And not just literature as high art, but folk songs & the blues as well.

John dijo...

Acchh -- please forgive my overstatement.

What I meant was --

We don't know how to listen to speech. It's weirder than anybody gives it credit for. Take or leave Antin as a poet, but as a theorist, when he says that speech is closer to poetry than to prose, I agree. Speech is driven by association and rhythm.

If speech is more interesting than "most" speech-based poetry, that still leaves non-speech-based styles alone, and the best speech-based stuff as well. My point was -- and I didn't make this clear -- the reason it's so hard to emulate Myles (or Berrigan) is that tone is the hardest thing to catch in writing. ("it's tone I'm in love with" -- did Williams say that, or Oppen? I don't remember.) And even a wonderful poet like Berrigan (whom I love) has a tendency toward monochromaticism that captures only a thin slice of speech. What he accomplishes with the monochromaticism can be very beautiful and moving as well as witty and piquant and what-have-you. ("Train Ride" is a great example of something that builds to a very moving effect by using a "plain-spoken" style.) Sometimes monochromaticism is just the right thing.

John dijo...

We don't know how to listen to speech because we are constantly filtering out the "noise" of repetition, backtracking, and "um," in search of the "signal." If we listen for the noise as much as for the signal, speech becomes a really weird trip.

Check it out.

John dijo...

Oops -- hit the "post" button too quickly without realizing it --

Antin isn't the only one to have pointed this out. Freudian theorists have as well, as well as the late Canadian literary theorist Northrop Frye, who observed that most people don't speak in prose. Antin took the leap and said that speech is closer to poetry. Regardless of whether that leap works for you, the "noise" of speech is perhaps worthy of more interest than it has usually received.

Dennis Tedlock too -- his transcriptions of Zuni stories into "orchestrated" verse rather than prose influenced Antin.