13 sept. 2007

"Poetry should be at least as well written as prose." This statement is rather puzzling because poetry, as the putatatively superior mode, should be better written, not come up to some superior prose standard. I think what Pound was driving at was that since poetry ought to be better in the first place, we should reject poetry that doesn't even make it by prose standards. In other words, there is only ever writing, whether it's prose or verse. Bad writing in poetic form, padded verse and the like, is even less acceptable than bad prose, because the standard ought to be much higher. For example, this paragraph I am now writing is not very good prose. If a poem strikes you as less well written than this paragraph, then it isn't defensible.

The implicaton was that there was a lot of verse circulating that was not up to the standards of the best prose writers around at the time.

It's not that poetry should be good prose first, with some poetic value added on, but that it has to surpass the level of good prose to be even considered adequate.

8 comentarios:

Tom dijo...

A couple of quotes from Harry Mathews:

"My aim was to write prose that was as densely satisfying as poetry—not that it would be 'poetic prose' in the traditional sense."

"I've always been as much inspired by poets as by fiction writers, and in fact my reading Roussel enabled me to write prose as if it were poetry."

Interestingly, you were writing about this topic plus Harry Mathews at the same time in your blog in 2003. From Mathews's example, I don't think it necessarily follows that poetry is the more demanding form. Or at least it need not be.

-Tom King

Jonathan dijo...

Good point, but doesn't that maintain the hierarchy. He says he is more inspired by poets than by fiction writers. He is essentially saying that prose can be as well written as poetry.

Joseph Duemer dijo...

We expect writers of prose to possess a certain minimum competence with their language. It is remarkable how my beginning creative writing students so often arrive with the idea that "creative" means that this expectation has been suspended. Also, writing in verse tends to expose failures of prose competence.

JforJames dijo...

A week or so ago I posted to my blog the notion that well-appointed prose (elaborate and gorgeously crafted prose) or prose stripped bare (to absolute fewest words, its most spare essence) can be poetry. But nothing between those area of prose spectrum can be poetry. But I was speaking only the level of language. The part of the 'poetic' which has more to do with content can exist anywhere in any artform; its not language dependent.

Bob Basil dijo...

"If a poem strikes you as less well written than this paragraph, then it isn't defensible."

This cracked me up.

Tom dijo...

I guess you could look at Harry's quotes as proving the hierarchy, but if the prose is "brought up" to the level of poetry, the hierarchy wouldn't exist.

Also, Harry was always anti-hierarchical in his classes (in terms of language used in your writing), or at least anti-subordination. To be coordinate rather than subordinate.

Jonathan dijo...

"...as densely satisfying as poetry" --that phrase from HM that you quoted implies that poetry is already densely satisfying by its very nature but that prose often isn't. That's all I meant by the word "hierarchy" in that context. "A baby as strong as a grown man" has a certain implicature to it--that babies aren't usually as strong as that. What confused me about the Pound quote was that it seemed to get it backwards "as well written as prose." Whereas the Mathews quotes do the opposite. They rest on the more traditional assumption that prose needs to come up to where verse is.

Tom dijo...

"Densely" may be a key word. Think of Keats's "Load every rift with ore." HM also mentions frequently the displeasure of merely "scrolling" through a work of fiction (I believe he said this about Stephen King). Also, the times are different. Maybe Pound is saying there was a lot of post-Victorian poetic tripe in his time (which he is clearly not immune to in his early work). And the proliferation of bad paperback prose came later along with the more densely written modernists.

-Tom King