13 de jul. de 2012

Uninterested

I am uninterested in poems that sound "poetic," in language that seems chosen for being lyrical. Here is the beginning of a poem I found at random, for example,
Adrift in the liberating, late light / of August, delicate, frivolous,/ they make their way to my front porch / and flutter near the glassed-in bulb, / translucent as a thought suddenly / wondered aloud, illumining the air / that's thick with honeysuckle and dusk.
I've italicized elements that seem to be the kind of "fine writing" I don't care for in my own work. Obviously it takes some talent to create a lyrical mood through the use of such writing. Maybe I don't have talent for evoking the translucent, shimmering dusk or honeysuckle illumining the tender dawn of fluttering bulbs.

The idea that you don't need to use that kind of language is probably a novel one for most readers and even poets. Everyone knows poetry doesn't have to rhyme, but not everyone knows it can do without poetic-sounding language.

Now am I correct in this prejudice? That is to say, can I justify it beyond my own preferences? I don't think that this kind of language is undesirable all the time. After all, that would be a rigid rule that might be counterproductive. What I think is that elevated lyricism shouldn't be a kind of "default" register for the writing of poetry.

5 comentarios:

Jim Murdoch dijo...

So many people have been put off poetry by being force-fed at school a certain kind of verse. With me it was the likes of Wordsworth, Robert Louis Stevenson, Burns, Masefield and Tennyson. The war poetry of Wilfred Owen was something of an eye-opener because it wasn’t interested in beauty (other than the beauty of language) but it was one poem by Philip Larkin that really hit the nail on the head for me. I talk about it often on my blog but the fact is it changed everything for me. It was ‘Mr. Bleaney’. Yes, it rhymes. Yes, it is metrical. But if you read it properly you don’t see any of that. There’s no pretty language. It’s about dull men living dull lives in a dull town. So what makes it poetry? That was the question I found I couldn’t answer but couldn't let go of either. Clearly my personal definition of poetry was flawed. Poetry was obviously something different than ‘da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM’. If you’ve not read them I have a couple of articles about ugly poetry up on my blog. Here’s the link to part one.

Joseph Duemer dijo...

My old teacher Henry Carlile use to call this sort of writing "poultry" to distinguish it from poetry -- at that was at the Iowa Writer's Workshop in the late 1970s. Henry's favorite one-word example: shards. I actually think there are a lot of poets representing many "schools" who are put off by this sort of thing, though probably no two poets would agree exactly on the borders of the domain.

Thomas dijo...

Whenever someone makes this argument (which I totally agree with) I can never resist doing the work of producing a Pounding "Station of the Metro"-type variant, trying to find the object that is "the adequate symbol". Here, once we remove most of the language you object to, it almost works. (Of course, we know that the poem was trying to say ... but I think the emotion, such as it is, is better presented in the imagist effort below, than through the "poetic" language of the original):


At dusk
they make their way to my front porch
circling the bulb in the thick air

Then you leave
and the moths come
I brush them away from my cheek.

Jonathan dijo...

Sure, the easiest way to write a conventionally "good poem" is to fall back on imagist principles. Short, concise lines full of visual imagery. I could imagine a writer who didn't know this, and how easy it would be to teach this mode of writing. Almost anyone's poetry would improve overnight. Yet this almost seems to easy a solution.

Thomas dijo...

I think it's the easiness of the solution that is good about the imagist principles. It raises the bar for a what poem must be capable of.

But maybe "poetic" poems are also an easy way to produce conventionally good poetry. It's just on another set of conventions that if you've got "the liberating, late light/ of august" in the poem (or the "dim lands of peace" for that matter) then it's got to be poem. And maybe it was once "easy" to write a sonnet.

One thing that my experiment is meant to discover is whether your criticism of the language is on target, vs. a criticism of the emotion, which reminds of Kasey Mohammad's question: What is wrong with Mary Oliver's "Kitten"? It's not the same thing that's wrong with the poem we're discussing here.