15 jun 2005

In any discussion of craft there would have to be room for at least 4 possibilities:

1) The poem that fails because of an evident lack of "craft." That is, simply the bad poem that anyone of us could improve simply by pointing out obvious failure of art. This is not particularly interesting and I don't have to give examples because they are everywhere.

2) The poem that is recognizably good and also obviously "crafted." That is, we attribute what is good here to something called "craft." Not particularly interesting either. I mean the poem might be interesting, but this does not raise any real issues for the present discussion. Let's say Lorine Niedecker for the sake of discussion. But this also works if you admire, say, Louise Glück at her best.

3) The poem that is good: We can praise it yet somehow we don't want to use the word "craft to describe what is good about it. Does it hide its artfulness flawlessly? Or does it seem "bad" in some way that ultimately doesn't matter? Or are we conditioned not to recognize what it does under the name "craft"? There are several possiblities here, all of them extremely interesting (to me at least). Let's say Frank O'Hara. Ars est celare artem and all the rest.

4) The poem that imitates the crafty ways of (2), but ultimately fails because its devices are too clumsy. It wears the uniform of the well-crafted poem but is not one. This kind of failure might be moderately interesting. In extreme cases it's ludicrous. It might be a smooth but trite poem by a Neo-Formalist, or a free-verse poem full of all the clichés still taught as "craft."

I could teach someone to go from (1) to (2)-- by way of (4) perhaps. Anyone likely to be reading this could probably do the same. The mystery is how to get to (3) without seeming to be (1) or sacrificing the virtues of (2). That is, more craft is generally better, except when it's not.

4 comentarios:

Anthony Robinson dijo...

Good job Jonathan.

Incoherent rambling on my blog in response.

Jonathan dijo...

Hey, that's the best kind of rambling, the incoherent kind.

Jake Adam York dijo...


There's got to be a fifth category that is somewhere between your second and third category. Maybe there's a sixth as well.

It strikes me that there's also (the fifth) the poem that would seem to be not-very-well-crafted according to a "traditional" or "common" definition of poetic craft but which, in the right context, is clearly fashioned on principles of its own (see my recent post at Thicket).

There also has to be a poem that has some of the traditionally crafty elements (a la #2) but which goes beyond them and provides something largely other (as in your #3). Here I'd put someone like A. R. Ammons, either in "Corson's Inlet" or Sphere, where there's a ton of verbal antithesis, symbol, image, metaphor --- lots of elements that Brooks and Warren might dig --- though the poem presents something else (itself) larger than those elements, something that overwhelms the smaller elements rather than seeming made up of them.

Suzanne Langer's distinction between discursive and presentational form (Philosophy in a New Key) might be useful here. Traditionally crafty poems (#2) might be seen as presenting discursive forms, wherein you treat the elements in a linear fashion, recognizing the marks of craft along the way; there's lots of little excellence to admire. O'Hara or Ammons, on the other hand, might present a presentational form, a form that is visible, ultimately, only once you've read the whole poem, a form that is the whole poem and that is larger than and perhaps better than the elements. Langer writes that these presentational forms can seem artless, because they present themselves as wholes and combat attempts to disarticulate them....

Don't know what you think of these ideas, but I am interest to hear.

Jonathan dijo...

What do I think of these ideas? Brilliant. I am not big on Ammons at all. I don't "get" him, but I get the analogy you're making with FO'H.