23 mar 2010

From the idea that poetry is closer to music than it is to "literature" as conventionally defined, I draw four areas of study that might be fruitful. Maybe these areas will help clarify what I mean by this statement.

(1) Poetry can renegotiate its relation to literature. If poetry were the major subject, and the novel was seen as marginal, there would be a de-emphasis on longer narrative structures. The relation of literature to society would not be centered on the mimetic portrayal of society on the broad canvas, but on the social function of music and poetry.

(2) Poetry would renegotiate its relation to music as well. There would be a new interdisciplinary field called "song studies."

(3) Performative aspects would take center stage, as they do now in the study of theater.

(4) If music, why not visual art too? Or dance. Poetry would be one of the arts.

Tomorrow, I will break down each of these ideas.

My basis for making the assertion in the first place relies on

(1) Historic connections between poetry and music. Lyric poetry arises historically as the words to songs.

(2) Even after the great divorce between the music and the words, there are still songs with words. Words not meant to be set to music are still set to music. The poem can still aspire to be a song. Poets still think musically; there is no good poet I know who doesn't have a fairly deep interest in some genre of music. Hell, there's not even a bad poet I know who doesn't have a deep interest in music. Poets think musically. The more you think about this subject the righter you'll realize I am.

(3) Poetry and music are the only two things that have meter, and they have meter in analogous ways. Sure, a bouncing basketball has a rhythm, but poetry and music have a rhythm in a way that's closer to one another than either is to the bouncing ball or the movement of the tides.

(4) Sure, there are areas of poetry less connected to music. You can have those. In other words, I'll give you those and I'll keep the musical part. If you hesitate to make this bargain, then you know deep down I'm on to something here.

9 comentarios:

Matt Walker dijo...

"Poetry and music are the only two things that have meter"

Does poetry always have meter? If you're saying even the free-est of free verse has meter, then wouldn't you have to say that regular prose, the kind found in "literature", also has meter?

Jonathan dijo...

Ah ha. I never said poetry always had meter. (There is music without meter too, after all.) It is still rigorously true that nothing except for music and poetry has meter. That might have been a clearer way of expressing my point. Maybe dance has meter, so that if you turned off the sound, there would still be meter in the dance steps themselves. Normally, however, we think of dance rhythm as subordinate to musical rhythm.

Prose has rhythm too. What I'm working toward eventually is to see that prose is a form of poetry, according the Mallarmean idea, In other words, we should judge the rhythm of the novel as rigorously as that of the poem. First I have to get people to accept my first propositions, though.

Ray Davis dijo...

Since I pretty much read all literature, including essays, as if it was poetry (admittedly, just about all of it is crap poetry), your original formulation didn't mean much to me. But poetry-music ambiguities, now that's a rich vein for meditation (and recitation and singing and dancing).

Right now I'm reading a surprisingly excellent academic book, Between Baudelaire and Mallarmé: Voice, Conversation and Music, by Helen Abbott (French scholar who's also performed as a classical soprano). I always like going back to Stephen Ratcliffe's close-listening Campion, too, although in some ways it serves as a warning post for potential limitations of his approach.

Jonathan dijo...

I'm going to be looking at those two books, Ray. Thanks for the suggestion.

The point is not to get rid of literature, but to get poetry out from under it. From the literary point of view, where people talk about "poets and writers," poetry is considered kind of a minor genre.

maryrose larkin dijo...

wait, poetry ISN'T one of the arts?

Jonathan dijo...

Sure it is one of the arts: my point is that this is forgotten when poetry is seen as a minor genre of "literature."

Ray Davis dijo...

Since you're a teacher as well as a writer and listener, I hope it's OK if I add that by far my most satisfying official labor as a college student was a term paper pastiching a series of Tudor lyricists -- Wyatt, Dowland, Campion, on through Donne -- footnoted with brief justifications of my stylistic choices and capped by a selection of testimony to the Dryden-Purcell collaborations. It gave me a sense of inhabiting (and to some extent coming to terms with) England's shift from lyric and music as mutually supportive to lyric and music as self-sufficient "musical"/musical entities which sometimes negotiated rapprochement.

Vance Maverick dijo...

There was no muse of "literature".

Jordan dijo...

Poetry and music both appeal to wastrels who crave instant or at least minimal-labor fame.

So there's that.