Statement of Philosophy

A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.



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Monday, November 14, 2016

"the mind is its own beautiful prisoner" by E.E. Cummings

The text of the verse is found on-line, here [link]. To note, there is variation in how the verse is published. In the Collected Poems: 1922-1938, it is published as presented on the website (so also, then, I presume, in 100 Selected Poems, the named source for the linked page). In the Complete Poems: 1913-1962, however, the text is presented with spaces after all punctuation. (I do not know how the verse is presented in the most recent edition of the Complete.) As well, in both the Collected and the Complete, the text reads "Mine" in the second line, not "Mind": we can presume that is a typo.

 

the erotic and the merely sexual

 

The presentation here is divided, the theoretic discussion first, the exploration of the verse coming after. Most of the work of this essay will lie in that opening discussion; as such, it will be a relatively short exploration. However, because the verse is such a good example for the ideas being presented, it is my thought that by keeping the verse in mind from the start both the verse might work as demonstration of the theory and the theory might work as explication of the verse even as the theoretic ideas are being presented. For that, and because of both the brevity of the verse and the differences in the online version and the version in the Complete, I will break from my normal habits[FN] and give the verse in full, here, to be read as part of my presentation. (As with most of Cummings's work, it is untitled.)

 
the mind is its own beautiful prisoner.
Mine looked long at the sticky moon
opening in dusk her new wings

then decently hanged himself, one afternoon.

The last thing he saw was you
naked amid unnaked things,

your flesh, a succinct wandlike animal,
a little strolling with the futile purr
of blood; your sex squeaked like a billiard-cue
chalking itself, as not to make an error,
with twists spontaneously methodical.
He suddenly tasted worms windows and roses

he laughed, and closed his eyes as a girl closes
her left hand upon a mirror.

 

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[FN] The main reason I do not normally give the text in the post is because having a link to the text permits having the text open in a separate window for reference.
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From very early on in my literary studies I have held to the belief that any theory of literature must successfully account for two test cases: the comedic and the erotic. That is, account for them as inherent to the proffered theory, without, as I have often seen, bracketing them in one manner or another as peculiarities lying outside the central ideas. While the test case of the comedic was to the fore of my puzzling early on, it has not maintained a central place in my thinking as has the erotic. In part, because it ended up being a puzzle solved by happenstance in my early theoretic studies. But in part also because my own creative writing, while often light hearted, is rarely out and out comedic: I thus had no practical impetus to study the comedic beyond a general understanding.

That is not so with the erotic. For not only has the erotic always and ever held interest to me as a field of study (not only in literature but across the arts), it has held and has maintained a position as one of the primary themes of my creative work. As such, I have continually been forced to confront, genuinely and in depth, the question of the relation between the erotic and the aesthetic[FN].

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" by Wallace Stevens and "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" by Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich's "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" can be found here [link]
Wallace Stevens's "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" can be found here [link]
 

another example of the difference between the poetic and prosaic modalities

 

In writing the previous post, it was not my original thought to follow up with more examples to the same point. Though, a door had been opened (if not a new door); and I was not unaverse to holding to the line of thought if opportunity presented itself. Which it did, by two unrelated online incidences, the first of which returned Wallace Stevens's "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" to my thoughts, the second of which brought Adrienne Rich's "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" to my attention. By coincidence, both verses feature tigers and use them in similar ways. Plus there is the bonus that "Disillusionment" is one of my favorite short verses by Stevens. So why not.

This post will differ from the previous in three ways. First, I am going to speak a little more about verseform, about the material aspects of the works. Second, in this post I cover the poetic work, Stevens's, and before the prosaic, Rich's. Third, I'm not going to dwell as much on the theoretic aspects of the poetic and prosaic; indeed, I may take this post in a different direction.

That said, I will begin with the reminder that while the prosaic works in the modality of the factual and the poetic in the modality of the symbolic, that does not mean that the poetic cannot or does not use factual statements. In the two verses under examination here the tigers appear in sentences that, on their own, are factual statements.

Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen, bright topaz denizens of a world of green.

Only, here and there, an old sailor, drunk and asleep in his boots, catches tigers in red weather.

"On their own" is key to the point. A prosaic text functions through independent statements logically coordinated into a whole. The statements in a prosaic text never move outside their own factual being. Putting two factual statements into coordination with each other does not change the nature or reading of the statements, even when the logical relationship established is one of opposition.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Patterns" by Amy Lowell and "Garden" by H.D.

This ended up more an academic essay than a verse exploration post – not that I haven't posted essays here before. Despite it not turning out as planned, it fits in the mission statement, so I'll post it here as well as to the home site [link to page].


&nsbp;

Amy Lowell's "Patterns" found here [link]
H.D.'s "Garden" found here [link]
 

demonstrating the difference between the prosaic and poetic modes

 

Obviously, as one would guess from the title, Robert Duncan's The H.D. Book is an engagement with the works of H.D. (particularly her Trilogy). It is also an extended meditation upon the idea of Poetry: that is, capital-P Poetry; not "poetry" in the broad, populist, use of the word but in the sense of that literature that is the rarity in any and every period, that is that rarefied experience that separates Poetry from mundane verse. The primal scene of the book, the opening scene, is his first experience of what Duncan calls that "second order" of literature, in a high school classroom, in his having read to him by his teacher H.D.'s "Heat." It is a scene of revelation, in the context of the book a first initiation into the possibilities of that higher realm of literary (and artistic) experience. I will permit myself one extended quotation from The H.D. Book, one that speaks to that "second order" of literature:

More than sensation, then, more than impression, gave force to the image. It was not only a vivid representation of sensory data but an evocation of depth. Image in Amy Lowell's poem ["Patterns"] had meant that words could illustrate and give mood. But in this poem "Heat," image conveyed not only the appearance of things or the sensual feel of things and moods, but experience, the reciprocity between inner and outer realities. There was another working of the image, more than Amy Lowell proposed, back of sense and mood, partly conscious and partly unconscious. I was aware that sensual intensity in this poem of H.D.'s, like the sensual intensity in Lawrence's work, demanded some new beginning in life from my own intensity. Such images were more immediate and real than likenesses of seeing, hearing or smelling were. (42-43)[FN]

Duncan sets up Amy Lowell, specifically as regards the verse "Patterns" as counterpoint to H.D. and "Heat": both verses involve gardens, and both H.D. and Lowell were considered (or called) Imagists, though Pound did not consider Lowell all that much of an Imagist and H.D. was and remains the foremost Imagist. (As Duncan points out, Pound would later say he created Imagism primarily to promote H.D.'s work.) For Duncan, Lowell is of that "order of poems and stories that we must know all about if we were to be accomplished students" (38). Though, Duncan, there, is speaking both of texts that are of the same modality as "Patterns" and of the reading of texts in the manner that texts like "Pattens" can only be read. That is, I believe he includes the act of forcing second order texts to be read as though of the first order, turning them into those culturally requisite – which is also to say culturally safe – texts. (While Duncan does not explicitly make that statement, I believe it is inherent in his wording. The H.D. Book would not be written as it were if Duncan was not quite aware that there is no small body of literary criticism that strives to treat literature universally in just that way.)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Miller Lite

the question of -ly

 

A simple little note here on something that has been catching my ear on television. Currently, Miller Lite has in their ad campaigns gone back to pointing to the spelling of "lite" and how they began that habit. The catch phrase you hear on their commercials with this is

Spelled different because it is brewed different.

Which, obviously is grammatically incorrect. Those are adverbs, so the words should be differently.

Now, it does not surprise me that there would be language errors in an ad campaign: advertising, particularly what I hear on television and radio, seems to be permitting a greater and greater degree of sloppiness in their work. I frequently hear conjunctions and adverbs misused; it is not infrequent that I hear nouns or verbs used to the wrong definition or out and out clumsy sentence constructions; and occasionally I even here gross errors in fact. For example, I recently heard a local radio ad that used Little Red Riding Hood as an example of being choosy – the correct reference being of course Goldilocks. The ad didn't stay on the air very long, but there still waves the question of how did it get on the air in the first place.

But back to Miller Lite. Language changes over time. Everyone knows that. One of the changes that is happening in English today is that the -ly that marks adverbs is being dropped more and more. I have heard it said that the -ly is "disappearing from the language." From my listening, though, it does not seem that it is disappearing but that it is become permissibly optional. (Far, far more in speech than in writing.) If you drop the body of people who are mis-speaking because of dialect, lack of education, or lack of attention, it has seemed to me, from my listening, that people (and this includes myself) will sometimes use the -ly and sometimes not, and often for a purpose related to the utterance. For example, there is a sort of punch that you can create to a statement by using the adjective form instead of the adverb form, especially when the adjective form is one syllable. (You hear this used often in colloquial or slang constructions.) I also believe that people with a more developed poetic or musical ear will sometimes drop the -ly for the sake of rhythm.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Drinking to do

Yes, this is the first thing I've added here in nearly three months. Yes, it's a silly little thing. Get over it.

 

playing with composition and a note on ornament

 

So last week I was cleaning up a pile of loose notes, print ups, unlabeled manilla folders, doodle pages and the like, one of those piles that tends to grow on the back corner of your desk, or on top of your dictionary, or, as this one, on the shelf beside the notebooks, and I found in a beat up, mini, spiral notepad that I used to carry in my hip pocket (now I just carry folded paper) this little, quickly written ditty. (I copy it exactly as I found it. If there was prompt or purpose behind the note, I've forgotten it.)

Get off your asses
There is beer in the glasses
That are waiting for us just down the street.
There's drinking to do when we get out of this stew
And I'd rather not drink in defeat.

Since I seem temporarily incapable of writing something in depth for this blog, I thought it might be an interesting plaything.

 

Looking at the first stanza, the base rhythm should be familiar – not that it's from any particular work but it's commonly enough heard. It's essentially paired dactyls

` - - ` - -
` - - ` - -
` - - ` - - `

Only the last syllable on the first and second line is moved to the beginning of the next lines:

` - - ` -
- ` - - ` -
- ` - - ` - - `

The second stanza has some extra syllables – actually, enough extra syllables that it creates an extra foot. It is also not a repetition of the first stanza but a variation thereon: the first stanza has feminine rhymes: asses/glasses. The second stanza has masculine: do/stew. However, there is a kind of a slant feminine sound to the lines that echoes the first stanza.

. . . to DO when
. . . this STEW and

How do we write the lines? If we follow the first stanza and go for the same rhythm, we get this.

there's DRINKing to DO when
we get OUT of this STEW and
i'd RAther not DRINK in deFEAT

Only, this shows that there is a flaw in the writing, created out of the combination of that extra syllable in the front of the fifth line and in that the syntactical phrase begins at the end of the fourth line. The natural reading is

there's DRINKing to DO when WE get OUT of this STEW

That extra syllable – which is really an extra foot – is a problem that has to be fixed before considering how to write the lines. But how to fix it? There are no contractions to work as written, but there may be with different wording.

there's DRINKing to DO when
we're THROUGH with this STEW and

Fun rhyme but it doesn't mean the same thing at all. Same with

we're DONE with this STEW

Again, the wrong meaning. Really the phrase needs to be "out of." There is the simple fix of keeping the contracted "we're" but dropping "get."

there's DRINKing to DO when
we're OUT of this STEW and

Which fits and works . . . . but is boring: between the "d" of "do" and the "t" of "out" there's not a hard sound to be found. That "get" is very much missing.

What about eliding that annoying "when"?

there's DRINKing to DO we
get OUT of this STEW and

It's odd, but it works – but the oddity of it will have to be justified by the verse as a whole. To the negative it destroys that faux feminine rhyme, which pretty much kills writing it in the same manner as the first two lines. But with the rhythm already well established, do we really need to write the line as two lines?

There's drinking to do we get out of this stew

That's working for me. Plus, having the "and" slip down to the final line is not a catastrophe.

and i'd RAther not DRINK in deFEAT

Because the first two syllables are small words ("and I'd") and neither wants to pull the accent from "rather"; as such, the double lead-in is not out of bounds.

But it has to pass a certain test. Looking at the scansion,

- - ` - - ` - - `

you can see that there is the threat that the line might be read not as two dactyls but as three anapests.[FN] Reading the line out loud, however, demonstrates readily that that shift does not happen: the natural rhythm stays dactylic.

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[FN] As example for such a shift, notice how the the extra and shifting syllable turned the dactylic

get OUT of this STEW and [I'd]

into the iambic

when WE get OUT of this STEW.
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This gives us as a final two (not three) lines:

There's drinking to do we get out of this stew
And I'd rather not drink in defeat.

Which works just fine. Though, that colloquial elision still needs to be justified to be stronger.

So, back to the first three lines. There is the extra syllable in line 2, but that's easily fixed with the contraction.

Get of your asses
There's beer in the glasses

Which leaves us with that mess of a third line.

That are waiting for us just down the street.

We'll keep

JUST down the STREET

and try to fix the rest.

The easy solution is "awaiting"

aWAITing us JUST down the STREET

But simply put I don't like it. It sounds too passive. However, the subject of the phrase could just as well be "beer", not "glasses." Indeed, it should be beer, because no one thinks ahead to empty glasses, no matter how cooled they are. As such, it should be "that is" not "that are."

that's WAITing for us JUST down the STREET

There's still an extra syllable. Why not elide it too? We'll also change "that" to "what" for the sound. Punctuating to taste, and this gives us, as a whole, this.

Get off your asses,
There's beer in the glasses
What's waiting us just down the street.
There's drinking to do we get out of this stew
And I'd rather not drink in defeat.

That's a nice enough little piece of light verse. It does have a semantic issue in that "getting out of a stew" rather implies victory of some sort, which would clash with the last line. Though, it need not imply victory; one can also merely get of the a stew with minimal damages.

But there's one more thing I'd like to try. How about another colloquialism – if it can even be called that; perhaps these quirks are better called idiom? That is, adding an -s to "off."

Get offs your asses

It's ornamental; but, ornament is an important part of any artistic endeavor. And like all good ornament it is not divorced from context of the work – after all, composition is everything.

 

Get offs your asses,
There's beer in the glasses
What's waiting us just down the street.
There's drinking to do we get out of this stew
And I'd rather not drink in defeat.

 

It adds to the susurrus of sibilants already present throughout the first four lines. But it also adds a soft, forward echo of "what's". Plus, it adds to the general, idiomatic flavor. Also, notice how the /fs/ combination slows down the annunciation of that first line? I like that too.

Not, it's not the king's English; it's not even ordinarily spoken English; but so what? It's interesting – which is what verse should be. Yeah, it's something of a judgment call, and I'm not saying the result is great verse by any means, but it is interesting. Which is one job – labor, pre-requisite to labor – that so many contemporary verse writers (free and formal) don't seem to recognize (or don't seem competent at): there's no reason to write verse if you're not making the verse – the material aspect of the text, the words, the reading of the words – interesting. Indeed, that is a rather usable definition of the difference between verse and basic, communicative prose: verse is prose made interesting in itself. (Note that meter and rhyme do not in themselves necessarily make verse interesting, just as arbitrary line breaks do not necessarily make prose interesting . . . . or even verse.) As long as it's justified by the whole of the verse – here, idiom that only lasts a single line would have come off as a cheap gimmick to permit a line of verse – then go for it. Make it interesting. There's nothing more pointless than uninteresting verse, no matter what the subject is. I'd rather read clumsy interesting verse than clean uninteresting verse any day. At least the former shows possibility.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Year of the Cat" by Al Stewart

from Year of the Cat (1976)

similes, and metaphoricity

 

A few months ago I heard Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat" (1976) for the first time in a long, long while – heard it where I could stop and listen, not heard it as, say, background music during a shopping tour. It was one of my favorites, once upon a time: you have to like its tapping into noirish thematics (both lyrically and musically) and its preference for musical understatement; and there is a strangeness to it, an "I am unlike the rest," even for it being but good pop. But that is touching only on what strikes me about it, and is neither here nor there elsewise.

However, the opening stanzas of the song offer an excellent text for demonstrating and exploring the difference between simile and metaphor, a line of thought I opened a couple of posts ago in part VI of the Poetry Magazine series [link] with hopes of finding just such an opportunity (perhaps not the last).

So, here's a youtube of the song if you are unfamiliar or want to hear it again. (It is patient in its leading in, so the lyrics don't start until just after 1:00.)

And here are the opening stanzas.

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime

She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don't bother asking for explanations
She'll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat

There are two similes in the stanzas. The first one ("like Peter Lorre") is straight forward, and offers simple example of what a simile does. The second ("like a watercolor") is part of a tangle of ideation that gives us the contrast necessary to see what a simile does not – and cannot – do by way of what a metaphor can do.

Some notes before continuing: