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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Friday, January 25, 2013

"Q" by Michael McFee -- Poetry Daily, 1/23/13

from Was That Oasis (Carnegie Mellon)
poem found here
 

first lines:
;U’s mate, O with a new root,
the one capital letter

 

the little things do count

-- a little editing 06/17/2013
-- reformatted, and minor edit 11/24/2013

 

I don’t mind little ditties. In truth, I really enjoy a clever little ditty. There’s a true place in poetry for them. (Yeat's oeuvre is full of them.) A collection of the better would be something worth having on the shelf – for fun and profit. The difficulty with a ditty, however, is that it takes very little for it to fall apart and drop from being a clever little poem to being nothing of note.

And I have problems with this poem.

Is ‘Q’ the only capital to drop below the line? Depends on the font. (It would have to be formal print fonts for the poem to make sense: in my handwriting Q, J, F, Z, sometimes Y, and occasionally X fall below.) Scroll down a fontlist you will see ‘J’ very frequently drops below. Nit picking? I don’t think so, here, where my very first thought on reading the first stanza was, “No, ‘J’ does also.” (As well, in many fonts 'Q' does not at all drop.)

So the, can this poem get away making that definitive -- and poem anchoring -- statement about the quality of the letter Q's tail? Is it a safe generalization? Here I think it fails: there is too hard an attempt to force the truth into the poem. The key to what I mean here is the question: does it matter to the poem? If it does terribly I would say the poem is fatally flawed by insisting it is the only letter with such a quality. But I do not think that is the case, here. It seems the idea could be wholly replaced – after all, there is no rhyme or meter here, so it is not like it would be that difficult.

Another issue: not much attention to grammar: that comma after line 3 really pisses me off. [And I just erased that particular rant: the poem doesn’t merit it.]

I have other problems with the poem, all small. “Parted quickly” seems forced. “Alphabet’s monarch” likewise: why is it so? Because of the tail? I would think the primary positioning of ‘A’ rather trumps a tail wagging far down the line. (Actually, I think the whole conceit of the poem – that there is some importance in the positioning of the tail – is forced.) “Fluent tongue” is a loose ideational tie to language, but it fails for me because “fluent” is not visual, and has nothing around it to give me reason for its existence.

One of the primary rules of poetry: if there is not a reason for it to exist in the poem, then it shouldn’t. (Thank you Mr. Pound.) And calling it ornament is not a get out of jail free card; ask any competent architect.

What is my point? Too many small errors. “Q” does not come off as a neat little ditty (neat works two ways, there) – it comes off as a quick throwaway you draft during half time of a game on a napkin to see if it gets a quick laugh, then to be thrown away. Just because it’s a short little what-not, does not excuse the poet from making a tight poem. I am reminded of the line from the film Impromptu, where Chopin (Hugh Grant) is explaining to George Sand (Judy Davis) the difficulty in writing an impromptu: how to create a piece that is well structured, well crafted, but sounds like it is off the cuff. Notice the reversal: a good little ditty is a well-crafted piece that comes off sounding like a little ditty. Saying “Oh, it’s just a little ditty,” does not justify poor craftsmanship.

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