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, February 15, 2013

"The Joy That Tends Toward Unbecoming" by Joseph Fasano -- Verse Daily, 2/15/13

from Fugue for Other Hands (Cider Press Review)
poem found here

first lines:
Say five men carried a sixth from the birches.
He is thin from his night inside the river.


ideation (and a note on the punchline poem)

-- reformatted, minor edits 12/10/2013

Let's look at the sudden appearance of new information at the end of the poem: the "you"; something I have ranted upon (about?) previously. But not here, because this is most definitely not a punchline poem. Why not?

First, this poem breaks away from the flat linearity to which most punchline poems adhere. Thus the frequent nature of punchline poems as having little if any development, and the punchline is meant to function as a kind of injection of energy into the whole poem through a single phrase. Thus the nature of the "mayonnaise jar" category of unsophisticated imaginative fiction (i.e., a story that twists at the end with a revelation of the nature of "but, in truth, they all really live in a mayonnaise jar!" -- which is, indeed, of the same type of structure as punchline poems).

This poem, rather, develops energies through repetition (birds, hands given the look of plants, killing) and by refusing direct narrative. It starts with the opening "Say," which is not "it is thus." We begin in metaphoricity, not documentation: and idea of the body of a man murdered, of a man's murder, of murder and killing and death. Then a bird which exists only in thinking, and so also the speaker picking up its carcass. More death, but the deepening of the ideas (e.g., with the entrance of Christian themes). 

Then, finding the boy, and the event of the previous night's battle with a black swan. The opening ideas are coming together through the tightening of the ideational complex upon this one event. And then the appearance of "you." Which comes in both to finalize the coalescing of ideas, and to bring into the mix that unifying idea: "Say you were the wild gift." And notice the swan is called a gift -- more to the play, without denying anything previous, and still integrating into the whole (just as with a well-crafted sonnet). Here, the last lines make a "you" out of the boy, and connects the swan and the dead man, and more.

So then the contrast with the punchline, which does not enter into a poem but gives it new definition (frequently its only definition) -- definition being a word to set in opposition to experience. There is no integration in a punchline poem, there is no ideational unity; there is only a joke (hidden by the supposed gravity of the injected idea), and, usually, a bad one at that.

"What does it mean?" you may be asking? Contrary to popular belief, the aesthetic is not concerned with meaning -- except as part of the medium used in making a literary object. Don't look for meaning in literature. Look for experience. Not the experience of narrative, but the experience of the literary object itself. The experience of this poem, for example. Give it a few close readings. Pay attention to the ideas being offered, developed. See how it weaves itself into a whole, in no small part by the entrance of that "you" in the final lines. Explore that event of successfully bringing in information at the end that does not change but fulfills all that preceded.

Especially you other writers. I followed links to other poems by Mr. Fasano ("October," "Sudden Hymn to Autumn," "Mahler in New York"). This, I believe, was the best of them. Others behaved similarly, but couldn't achieve the unity found here. In the others, the play of stringing together strange ideas overtook the unity of the poems as a whole (which I say merely to give possible comparison, something for those who wish to look might finder worthy of ponder). 

But, I did look. 

One of the fundamental rules of literary endeavor: every word should leave the reader wanting the next word; every line, every sentence, the next line or sentence; every stanza, paragraph and page, the next likewise; and every poem, book, or story should leave the reader wanting to read that poem, book, or story again, and to seek out others by you. If ever not, you have in that moment failed.


Titles are an occasional bugbear of mine. At times I think they should be either trivial, or wholly integrated. This poem's title is the latter, and well written, I do believe.

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