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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Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Solitude" by John Daniel -- Verse Daily, 4/10/2013

from Of Earth (Lost Horse Press, 2013)
poem found here

First lines:
Never still, mist
drifting the canyon


when the text lies

— reformatted with minor editing Mar. 14, 2015

There's a similarity between this Verse Daily poem and the day before's in that both in one way or another contradict themselves. Though, today's poem does it intentionally.

More than a few times I have heard or read authors say that the most interesting thing that can happen in literature is for the narrative voice to lie to the reader. Of course, this opens the questions of how does the reader know it is a lie? And, if there is no way to know, is it, then, a lie? And then there is also the writing aspect of creating and revealing a lie. Lots to explore there. But let's stick to the moment.

The 'lie,' as it were, in this poem, is made in opening of the second stanza. The first stanza is about something being revealed; in fact, it is about revelation (in the mundane sense). And then the stanza break, and: "But nothing, nothing / is revealed [. . .] because what / can be hidden?" One of the two stanzas is lying to you.

I am using the idea of 'lying' because it creates an energy that is absent in phrasing like "an apparent contradiction" or "a correction of the previous statement." Also, because I want to emphasis the ambiguity as to which stanza is lying. But, finally, it is to point out the basic: if there is an intended contradiction in the poem, if there is A, and then B, and A and B cannot both be, but the poem is meant to speak such to you, then either A or B is lying to you.

Which one? In this poem, what makes the question interesting is the final stanza, which returns to the statements of the first, replaying the action of mists opening up a scene. Although, there in the third stanza no explicit restatement of revealing, just the action. So in toto we have this arrangement:

      Stanza 1: the action of a revealing
      Stanza 2: the statement there is no revealing
      Stanza 3: a new action of revealing
Somebody is lying.

What makes lying better than contradiction is that lying is deception; and deceptions are nonetheless related to the greater reality (even if only tangentially). This creates energies in the text, and energies are good. It is not a structure of 'A not-A,' leaving you in the akward position of having to essentially ignore one of those to parts (and risking the ire of a reader who comes to the natural question 'then why the hell did you make me read it?'). Rather, the structure is "A B" where A and B are not exclusive, but more like the overlapping circles of a Venn diagram. Yes, one of them is deceiving you, but in that deception, it also adding energies to the poem; even, especially, adding energies to the other.

What I don't like about this poem is that the language – primarily in the second stanza – mish-mashes the energies of the structure. "[L]ives / openly in its seclusion" restates the paradox but doesn't go very far beyond that, doesn't offer any depth to the energies of the lying. And then words in "trees vanish and trees return" is language more to the energies of revealing. One would think that if the poem's overarching idea was constancy, then dominant language of that middle stanza would be to that end. And, finally, that last sequence of "were"s and "will"s, is so abstract it empties the poem of any energy going forward.

The result for me is that the central stanza is wholly unconvincing. Look at the difference in energies generated by the language. On one hand (A), we have such as:

green firs as if
just born, dewy
with their own creation,


atop one tall tree
a raven lights
and tries its voices.

while on the other hand (B) there is mostly abstract exposition, like

trees vanish
and trees return—
where they were
and always were

You can see where all the energy lies. And because of the imblance, because no ideational energies of any real strength are put into the second stanza, it reads for me half-hearted, and, when it is all done, weak and pointless, and all but destroyed by the appearance of the raven, if not, more immediately, by the isolated and thus emphasized "Now," which slams the book on the timelessness of constancy and goes right back to the very real revelation of the particular moment.

Nonetheless, get a good fill of the possibilities that lie within this structure and idea. Many (if not most) poems you read today fail simply because they have very little energy to them. They are 10, 20, 50 lines of "A, A, A, A, A, oh, did you see A?, and A?, and let me say it again in case you missed it, A, A, A, A, A." And, what with there being so little calculation to poetry these days, there is little if not nothing poetic to establish energies. So the whole poem can condense down to the ubiquitous "let me explain my joke" statement of "my puppy died, and I'm sad."

All energies come from difference. (And, yes, diffference is established, manipulated, and empowered through repetition.) This is the fundamental aspect of poetry that is demonstrated in Pound's "In the Station of the Metro":

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

So hopefully you can see the energies possible in a poem of this kind of A B A+B structure, a poem that is, in some way, lying to you, and through those lies, creating energy and ideas.


Of course, easily said. The difficulty, the hard part, the "ok, you can't flake this or it completely disassembles, so plan to be at your desk the next week working this out" part, is generating idea A, and idea B both, and generating them so that A feeds B, and B feeds A, and yet, in the end, the reader will go to the overarching idea you are shooting for.

Of course, I hope you can see how that I am using the idea of "lying" somewhat metaphorically. Don't take it literally. Although, don't discount such situations as that within a narrative context, where it can be taken more literally, where, for example, a character can out and out lie to you.

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