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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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Lost Civilization" by Henry Hart -- Poetry Daily, 10/26/13

from Familiar Ghosts (Orchises Press)
poem found here

first lines:
Wine festered at the bottom of my skull.
            Wind blew the night's big ideas off the trees.


the structure of the content


How content is structured -- which is includes what content is included -- is as important to poetry as is poetics, just as it is important in any art form. In fact, I do not think it too far afield to talk about content in literature in the same manner that we talk about composition within the visual arts: a scene does not a sophisticated painting make. It is what you do with the scene.

In prose writing, one of the common errors of people just entering writing is, when writing from life, to include information (and to write it a certain way) because "that is how it happened." The error derives from the desire to narrate: the lower the sophistication of the writer, the more that narration tends toward reportage, or the exact narrating of the facts and the facts alone. Sophisticated writing, however, does not lie in the facts -- even in the "facts" of fiction. Facts and details are but tools to the greater composition. So also narration itself. Aesthetic writing is not narration: it is creating a unified piece (of whatever size and shape). The result of writing is not the story or the scene (or even the idea), but the poem, the short, the prose poem, the seven-hundred-page epic, the whatever.

When Pound and the Imagists made the statement

To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.[FN]

as their second rule of poetry, they were stating what is to more sophisticated readers an obviousness. Something that does not belong reads like something that does not belong to a sophisticated reader. For example, if you start something and then drop it -- let's say you start a poem describing a dress, and then that dress never returns to the poem -- you have created an event in the poem. A sophisticated reader will notice that you spent lines talking about a dress, and they will notice that you then never again talked about the dress. They will look for a reason why. And if they cannot find a reason why, for both aspects, that moment will read like a mistake. And superfluity is a mistake.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Lo Mein" by August Kleinzahler -- Poetry Daily, 10/14/2013

from The Hotel Oneira (Farrar. Straiss amd Giroux)
poem found here

first lines:
You were still only a child,
I, nineteen, the age of your eldest boy now.


creative writing versus reportage and description (and the "mayonnaise jar" trope)


There is an interesting thing that happens at the end of this poem.

40 years ago, 40 years . . .
You don't remember all that, do you?
How could you? I'm making it up,
the two of us both there at the same time.

For the most part, writing a poem or story or what what suddenly goes, "surprise! it is not what you think at all!" is one of the cheapest effects you can see in writing. Yet, it is common enough in writers on the lower side of the learning curve that it has a name: the "Mayonnaise Jar" trope.[FN] In long form, it goes something like: "it is an 'But in Reality, Everything Is Actually Happening Within a Mayonnaise Jar' story." The phrase comes from fantasy/science fiction writing, and refers to stories where, at its end, it is suddenly revealed that the whole of everything has been occurring within some grossly defining context: for example, the entire bloody, society-shattering war between the Glumps and the Grogs has really been occurring within a mayonnaise jar. Its most common form in white-bread fiction and poetry is, "But it was all only a dream." It can also occur in more subtle forms. Or, in reverse forms, for example, take the poem that spends thirty lines describing a scene and only two lines on the action/ideation; and when it comes to it, the scene was actually entirely irrelevant to the critical-action. The poem was really two lines long; the rest was fluff. (I remind myself of the "But she is dead, now," line not infrequent to pop poetry, which I talk about in my "#Poppoetry" essay: same basic idea.)

[FN] Ok, Ok. It might not be a phrase so established you'll read it everywhere you look. But I do see it, or things similar to it, here and there.

The reason it is such a failing trope is that it is mostly just an attempt at surprise.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Bad Sheep" by Hailey Leithauser -- Poetry Daily, 10/6/2013

from Swoop (Greywolf Press)
poem found here

first lines:
Midnight's merely blue,
but me, me, me, I'm


wording and context, and poetic gameplay

"Bad Sheep" is playing a game by running the poem through with synonyms and metaphors for the color black. Which is wholly a good thing. Games are good; it is through games that we organize our world and be creative. To be honest, I don't understand why some people hear the word "game" and immediately think pejorative intent: it is unfortunate for them that they have condemned the word, so.

I am sure that a large percentage of poets have played, whether successfully or not, or whether or not the results go any farther than their desk, synonym games like the one here. And, with reason. There is definitely something fun to it, even when the intent is merely to play around and not strive for quality. (It is, after all, very much is the same game as list-making.)

But when you are striving for something beyond goofing-with-words, you should realize that a game, in itself, is not enough to the success of a poem. You still have to create the poem. Always this means that the synonyms game has to be embedded within an ideational matrix, that which turns the game from a list to a poem. Here, you have the play with the idea of black sheep, and the simple idea of "search as you might, you will find me black through and through."

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"A Fold in Time" by Ann Lauterbach -- Verse Daily, 9/29/2013

from Under the Sign (Penquin Books)
poem found here

first lines:
Not to swerve off the road
dust runs in the family


asking the question: "why should I read this?"

-- framing paragraph and minor text additions, 10/8/2013

Let me add a statement for framing. If you read the following -- or the header question -- as pointing to a specific answer, that is not the intended end. The end here are the questions. The nature of this poem is a good one for prompting questions. What is important here is that to be honest with your own poetic explorations (as reader and writer), these questions should be asked.

Yes. The very nature of blog speaks that I believe there is not enough critique -- and I mean critique as in questioning -- of contemporary poems. But there is another side to it: There is also not enough -- not nearly enough -- defense of poems.

Of course, I am talking about poets defending their poems. If a poet is serious about poetry they should be able to offer with their poetry justification, purpose, the reason why we as intelligent readers should be interested in the poem. Indeed, it might be argued that the very definition of serious poetry (I mean serious in intent, not in tone) is that the poet has an aim, a purpose, an exploration of poetry qua poetry with whatever they are working on at the moment. (That is, there primary projects; not every throwaway ditty.[FN]) Far too much poetry these days is written simply because the poet had an idea and broke up some lines. But, then, any poet, writer, artist, has little ideas, little moments of exploration that result in no more than sketches in notebooks (or posts on facebook). Except, with artists they stay in the notebooks. While it seems with poets everything is worthy of submission -- and acceptance. It's a poem; it looks like other poems; that's good enough. So maybe it is more correct to say far too much praise is offered to poetry simply on the merits of that it is poetry. (The "I wrote a poem! Praise me!" syndrome.) It seems the half of the time the line break is a thing meritorious in and of itself. It's a book of poems; I'll slap some praise on its cover. Where ever is the question on the part of the critic of "Why should I care? Why should this deserve my time? Why should I speak the name of this particular poem, this particular book of poems, rather than that of some other?"

[FN] Though, it could be argued, and I would indeed argue it, that even in the throwaways there will still be some sense, some taste, some echo of those major explorations occupying the poet's mind. And I should say, these explorations need not be "I'm going to change the face of poetry on this planet!" explorations. They can be quite simple and fundamental: "I'm exploring the relationship between syntax and line breaks," for example.

It is the "rather than" in that last question that is important here.