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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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Confession" by Carrie Shipers (Verse Daily, 11/25/13), and "When Fruit and Flowers Hung Thick Falling" by Katie Peterson (Poetry Daily, 11/24/13)

"Confession" from Southern Review (Winter 2013)
poem found here

first lines:
I stopped calling for no reason because
you didn't always seem glad to hear from me.


"When Fruit and Flowers Hung Thick Falling" from The Accounts (U Chicago Press)
poem found here

first lines:
Never a gardener, she
became interested


the very important importance of lines


These two poems appeared on successive days at the end of November, and I started writing a long post on the day following. Unfortunately, between spending most of December fighting one illness or another and the chaos of the holidays (and I will be honest, I despise the time of year between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve), it pretty much sat on the burner: for so long, now, that I've mostly lost the energies behind the post.

Except for one point, which I have held on to and now finally sit down to write out.

These two poems are interesting in that they are both versions of a style of poem that you see not infrequently in poppoetry circles. (I should really start collecting and naming these pop-sub-genres . . . .) They are poems that are (1) built upon a list of statements (2) usually with an ironic and/or humorous bend, both in solo and in tandem; that (3) are intended to be read as lists of more-or-less equal elements; and (4) which have a concluding statement which serves to define the poem. That is a rather general (perhaps even inadequate) description of the sub-genre, and both of these poems vary from it in one way or another: though, not enough that they are not obviously trying to fit within this mold (or, perhaps I should say, "work out of" this mold?)

Originally I was going to parse the two poems primarily as regards the sub-genre, and work a little comparison and contrast to show how they are, in fact, quite generic, pop poems, but from that show the strengths and the weaknesses of each (and they do play well off each other in that the strengths of one tend to be the weaknesses of the other). In this abbreviated post, however, I will narrow myself to one item alone: lines.

It is quite obvious that "When Fruit and Flowers" uses very brief lines, while "Confession" uses longer. In that they are of the same pop-genre, there is created a quite startling contrast, which I hope everyone caught when looking at the poems: that is, the short lines makes "When Fruit and Flowers" difficult to read. And notice I am not merely saying "more difficult," I am saying that the short lines creates a detrimental difficulty that gets in the way of the reading the poem. (And I am not saying "difficult" in the sense of "you have to think about it," but "difficult" in the sense of "I hid the phrases of this poem, you have to go find them.")

So I have to ask the obvious question: why, then, have the short lines?

I want to leave most of the investigation to you the reader, so that you may learn the most from the comparison. So let me simply ask these questions:

  • Can you find any rationale behind how the lines are broken in "When Fruit and Flowers Hung Thick Falling"?
  • Can you find anything created within the poem through breaking the lines as such? (That is, are the lines and line breaks doing something, or are they just there?)
  • Can you find anything created within the poem by the choice of making the poem difficult to read? (That is, is there something poetically positive for the reader in making the poem hard to read?)
  • Can you find any justification at all for the poem being difficult to read, beyond "sometimes poems are written that way"?
  • Do you think I am wrong in my conclusions as to this poem that the line breaks have far more to do with making the poem look like a contemporary poem than it does with the words of the poem, the content of the poem, the rhythm of the poem, or the ideation of the poem?

Ultimately -- and here is where we move from "When Fruit and Flowers Hung Thick Falling" to writing in general -- the issues with this poem lead to two very basic questions:


1. How can I not conclude that in this poem, the wording of the poem the content of the poem, its rhythms and its ideation, were ignored when it came to writing the lines of the poem?


2. Why would you write a poem and at some point in the process decide that "when I am crafting the lines of this poem, I can ignore the poem"?


Is not the whole point of crafting poems -- at least, according to what pretty much everyone says -- that you are paying attention to every detail? Is not the beauty and art of poetry supposed to be in that you it involves the poet paying a degree attention to the poem that is impossible in prose?

The final question, one which gets to the fundament of "what is sophisticated poetry?" and "what is sophisticated writing?":


Why write poems where the lines, the breaks, the stanzas, are not part of the poem?


Just to say, there is much more sense to the lines of "Confessions." I suspect that to a degree they are the result of the pacing of the phrasing: that, in the writer's head, the sentences were were being crafted of phrases of relatively equal length, so it is rather easy to end up with relatively equal lines. Though, one can point to lines that speak of line breaks that were guided more by visual length than by the words in the line.

Still, even with the fairly innocuous line breaks, the poem is not wholly free from examination, and when I read the poem, I am mostly asking myself: is the constant normalizing of the length of the phrasing a positive? Or, does it push the poem to the border of a kind of monotony? (Or, alternatively, is it that these lines are about as well as can be made with this poem?)


  1. I would like to see you collect and name. I just came across this sentence today (from Conrad's preface to Nigger of the Narcissus) that somehow seemed relevant: "A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line." (Possibly because I was thinking of that - the eyes can play tricks sometimes - I misread the one line as "I knew I was moving to Narcissism.")

    1. I have, actually, thought about playing around with such from not long after I started this blog. But, have never come up with a way that I thought might be successful.

      Though, I have been mulling the idea again since your comment.