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.



★★ The Latest Posts on Hatter's Adversaria
Something I Read #17 – D.S. SavageDelillo's Underworld – a Review/Response
Visual Labyrinths in Body DoubleSomething I Read #16 – David Perkins


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Review: Poetry Magazine (Oct. 2015) – Part V: Matt Hart

The October 2015 issue of Poetry Magazine can be found here.

links to individual texts:
Matt Hart, "The Friend"
— headers to the sections are also links to the texts

 


the other posts in this series


 

list verse; more on pop-formatting; and defenses of texts

 

– some editing, Apr. 4, 2016

 

This post will cover only one text, that which comes next in the contents of the October, 2015, Poetry Magazine, Matt Hart's "The Friend." My original plan was to pair it with "Vert," by Catherine Staples, which is found farther forward in the text. Both works are of the same structure; though, each approaches the structure differently, and to different degrees (and forms) of success. However, for reasons including the length of the below, the want to gather up threads before beginning with "Vert," and a project or two that is requesting my attention, I will save the latter work for the next post.

 

That "The Friend" is in its base structure a list is seen in that the core of the text is constituted by a list of statements about "the friend," statements with either "the friend" or "you" as the subject of the sentence. However, that is not the only type of statement within the text: there are also statements that do not have either "the friend" or "you" as subject, and have no direct connection to that primary list; and statements (or clauses within statements) that are the repeating "him/her" motif, which first appears in lines 5-7. The motif appears twice more in the text (lines 15-16, 35-37) and is echoed in lines 32-33:

and being a friend with your hands in your pockets,
and the friend's hands in your pockets.

Before going to the idea of the list, let me give word to this motif.

They read entirely as an appeal to pop-poetic sentiment. They do not come off as clever but as a gimmick, a 'hook' in pop music terminology, a trope meant to make the text memorable (in a pop sort of way). As with all appeals to pop sentiment, their function is entirely to say to the reader, "Look, this poem does things that pop poetry does" – ergo, then says the pop reader, this is a good poem. They are, to continue with the theme begun in the previous posts, meant to be recognized, not read. Not meant to be read because when read they are revealed for the sham poetics they are. There are two interrelated reasons why the lines fail. The first is revealed in the contradiction within the first appearance of the lines.

You put your hand on her shoulder,
or you put your hand on his shoulder.
The friend is indefinite.

Saying "her" and then "his" is the opposite of "indefinite": the text is being very definite by pointing to the sex of the person, even if it is creating an ambivalence with that pointing out. Just because something is ambivalent does not make it indefinite: in fact, it makes it the opposite. A sophisticated writer would not try to create indefiniteness by offering a choice: they would create indefiniteness by avoiding any choices, by avoiding any moves to the definite, even if the result is ambivalent (or ambiguous).

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Review: Poetry Magazine (Oct. 2015) – Part IV: Rae Armantrout, Cynthia Cruz

The October 2015 issue of Poetry Magazine can be found here.

links to individual texts:
Rae Armantrout, "Background Information"
Rae Armantrout, "Object Lesson"
Cynthia Cruz, "Midnight Office"
— headers to the sections are also links to the texts

 


the other posts in this series


 

the shape of verse and pop-poetic convention

 

– editing, with a little added content, Apr. 4, 2016

 

Continuing with my review of the Oct. 2015 Poetry Magazine, I will in this post first finish covering Rae Armantrout, with her structurally similar offerings, "Background Information" and "Object Lesson," and then reach ahead to pull in another, to appearances structurally similar work, Cynthia Cruz's "Midnight Office."

These works offer opportunity to explore a commonly seen genre of pop verse: a genre of visual construction, not of word choice. Hopefully it will also offer some opportunity to explore a method of analysis: taking the material and ideational aspects at first independently and then together. It is fairly easy to demonstrate arbitrary line breaks with texts of larger stanzas and relatively consistent line lengths, as with the works in the previous posts of this series. It is a more difficult task with works such as these, in which the form derives more from a convention that governs the work in its full length rather than a convention that covers but one or a few lines at a time. This convention derives from the works of writers like William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, and perhaps also Charles Olson. Or, at least, when I hear this type of verse defended, it is usually through appeals to members of that line of U.S. verse.[FN] In contemporary verse, even as far back as verse in the 70s and 80s (as with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E), I rarely see reason not to say the form is conventional or artificially derived: the text, as runs the convention, is manipulated to look a certain way, not shaped out of the text itself. That is the central question being explored in this post, with these three works: is the shape written to convention or crafted to poetic ends? The answer is not always clear, and the third text will give demonstration of that. In writing problems in the text are not always – indeed are only infrequently – clear cut issues. Most of the time it is not the error itself that mars a text, but the effect the error has on a reader. It creates an issue of confidence, an issue of whether the reader can continue in faith that the text is indeed a well-written text. Related to this, it must be noted that though a work may be poorly written in terms of ideation, syntax, etc., that does not necessarily mean the form of the work was not crafted toward the ends of a poetic whole. That is, sometimes intent is betrayed by the result – which adds a second complication to analysis.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: Poetry Magazine (Oct. 2015) – Part III: Corey Mesner, Katie Peterson, Rae Armantrout

The October 2015 issue of Poetry Magazine can be found here.

links to individual texts:
Corey Mesler, "Let the Light Stand"
Katie Peterson, "Autobiographical Fragment"
Katie Peterson, "A Citizen"
Rae Armantrout, "Asymmetries"
— headers to the sections are also links to the texts


the other posts in this series


 

pop-poetic convention and clothesline verse

– some editing Apr. 3, 2016

 

In this post, part three of the survey of the October 2015 Poetry, I will examine four works that all are written in the same pop-poetic convention. I will start with what comes next in the Table of Contents, Corey Mesler's "Let the Light Stand." After, I will reach ahead but a touch and bring in the two works by Katie Peterson, "Autobiographical Fragment" and "A Citizen." Then, I will back up to the passed over Rae Armantrout and pick up the first of her three contributions, "Asymmetries," which varies enough from the norm to offer an interesting fourth example. The other two works by Armantrout will be taken up in the next post. Since I will look at the texts one at a time, I will use headers to mark the beginning of each examination.

 

"Let the Light Stand"

Corey Mesler's "Let the Light Stand" is written to a convention frequently seen in contemporary verse, something I call "clothesline" verse. All four works examined in this post are written to this convention to one degree or another.

Clothesline verse is verse that reads as though the various phrases, clauses, and sentences of the text were merely pinned to a line, with little more connecting them into a whole beyond that they are strung one after the other in the same text, in an order that often seems to have no more consideration than perhaps the casual impulse of grouping together the socks presently exposed on the top of the pile of wet laundry. Such texts are usually still based on the same linearity as is most unsophisticated verse. They derive their "cleverness" by removing to one degree or another the narrative thens: instead of the text running "A then B then C etc.", the reader gets only "A B C etc." with the ostensible belief that the line upon which the A, B, and C are strung will emerge as some kind of connecting subtext or implied content. Usually, however, the only implied, connecting thread is that the text follows the very commonly seen convention. Which is the nature of convention: success lies not in the text and its ideation, but only in that the text follows the convention, which is to say the text merely mimics the properties of all the texts previously written to that same convention. Sometimes other means of connection (than narrative thens) link together the parts of the text: aural, logical, grammatical, ideational, etc. Usually, however, the result is the same: the text remains little more than a string of moments that fail to make up – except for through the appeal to convention – a whole.

Defense of such works, when I have seen non-trivial defenses, are usually based in appeals to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E or such writers; though, that defense tends to end at that appeal. When it does go farther, the argument usually seeks legitimacy through critical works such as Ron Silliman's "The New Sentence": an essay that is most telling in how it struggles to stay continually focused on the moment of the "new sentence" while avoiding entirely any confrontation with the resulting work as a whole.[FN] Clothesline verse these days, however, rarely show any of the considered experimentation of the verse Silliman was exploring, and are wholly and entirely the repetition of the repetitions of the convention. That full cloth appeal to convention as a measure of value is why such works tend to fail as verse in every way except in their performance of the convention; which, in turn, is why they tend to come off, if one but look past the convention and actually read the text, as ideationally empty, often as poorly composed language, and usually as badly constructed verse.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: Poetry Magazine (Oct. 2015) – Part II: Eleanor Hooker, Franz Wright

The October 2015 issue of Poetry Magazine can be found here.

links to individual texts:
Eleanor Hooker, "Nailing Wings to the Dead"
Franz Wright, "The Raising of Lazarus"
section headers are also links

 


the other posts in this series


 

breaking lines vs. writing lines

– editing and an added footnote, Apr. 3, 2016

 

This was slow in coming. In part, I have been in that peculiar situation of being in a bout with an illness whose medications create more and more severe symptoms than the illness. Though, also, there is that this is yet the beginning of the project from the writing side: as such, there is not only the exploration of the texts but also the search for the ideas and themes will be carried forward through the project. Hopefully, the tempo will pick up after this, as the texts in the issue are used more and more as examples to points already made than used to the much longer effort of establishing the points.

I am exploring two texts from the October issue in this part. Since Eleanor Hooker, the author of the first, "Nailing Wings to the Dead," is another holdover Irish author, I want to add to it the first text by a U.S. writer, "The Raising of Lazarus" by Franz Wright. The two also create a usefully contrasting pair: the first is loosely formal verse, the second free verse; as well, the second is a much stronger piece than the first.

The primary effort here will be toward the groundwork for exploring lines and line breaks in the texts to come: it is one of the greatest weaknesses in contemporary verse culture, and perhaps the most tell-tale sign of writing sophistication – or absence thereof – in contemporary verse. For the moment I set aside the question of a work's being ideationally dead or living and focus on technical issues. Though, with both works, I will also look at some moments in their construction. I will start with examing such issues in "Nailing Wings" then turn to such in "Raising Lazarus." It is in the latter I will turn to the exploration of lines, carrying that exploration back to "Nailing Wings."

Yet, the central thesis of this exploration of an issue Poetry Magazine is that contemporary verse, unlike Leavis's description of the popular verse of his time, is not merely dead but indeed bad, so I will begin – as I generally will throughout the project – speaking to the quality of the works. In keeping with the thesis of this blog, however, the approach will remain exploratory, from the viewpoint not solely of a general reader but also of a writer.

 

 

Eleanor Hooker, "Nailing Wings to the Dead"

 

I start, right at the start, at the first word, with a very common event in contemporary verse: the incorrect use of connecting words: here, "since."

Since we nail
wings to the dead,
she calls ravens
from the sky
to inspect our work. "For flight,"
they say, "first remove their boots."

Using the wrong adverb or conjunction or using one where one is neither needed nor wanted is a common error in writing, verse or prose. (It is one I have to constantly watch for in my own writing.) Either the trend has been increasing over the years or I have become more and more alert to it, for it seems the mis-use of such adverbs and conjunctions has become sloppier and sloppier both in speech and in the writing of persons supposedly intelligent and alert enough to catch the event. The worst is with the word but. On television, especially live, in news broadcasts, sports channels, and commercials, you will very frequently hear the word but used where there is no 'but' relationship, where either an and or nothing at all should have been used. I am sure that most of these errors exist by way of spoken speech habits invading the drafting of texts. Frequently, the words are used as filler material, something similar to ums, a means to connect one thought to the next without letting any silence appear in between. Though, I also believe, considering commercials and most broadcasts are not free-wheeled but scripted, that they are also, simply, symptomatic of a lack of attention and poor language skills on the part of writers: poor skills because they are exactly the type of thing that good editing would catch.[FN]

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Review: Poetry Magazine (Oct. 2015) – Part I: Introduction; Matthew Sweeney, Guillaume Apollinaire

The October 2015 issue of Poetry Magazine can be found here.

links to individual texts:
Matthew Sweeney, “Five Yellow Roses”
Matthew Sweeney, “Dialogue with an Artist
— headers to the sections are also links to the texts

 


the other posts in this series


 

Introduction

– some editing, Apr. 3, 2016

 

If you at all have read this blog you might know that I am more than willing to take shots at Poetry Magazine, the touted flagship of verse journals in the U.S. But, then, I have always been far more puzzled by than impressed by the magazine. Never in the many years that I have looked between its print covers have I considered its contents worth the price of possession. Even with it now in electronic format, I have never found it worth the price, counted in time, of reading. Even its reputation has for me, over the years, become less and less impressive. The more I come upon references to Poetry Magazine in the history of U.S. literature, the more the supposed stature of the magazine within U.S. literary culture has become more myth than reality, a myth based primarily on popularity and after the fact branding than on any actual, positive effect the journal may have had upon literary culture. As example, if perhaps an easy example, take this moment from John Tytell's biography of Pound:

By summer [of 1913] Pound was back in London and beginning an involvement with a new magazine. He had already experienced difficulty with Harriet Monroe: her taste had to reflect that of her backers, who were mostly wealthy businessmen or their wives who preferred inconsequential light verse to what Pound regarded as real poetry, so each issue was a balancing of the inane and the more serious. Pound objected strenuously to what he called the 'rot' in Poetry and wanted a magazine in which he would have more control. (Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano (1987): 89)

For as long as I have been picking up and putting down the magazine, "inconsequential light verse" has been a more-than-apt phrase to describe both the output and orientation of Poetry Magazine. Though, "inconsequential" may be too kind a phrase, for as equally, and perhaps more and more in the last years, "incompetent" has become a necessary adjective.

*************************
[FN] It should be said that I have never given Poetry any extended consideration before these last few years; in those years only because it has been available on-line. As implied above, I refuse to pay money for a magazine of valueless verse, verse that rarely prompts thought beyond that of "why would anyone consider this worth publishing?" Because of this, any observation by me of trends across time can only be casual. Though, I have generally found Poetry Magazine unimpressive if not pervasively uninteresting.
*************************

It is my observation that Poetry Magazine has always and only been a flagship of pop-poetry in the U.S., never a standard bearer for intelligent literature, for literature qua literature. If Poetry wants to be the Hollywood pulp of the literary world, that is fine with me. However, where I cross swords with the magazine is in the pretense that it is something it is not, whether that pretense be created by the magazine itself or created elsewhere and never by the magazine denied. When Poetry Magazine publishes barely competent pablum, when it publishes incompetent shamwork, it holds that shamwork up – simply through association to the magazine's own banner, its own history and importance (however mythical) – as meritable verse. In that, Poetry Magazine offers only detriment and progressive deterioration to literary culture – to its values, its standards, its intelligence. Literary culture in the U.S. today is dominantly pop-lit: I say dominantly to distinguish it from majorily pop-lit, which is and always will be the case in any culture. It is not merely, today, that pop-lit is the majority of what is published and praised, it is what defines what is published and praised. In that lowering of standards, in that eliminating of standards, we have created a culture of literature, a culture of participants in verse, be they writers or readers, incapable of intelligent discernment of what is merely competent verse, what is incompetent hackery, and what is genuinely meritable literature.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Intellect and the Internet

In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking.
— Emerson, "The American Scholar"

 

an FB comment

 

I have been the last couple of days pondering a passing comment on an FB post:

"The best hope for poetry may be the Internet, which can bring scattered people together from the far corners and create semi-coherent groups."

Once, the essentially optimistic part of my being would have agreed with the possibilities in the idea. However, I have in the last years come around to wholly disagree with the sentiment. For I remember a couple of decades back when the internet was still young being able to find discourse on literature that was intelligent both in the level of discourse and in the approach to the discourse itself. But over the years those sources of discourse have become harder and harder to find, primarily because of that fundamental nature of the internet: openness; the willingness to have and permission for everyone to participate. Indeed, the death of many of those sites and sources were caused by just that very openness. Over the years, it is not the above, wished for potential of the internet that has been observed. Rather, what has been demonstrated – and if we are honest with ourselves we should also say what should have been expected – is that the fundamental energies of the internet is toward the quashing of intellectual possibility by the overwhelming voices of populist participation.

Which is also to say: by anti-intellectual participation.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

"Song" by Laetitia Landon

poem found here
 

First lines:
Where, O! where’s the chain to fling,
One that will bind CUPID’s wing,

 

the question of merit

 

This was originally a bit from the graduate years, to which I've given some paring and reworking. While it uses Laetitia Landon as the immediate subject, the questions asked apply across literature, especially in today's literary culture, where the question of the literary merit of texts is generally ignored in favor of anything but. (Added also to the Cabinet, here.)

 

Consider this:

This is
a
poem.

By most general definitions it is. Yet, the damning question: To what end? Can it be analyzed literarily? A cursory consideration recognizes the irony of its self-identification, which in turn raises the textual question of the inherent qualities that would make the snippet the object it claims to be. The primary defining characteristic would the breaking of the sentence into lines. Can anything else be said? anything more formal in nature? The sentence, considered in prose form, is naturally split into two halves: the rhythmic, semiotic unit /This is/ and the article-noun unit /a poem/. The text as written, then, is made up of an opposition of one two-word line against two one-word lines, two lines dividing a natural semiotic unit. With the first line break occurring after the verb a tension is created in the reading: what is? this is what? The second line continues that suspense in that the indefinite article is given without its naturally following subject. That the word "poem" is given its own line – as opposed to the more conventional "This is / a poem." – gives explosiveness to the revelation of the referent of the opening pronoun, and emphasis to the irony created in the self-referentiality. Perhaps I exaggerate the effects of the formal properties of the text, but the properties themselves are present and, as, shown readily revealed through a rather basic, formal examination.

But let's return to questions. Is it a poem? Yes. It uses the prototypical poetic trope, the line break, in the creation of meaning and poetic effect. Next question: Does the text have value within the discourse of "poetry"? Its only significant value – if that itself is too strong a phrase – lies in pointing out potential results of certain poetic constructs (namely, the non-insertion of a line break between 'this' and 'is', and the insertion of a line break between 'a' and 'poem'). Is it worth studying? It has some small merit, if only in pointing out those considerations so that they may be understood by readers when encountered within more complex poetic constructs. Although, it doesn't merit much more time than that which has been spent in reading these two paragraphs. At most, it is demonstrative of certain effects possible in the medium of language, though beyond that pragmatic value, there is little more that can be said for the poem. Which leads to the final question: Is it a good poem? If we take good a broad sense, it can be said that the text is a successful poem in its clean use of poetic trope. So perhaps a better question is: Is it a meritable poem?

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Cold Tea Blues" by The Cowboy Junkies

So, it has been six weeks since the last post, and it wasn't much of one. I intended to slow down but not this much. In part, the length of time lies in that I am trying put energies into other projects that refuse to take off. But in no small part I had simply stalled out, or had grown bored with the critical endeavor, if not wholly put off by the thought of looking through bad poetry – and most of the poetry out there right now is bad poetry – looking for something on which to write, good or bad. There is a point where I have had enough of yet another of Poppoetry Magazine's monthly offerings of yet-more-of-the-same (no matter how they try to convince me through gimmicked thematics it is not).

Indeed, I had stopped reading 'poetry' in the general sense altogether. What I have done is I have started rereading Finnegans Wake, this time coming at the text as I have wanted to, coupled with the endeavor to create an outline of the text's levels ideation. This includes a new drawer dedicated to the Wake in the Cabinet, which has taken some time. For sure, though, the Wake is poetic, poetry at its highest. And it has perhaps brought me back around to interest in talking about poetry on this blog. Though, I doubt posts here will increase in tempo all that much, especially during this period where a lot of my energies are going to establishing the groundwork for the Wake venture. Plus, there are those other so very obstinate projects . . . . .

 


 

from Pale Sun Crescent Moon (1993)

demonstration of poetic form

 

I am going to risk an over-simplification and say that there are three aspects to a literary object:

  1. the words on the page
  2. the meaning of the words on the page
  3. the sound of the words on the page

The reason I am risking the over-simplification is because those three are really aspects of one overarching aspect: form. None of the three are wholly independent of each other; they all speak to the form (or structure) of the work, if each from a different angle.

Before continuing with that idea, a couple of points of explication (if not correction) need to be made.

First: The use of the word meaning is problematic, because that word is generally associated with the nomic, with the prosaic, with language understood as a tool for the communication of information. This is why I generally prefer using the word "ideation," which is a broader term, one that can include nomic "meaning" without excluding symbolic language. It is not uncommon to see "idea" and "concept" distinguished in such a manner, where "concept" is relates to the rational, the factual, the hermeneutic approach to language as a means to communicate "concepts," and "idea" is the broader term, including not only theoretic language (concepts) and symbolic language but even broader, more abstract psychical experience (like the "idea" that is created by a rhyme scheme).

Second: there is also a similar issue with the use of the term structure, since that word is often used to designate particularly structures that have become established through convention. For example, examining the 'structure' of language would point to examining standard grammatical structures and variations therefrom (the discourse begins first upon established conventions and then moves out from that basis). As such, you will occasionally see the term structure set against the term form, where the former is used as just described, to label more concretized or mechanical organization, and the latter is used to address organization in the organic sense, where you start not at established convention but with the object-in-question as it defines itself. (Thus, mechanical structure and organic form. There might be a parallel there with the difference between anatomy and physiology: the former is a theoretic classification, the latter is a more organic understanding of the same object.) I will here try to follow my own general usage with form as the broader concept, which includes within itself the idea of mechanical structure. As Coleridge says, while the mechanical text (the text of Fancy) is not in itself poetic, the poetic text (the text of Imagination) nonetheless requires the use of mechanical thinking. I try to use structure when used, as in the analogy above, anatomically. (I admit up front, however, that maintain strict rigor with these is for me difficult at best.)

Monday, April 13, 2015

"'Tamburlaine': The Argument of Arms" by A.D. Hope

This I cross-post from the Adversaria, posted there as one of the "Something I Read" posts. Considering the subject and the statement, I thought it worth posting here as well.


From A.D. Hope's "'Tamburlaine': The Argument of Arms" as found in Christopher Marlowe: Modern Critical Views (ed. Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers: NY, 1986; pp 53-54); also found in A.D. Hope's collection of essays The Cave and the Spring. (The essay can be found online.)

In one sense the coherence of the play [Tamburlaine Pts I and II] resides in its poetry. Taken in terms of the action alone the play is not free of absurdity. If Tamburlaine were merely a supreme military genius, the argument which asserts his total superiority and perfection would be unconvincing. But Tamburlaine is a poet. He conceives poetry as concentrating in its highest conceivable form, the whole of beauty, imagination and music into 'one poem's period', just as he concentrates all power in himself. It is in this alliance of the poetic imagination with temporal power, in a sense of their identity, that the magnanimity of Tamburlaine consists. Poetry is his medium, as power is his nature and his genius. Poetry shares the supremacy of nature, for it is the natural language of beauty, of intellect and of power, the three perfect things. It is poetry alone which makes all three comprehensible:
Wherein as in a mirror we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit—
The poetry of Tamburlaine is indeed the poetry of power, and the absolute morality of power which the play exemplifies is allied to the absolute standards of poetry, which it recognizes. For poetry accepts only success, and grants lasting life only to absolute success. It recognizes no gradations and no second best. What Hazlitt, in a very curious passage for an avowed republican, says of Coriolanus, is even more apt of the poetry of Tamburlaine:
The language of poetry naturally falls in with the language of power. The imagination is an exaggerating and exclusive faculty: it takes from one thing to add to another: it accumulates circumstances together to give the greatest possible effect to a favourite object. The understanding is a dividing and measuring faculty: it judges of things not according to their immediate impression on the mind, but according to their relations to one another. The one is a monopolizing faculty, which seeks the greatest quantity of present excitement by inequality and disproportion; the other is a distributive faculty, which seeks the greatest quantity of ultimate good, by justice and proportion. The one is an aristocratical, the other a republican faculty. The principle of poetry is a very anti-levelling principle. It aims at effect, it exists by contrast. It admits of no medium. It is everything by excess. It rises above the ordinary standard of sufferings and crimes. It presents a dazzling appearance. It shows its head turretted, crowned, and crested. Its front is gilt and bloodstained. Before it 'it carries noise, and behind it leaves tears.' It has its altars and its victims, sacrifices, human sacrifices. . . . It puts the individual for the species, the one above the infinite many, might before right.
Those who wish to understand Tamburlaine should read and re-read this passage for its represents the Argument of Arms translated into the Argument of Poetry. And those who wish to understand the real nature of poetry would do well to have Tamburlaine by heart, for the heart of the matter is that the Argument of Arms and the Argument of Poetry are in their essence the same. [Hazlitt quotation from Characters of Shakespeare's Plays.]

 

The Argument of Arms, where it is most directly expressed (Pt I 2.7.12-29):

The thirst of reign and sweetness of a crown,
That caused the eldest son of heavenly Ops
To thrust his doting father from his chair
And place himself in th'empyreal heaven,
Moved me to manage arms against thy state.
What better precedent than mighty Jove?
Nature, that framed us of four elements
Warring within our breasts for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds.
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world
And measure very wand'ring planet's course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Will us to wear ourselves and never rest
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

 

The Argument of Poetry (Pt I 5.1.160-190):

What is beauty, saith my sufferings, then?
If all the pens that ever poets held
Had the feeling of their masters' thoughts
And every sweetness that inspired their hearts,
Their minds and muses on admirèd themes;
If all the heavenly quintessence they still
From their immortal flowers of poesy,
Wherein as in a mirror we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit;
If these had made one poem's period
And all combined in beauty's worthiness,
Yet should there hover in their restless heads
One thought, one grace, one wonder at the least,
Which into words no virtue can digest.
But how unseemly is it for my sex,
My discipline of arms and chivalry,
My nature, and the terror of my name,
To harbour thoughts effeminate and faint!
Save only that in beauty's just applause,
With whose instinct the soul of man is touched—
And every warrior that is rapt with love
Of face, of valour, and of victory,
Must needs have beauty beat on his conceit—
I thus conceiving and subduing, both,
That which hath stopped the tempest of the gods,
Even from the fiery spangled veil of heaven,
To feel the lovely warmth of shepherds' flames
And march in cottages of strewèd weeds,
Shall give the world to note, for all my birth,
That virtue solely is the sum of glory
And fashions men with true nobility.—

 

(Excerpts from Doctor Faustus and Other Plays, ed. David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen, Oxford UP: NY, 1995)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"My Brother's Insomnia" by Eric Pankey – Verse Daily, March 5, 2015

from Crow-Work (Milkweed Editions, 2015)
poem found here
 

First lines:
A boy ties (but will not remember how)
An intricate knot that slips at the slightest tug.

 

the action of the prosaic and poetic

 

Editing note: I am rather unsatisfied with how this post turned out. I tried to keep it short (or as short as I could manage) and now wonder if the presentation suffers for it. I plan to return to this in a few days; though I am not sure what will result. — March 20

 

Continuing in the stream of the examination of texts by way of the material and ideational axes, we have this work which came up on the Verse Daily site. It presents an opportunity to look at the ideation axis from both the prosaic and the poetic within one, short poem. Hopefully, the very local contrast will go toward developing the ideas.

The post will be in two parts. The first will focus upon that functioning of the prosaic and poetic within the text. After that, I would like to pick up a couple specific moments in the poem for exploration.

 

I divide the poem into three: the first stanza; stanzas 2 and 3; and the final part, stanzas 4-6. I believe the poem rather divides itself in this manner. Though, I could see a person making a fourth section out of the final stanza, so the division is in part motivated by how I want to talk about the poem.

I'll start in stanza 4. On the surface, in the narrative, it gives two actions by the boy, two things the boy does when he cannot sleep, both of which are operated through holding his breath. Sometimes he silences his body and pretends he is dead. Other times he silences his body to listen to the very quiet sounds of the world around him. Only, the line does not say "pretends":

Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Bible Study" by Tony Hoagland, Poetry Magazine

from Poetry (March 2015)
poem found here
 

First lines:
Who would have imagined that I would have to go
a million miles away from the place where I was born

 

returning to the definition of poetry

 

The previous post, about the moment from Frozen, was meant to set up a theme for upcoming posts: texts with instances where attention to detail – or the lack thereof – has a discernible effect upon the experience and reception of the text. But you take what you get. "Bible Study" perhaps could be used to that end, but I find it might find greater use if brought as an example (or test case) for the theme that was overtly present in many of the posts over the last year: that of the question of "what is 'poetry'?"; more specifically, the verse-prose, poetic-prosaic axes that I began discussing in the post about the work "Hymn to Life" (another text found on the electronic pages of the Poetry site).

I have said it before but it bears repeating: The single most troublesome event for me in writing this blog is the use of the words poetry, poem, and poet. Since I have not (and will not) take time with every post at the first use of either word to give once again definition as they are used on this blog, it is assured that most people, when they read these posts, will wholly – and I mean entirely – misread the words. The words play within two contexts: the popular and the literary ("literary," here, as in the academic or "serious" discourse about literature). Within popular usage, it is fair to have "poetry" be defined, to be blunt, as any text that visually looks like poetry (or, even, any text that seems like poetry to the speaker). After all the popular discourse is not based in theory or participant in criticism.[FN] The word can rightly serve a most general purpose.

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[FN] As well, the word function primarily within the nomic – are mostly generic, convention driven – and the discourse of poplit seems only infrequently, less so genuinely, to be concerned with the aesthetic. But that is another discussion.
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But in discourse about literature qua literature, the use of the word demands some degree of basis.

Monday, March 2, 2015

"Let it Go," from Frozen

Frozen directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
"Let It Go" sung by Idina Menzel, written and composed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

 

an object lesson in brilliance

 

That's right. First post in a month; second in four months, and I'm going to Frozen. Not only Frozen but "Let It Go." As I said elsewhere, deal with it. (I'll get to Wallace Stevens in the end, so don't have a fit.)

This is the official (Disney UK) sing-a-long version of the song as found on Youtube. I have no idea how it might be possible, but if you speak English and have somehow avoided familiarity with the song, or if you haven't seen the movie itself, give a listen and a watch before we continue.

 

 

Sorry if that song get's stuck in your head. It's been playing in my brain for two weeks, now.

To say, if you haven't seen Frozen it is well worth the viewing. And while you're at it, you probably haven't seen Brave either and you should see that as well (it's even better than Frozen, though it's Pixar and Frozen is Disney). It was one of the best films produced in the US that year. I never thought I'd say it, but after Tangled (which is also really good) and Frozen, it looks like Pixar hooking up with Disney was a net positive for both sides. Creatively the two films are orders of magnitude above the pablum (if not occasional stupidity) Disney had been putting out over the previous many decades (ok, Hercules has its assets). And Frozen is a complete break from the normal Disney princess story-lines. But I digress.

My point of focus here is but three notes. And I am not concerned only with the song but with the song as part of the film: the events on the screen and the integration of the song with the events on the screen are both integral to my point. What I am going to do here is not complex or a deep analysis. I simply want you to see one moment in the music and film. To see that moment will require comparing it to the other two iterations of the that moment (the opening "let it go"s of the three choruses) later in the film. Hopefully I can set the stage here so you can see what I see. Once there, I have three rather simple conclusions. Simple, even perhaps obvious, but profound within the realm of creative endeavor.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sam Coleridge Goes to the Superbowl

an exercise in deep reading

 

So, as I am sure everyone knows, there has been no small squall over "the play" that ended the Superbowl, Sunday last. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has taken on a lot of abuse for the call that resulted in an interception and a victory for the Patriots: the most commonly uttered seven-word phrase in English today is "the dumbest play in Super Bowl history." Even I, at first glance, was questioning, "Why in the world didn't you run it?!?!" Though, quickly enough, I did come up with one possibility: Seattle had only one time-out in pocket, and three downs to get into the end zone. Calling a pass play on one of the first two downs (which would either result in a score or an incompletion) would save the time out for if a called running play fails to get in. If you ran on the first play, defense would know the odds of a pass play on the next would be much higher.

Admittedly, that is not the strongest of arguments; but, it is an argument. Since then I have found out a bit more information.