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, 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]