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, 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.