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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Thursday, September 21, 2017

"On Poetry" by Ai Weiwei

AI Weiwei's "On Poetry" can be found here [link]
 

on the transportive quality of poetry

 

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's short statement on poetry found in an issue of Poetry Magazine from a couple of years back was recently brought to my attention. As statements on poetry go I don't think much of it: it's disjointed and a bit pell-mell, and mostly empty rhetoric. But at a couple of places, if we take Ai's words at face value, accept them as they are written, there may be something interesting to be found.

Beginning with the statement in the second paragraph.

Reading Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca, and Vladimir Mayakovsky at a young age, I discovered that all poetry has the same quality. It transports us to another place, away from the moment, away from our circumstances.

That is a very often seen claim for poetry, that it "transports us to another place." Unfortunately, it's also a very common claim for prose fiction, which right off the top should make the claim suspect as to its value as regards poetry.

And then we also can consider this:

One gloomy January day in 1863, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, the world's wealthiest and most celebrated painter, dressed himself in the costume of Napoleon Bonaparte and, despite the snowrall, climbed onto the rooftop balcony of his mansion in Poissy.

That's the opening sentence to Ross King's The Judgment of Paris, a book about the rise of Impressionism in painting. It is presenting historical, verifiable fact. And yet, it also can be said to "transport us to another place," making the claim not only trivial about poetry, but one that can't even be limited to literature.

Friday, September 8, 2017

"The Circus Animals' Desertion" by W.B. Yeats

W.B. Yeats’s “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” can be found here [link]
 

the contextual nature of meter in English

 

Trigger warning: this post is about scansion and meter. Results may vary.

 

I want to take a look at one line of verse – at one syllable within the context of one line of verse. It offers what is to me a curious moment within meter in English. The conclusion I will draw from this little excursion is so fundamental it is barely worth being a conclusion. Still, it is a conclusion important enough that it merits being made every now and then. And I do come upon arguments about meter or prosody that fails to hold to this rather fundamental idea. Besides: in the least, everyone needs to see it a first time.

That line of verse is found in the opening stanza of Yeats's "The Circus Animals' Desertion."

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last being but a broken man
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,

Iambic pentameter, the rhyme irrelevant to the discussion. So that we are all on the same page with the scansion, which is not irregular by any means, let me set it out.

i SOUGHT / a THEME / and SOUGHT / for IT / in VAIN,
i SOUGHT / it DAI / ly FOR / six WEEKS / or SO.
may BE / at LAST / being BUT / a BROK /en MAN
i MUST / be SAT / isfied WITH / my HEART, / al THOUGH
WIN ter /and SUM /mer TILL /old AGE / be GAN
my CIR / cus AN / i MALS / were ALL / on SHOW,

I believe all would agree to this reading. The only real variables are the "maybe" of line 3 (which can be: MAY be / at LAST) and perhaps the "satisfied with" on line 4 (reading it: be SAT / is FIED / with my HEART), though I tend to consider the latter a less satisfactory reading. Both speak in their own way to where I want to go, but I want to focus on another word.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"In Memory of W.B. Yeats" by W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden's "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" can be found here [link]
 

a reading

 

Because of the issues that arise out of Auden's revising of his texts it has to be noted that the version that I am addressing, the version in the link above, is the version of the poem found in Auden's Collected. To note, this is not the same version found in the Selected, which has the original version of the poem, the primary difference being Part 3 having different stanzas.

In my previous post I took a look at W.H. Auden's The Sea and the Mirror, a literarily curious work but for me not a successful work, to give a moment's thought to the idea of difficulty. Within the post I made mention of Auden's "In Memory of W.B. Yeats," a work that is a favorite of mine, not just within Auden's oeuvre but in verse in general. In this post I want to pick up "In Memory," for no reason other than to give a reading of it.

I will simply start at the beginning and work through to the end, pointing out the ideation and structure I see at play within the text. At times I may move rather quickly. But then my aim is not to give some definitive reading. Indeed, there is no such thing. There is only ever one's own reading of a text. Which does not mean that every reading is equal in value. A reading's strength comes out in discourse, when its validity is tested by other people. This does not, however, carry us to the idea that there could be – or should be – found one ultimate, undefeatable "meaning" of any given text. There can be multiple strong readings of a text. Their value lies in whether and how they assist other readers in forming their own strong readings.[FN]

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Sea and the Mirror by W.H. Auden

The Sea and the Mirror is in Google books [link]. You can scroll down to the Preface.

 

a note on difficulty

 

In admission, this post is a little dependent upon that you have (or have had) the same experience with the text that I had. If not, just play along anyway.

 

I want to take a look at a moment in W.H. Auden's The Sea and the Mirror. The work, if you are unfamiliar with it, is, as the subtitle offers, "A Commentary on Shakespeare's The Tempest." It's various parts are written mostly in the voices of the characters of the play, set as though the play has just concluded and the characters have something more to say, comments that extend the play beyond its final curtain, and, even, beyond the stage. Through this Auden gives a philosophical response to The Tempest as he reads it.[FN]

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[FN] The Sea and the Mirror is found in the Vintage Collected Works. It has also been published in an individual volume, edited by Arthur Kirsch (Princeton UP, 2003), which contains also a thirty page introduction that is worth looking up; not only for what it says about The Sea and the Mirror, but for how it puts much of Auden's work in a philosophical context.
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The reason I'm re-reading The Sea and the Mirror, the reason I'm presently reading Auden, is because I've gotten my hands on a little critical analysis of Auden's career: Gerald Nelson's Changes of Heart: A Study in the Poetry of W.H. Auden (U of Cal P, 1969). Outside of some small familiarity with a here and there verse ("In Memory of W.B. Yeats" is a favorite), Auden has been something of a gap in my knowledge of twentieth-century verse in English. Nelson's book is in effort to fill that gap, however lightly. To note, it is a book that attempts to defend Auden against the major criticisms that has been leveled against his work: that he failed to live up to the promise of his early work, that his return to Christianity had negative impact on his work; that Auden's career was "without development as a poet" and as such "the success of any individual poem [was] pure accident." (ix) As for my own response to Auden, I don't consider myself familiar enough with him to speak to that criticism; though, I will say that my own experience with his work, my various times browsing through his Collected, does permit it.

That criticism has little bearing on what I want to do here. I have a different question to ask. It is a question that is applicable to the whole of The Sea and the Mirror, though I will use only the one small part of the work – concentrating on a single stanza – as example to the whole.

Monday, May 29, 2017

"Taxing the Rain" by Penelope Shuttle

Penelope Shuttle's "Taxing the Rain" can be found here [link]
 

an exploration post

 

Let's just explore some language in a bit a verse. Penelope Shuttle's "Taxing the Rain" passed by my way today in my FB scroll and it struck me as a curious thing. It's been put online by Jeanette Winterson on her page [link]. (To note, it came my way formatted entirely in two-line stanzas, not as Winterson types it.)

The heart of the verse – its focus and its primary source of energy as presented – is the description of rain and what it does. And there are moments in there that might in themselves offer points for interesting discussion. (E.g., the shape of scented baths? Or, is it rain anymore when it is a bath? Or, notice how the verse uses a shift to abstraction, "dreamy complexity," to get the rain indoors.) However, what interests me most is the framing device that is used to get the verse to the idea of what the rain is and does: that is, the idea of people wanting to "tax the rain."

The idea as presented creates a difficulty. You can speak of "taxing automobiles," say, but it is clear from the idea that it is the owner that will pay the tax. It is the owner that is really being taxed. But who would be the once-removed target of putting a tax on rain? Nobody "possesses" rain; nobody "causes" rain for a desired purpose. Indeed, most of the text's description of rain is rather universal if not a-personal. How would the rain pay a tax upon itself? How would such a thing be leveed? What exactly would be collected? Does the phrase "tax the rain" make any sense in the everyday world? With any thought comes the recognition that taxing the rain is inherently an absurdity.

Now, the presence of an absurdity in a text does is not in itself a flaw in the text. The issue is not whether there exists an absurdity. The issue is whether the text can get the reader over the ideational hurdle of the absurdity. That is, to use a phrase, does the text successfully suspend disbelief so that the absurdity can become part of a vibrant whole?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Introduction to "The Kekulé Problem" by David Krakauer

the fear of empty space

 

Here is a curious moment from something recently published on the web. The article is "The Kekulé Problem" by Cormac McCarthy, published on the Nautilus site [link]. What caught my eye, however, lies in the introduction to the article. That intro begins:

Cormac McCarthy is best known to the world as a writer of novels. These include Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and The Road. At the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) he is a research colleague and thought of in complementary terms. An aficionado on subjects ranging from the history of mathematics, philosophical arguments relating to the status of quantum mechanics as a causal theory, [. . .]

It is necessary to context to know that the intro was written by one David Krakauer, himself a professor at the Santa Fe Institute.

My interest lies in the third sentence.

At the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) he is a research colleague and thought of in complementary terms.

There are two things here. First, a moment of syntax.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot

"The Hollow Men" can be found here [link]
 

some of Eliot's own line periods

 

Perhaps I move a touch too quickly with this post. In defense my intent here, as with other posts of this nature, is not to argue definitively but to prompt thought.

 

Seeing a small word – an adverb or pronoun or conjunction – at the end of a line is these days a too reliable cue that the break is unpurposed, in continuation of the previous post that the line carries no sense of a line period, that it is not a constructed line; such words are too frequently strong evidence that the text is not verse at all but prose with line breaks pretending to verse.

Take, as a quick example, and possibly too easy an example, Philip Levine's "The Second Coming," which appears in the February Poetry Magazine, found online here [link]. Out of eight lines, five of them end in small words: "the," "only," "is," "a," and "of." At first glance – indeed at that first "the" – a reader should know that the text is not verse, that it will show little of that fundamental quality of verse, the crafted line.

That the text is shaped does not defeat the assessment, it does not magically turn a prose text into verse. One need only think about the shaping of text in magazine advertisements as cases in point. There is nothing about concrete shape that excludes the possibility of crafting lines, as such

that

the text

is physically

shaped does not

excuse the author who

desires to write verse from

the requirement of writing lines.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tamburlaine the Great, Pt 1 by Christopher Marlowe

Back from my break. To say, I was able to finish the project for which I had blocked off the time. Which is a good thing. Perhaps the final result was not as good as I had hoped for, but we can't expect the best results every time.

As I said on my last post, initiating the break, I am unsure how I want to proceed with this blog. The longer posts like this one are fun, but can also be laborious. And I would like to try to give more effort to smaller, "spur of the moment" posts, as well as more posts that respond directly to verse. Whether and how I might do that, however, I do not yet know.


 

the line period

 

My launching point for this excursion is a moment from T.S. Eliot's "The Blank Verse of Marlowe" (found in The Sacred Wood). There is no reason not to get right to it, so:

The verse accomplishments of Tamburlaine are notably two: Marlowe gets into blank verse the melody of Spenser, and he gets a new driving power by reinforcing the sentence period against the line period. The rapid long sentence, running line into line, as in the famous soliloquies "Nature commended of four elements" and "What is beauty, with my sufferings, then" marks the certain escape of blank verse from the rhymed couplet, and from the elegiac or rather pastoral note of Surrey, to which Tennyson returned.

We will pick up Marlowe shortly. Right now I want to focus on the concept the Eliot brings into his discussion of Marlowe, that of the line period.

It is a wonderful term. It is not synonymous with line break, and the reasons why are important and speak to its general superiority. For a line break can be arbitrarily had. Simply apply a carriage return and, voilà, you have a line break. However, a line period – as with the sentence period – speaks to a construction that is attending to far more than the mere question of where the line ends. A sentence period does not exist merely because it marks the end of the sentence. The presence of the period speaks to the nature of the words that precede it – and to the words that follow it in that a period also marks the beginning of a new sentence.