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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An Engagement with Strunk and WhiteAnalytical Thought and Myth: An Exploration of the Eternal Masculine and Eternal Feminine

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

E.E. Cummings, "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls"

Poem found here.


First lines:

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds


the proof is in the reading


My intent here is simply to give a reading of a poem, and speak the poem's qualities through that reading. The poem in question is E.E. Cummings's well known "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls," from his first collection Tulips and Chimneys (1923). The choice is not unmotivated. An online friend of mine sent me a link to an established booktuber offering first an intentionally mangled oral reading of the poem followed by an intentionally close-minded ideational reading. I am not sure what choir he was preaching to but it made me half irritated and half embarrassed for the guy. So in the spirit of the defense of the realm, let's give a reading.

It is short, so read it a couple times to get the feel of it. Some quick notes toward that end:

First, what you would know from it published in his book (or in his collected), Cummings calls it a sonnet, and while it may not be consistently pentametric, I do read it as iambic, and it does have a rhyme scheme: abcddcbaefggfe. I consider rhyme scheme to be the the dominant element to legitimately calling something a sonnet. Fourteen lines of blank verse is rather easy, but I've seen it done to remark. And if not even that then why use the word? Who are you trying to con? Yourself? I have said it before I think Cummings is the U.S.'s supreme sonneteer. It would be an interesting book to publish just his sonnets to see their evolution. It would be an interesting book because he does them so well.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Suzanne Batty, "Jesus on a Train from Mumbai"

unity and effect


"Jesus on a Train from Mumbai" is found here.


First lines:
I was dragged from the train by English tourists as the tall man
from Tamil Nadu called “coffee coffee” in his soft, sad voice.


Words coordinated in a poetic way create an effect when read. I am not talking about an emotional effect. Emotional effects are simple effects simply evoked by the narration itself. As the saying goes, a puppy can bite your ear and you will experience an emotion. We are talking about something a little more sophisticated than that. We are talking about an aesthetic effect. And not every combination of words creates an aesthetic effect. A brute narrative, a tale that offers merely what happened in the sequence that it happened, will offer no aesthetic value whatsoever. Thus: words coordinated in a poetic way. Which does not mean I am only talking about verse. And which also does not mean that all verse is poetic.

Take a look at these well-known lines by William Carlos Williams, "The Red Wheel Barrow":

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

We begin with its physical characteristics. Four stanzas, each with two line, the first, three words, the second, one. Each stanza is its own thought, though the four combine to a more complex thought. As well, it is worth noticing that the two lines of each stanza break in between two words that go together: depends/upon, wheel/barrow, rain/water, white/chickens. It creates an aural effect because the verse is asking you to stop where you would not normally want to. The verse fights against a reading that would string the words together into a single sentence, even though it is a sentence. It fights against the words being read like:

So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

An Engagement with Strunk and White

Something I forgot to mention —

Strunk and White came my way a couple of times and it prompted me to reread it and affirm my consideration of it. It has its merits, but it also has its faults. Particularly with the section "An Approach to Style," written by White. While some of the points he makes are simple and obvious, some of the larger points I do not at all agree with, and I gave affort to a full engagement. It ended up worth the reading so I threw it up on my website (and the Adversaria blog).

If you are interested, it is found here [link]. I point out the major moments, and you can jump to them on the website. But most important, if you read it to the Conclusion at the end, is to recognize that my opposition to White is not in the sense of grammar, where there is what is generally considered to be a correct answer to things. Rather, the questions raised here have a philosophical element to them: White is preaching a particular style and philosophy of writing, and I present an alternative. In terms of this website, White preaches a prosaic type of writing; while I speak an aesthetic.

White is speaking mostly of prose and so that slant cannot be avoided, but much of it applies to verse as well. Especially the major points. But check it out. Have a read. Have a think. It is meant to prompt thought, as everything here.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Laurie Sheck, The Willow Grove

just because it looks like poetry, doesn't mean it's poetry


I am pretty sure I have said before I do not often buy individual books of verse. Mostly I buy collecteds or selecteds, because they are people important enough I want to get a broad feel for them, or writers I have enjoyed that I want to collect them all, as it is said. (And, as has happened, you find a gem in the collected that you probably would have missed one book at a time.) Truth is I can look through shelves of individual books at the bookstore and not find anything I am at all interested in. For the most part sophistication just ain't there. But, occasionally, I do buy them, carefully and with thought beforehand. Laurie Sheck's The Willow Grove is such a book. It was recommended to me and I took a look online at what can be found of her verse and thought it interesting enough for eight bucks. Greatly, though, the fellow who recommended it previously recommended to me Freda Downie so I was willing to give the benefit. Maybe he was starting a streak.

And the first two verses in the book – "White Noise" (3) and "The Return" (4) – I rather enjoyed. Perhaps a little question on the lines feeling somewhat like broken prose but it was just the first two verses so I would overlook it. Though, in "The Return," there is this:

pressed between the other, similar last names,
laid down there in print deep black as the wires
that carry one human voice to another.

That simile feels weak, more effort than the simile is worth. Printed text is normally pretty black, so is there a difference being made by comparing it to the wires? (And, actually, as I remember, as those wires aged, they grew more grey; they lightened.) Plus, is "that carry one human voice to another" something that needs to be said? Is it, really, adding anything to the verse?

Then came "The Storeroom" (5), and such as:

And what tense in which the musty dampness holds the ovens
like moldy, unrocked cradles, eye-holes, graves,
and street-cries skip and flare above our listening, but they are muffled
from back here, as if they could not touch us, yet still here?

There's lots of imagination there. Lots of words that look very poetical. But does it stand examination? First off, there is a problem in setting (not wholly evident in the given lines). The site of the verse is a storeroom in a store, a storeroom what shares a wall with what used to be a bakery, shares the wall that holds the ovens. So while the verse occurs in a storeroom, it is concerning itself with ovens in the next store over. That's a problem (or there's the problem that the verse is describing the geography so poorly I am misreading it). The natural question to ask is, how is the "musty dampness" of the ovens in the abandoned bakery being felt within the storeroom? And at a very basic level you have to ask, why is there all this concern, in a poem about two persons isolated in a storeroom, with something that is not even in the store? The verse is stretching way outside its setting to find ideas. Generally not good practice. Particularly when stretching out works exactly against the desired effect of closeted isolation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Freda Downie, "Moon"

non-sequiturs and the composition


So I have been reading the British writer Freda Downie's Collected Poems. She only had three verse books in her writing career, but they were (and are) highly regarded. And, I will add my voice to that in saying they are quite a pleasure to read. In the general, I would say the average British versifier seems better at the art than the average U.S. versifier; but then it very much seems they take the aural and verbal aspects of verse much more seriously over there than over here. Over here writers seem more concerned with their politics, or their diary.

Thus, in going through Downie, it is not unknown to come upon a stanza like this, the close of "The Lesson," about a boy not so good at his piano lessons, wishing he were elsewhere:

And when she turned away to mark his music,
He sighed and looked to the window to see
His bicycle gleaming in the early dusk
Against the rain-wet trunk of the apple tree.

Just to point out, note she does not – here or elsewhere in the verse – say, overtly, he wishes he were elsewhere. She puts the idea in the image of the bicycle against the tree, of the boy's focus being on the bicycle, not upon his lessons. Good imagist practice; which is on that point to say good poetic practice. But also, the language, though formal, simply glides. The formality works toward the overall sound rather than putting strictures on it. It creates an aural effect out of the stanza, not just the sound of some short string of words (as with throwing in some consonance in a verse that otherwise ignores sound).

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Life in the Cereal Aisle

the poetic line


I want to posit a question. Or posit an idea that in itself presents a question. Perhaps many questions. It depends on how seriously you take the idea of the poetic ear.

Take this phrase that I have been playing around with (unfortunately to little fruition):

time well spent in the cereal aisle

Except, that's not the phrase I'm playing with. This is:

time spent well in the cereal aisle

There is a world of difference between those two phrases, entirely because of how they work on the ear. The latter has an aural resonance that is wholly lacking in the former. Why? What am I talking about? Break it down:

time spent well in the cereal aisle
spent well ------- cereal aisle
speh / ell ---------- see / ayl
seh / ell ----------- see / ayl

So that you can read it without going back up, and hear what is going on:

time well spent in the cereal aisle


time spent well in the cereal aisle

Do you hear the aural construction that is created by reversing the order of "well spent"?