This afternoon G and I figured out how to get the light fixture to work. Unfortunately, the box may not be big enough for the water container that sits between the light and the head. Hmmm... not sure what to do. In the drawer will be sheep's wool.
- uses simple grammar and syntax - uses a limited, common vocabulary - emphasises convention for clarity over playfulness - tends to be newsy, browsy, skimmy, disposable - places emphasis on nouns and verbs, statements and short sentences - puts emphasis on voice, attitude and theme
Much of poetry today can be emotionally, intellectually complex but grammatically, linguistically plain. An emphasis on spontaneity and originality has lead to many entertaining voices but no innovation, only limping ignorance posing as innovation. Which is sad because poetry today deals with such serious topics: love, death, sickness, loss, faith, suffering. Today the introspective meditation is very popular; the spirit is willing, but the craft is weak. We write deep meditative verses in a flat journalistic style. (See the first lines of poems published by leading poets today.)
This flatness stretches across all strains today. The New Formalists are flat, taking the conventions of the greats (Milton, Tennyson, Thomas) and then doing nothing with them. The accessible poets write flat; the inaccessible poets write flat.
I was struck by this the other day while reading Hopkin's Wreck of the Deutschland. Here we are halted and hung-up at every turn. The reader cannot mistake this for prose--not a journal entry will line breaks. It is not a list of observations. We are in the grip of poetry, for better or worse.
Note 2/27/07: Reflecting more, I've decided that I've overgeneralized here and that while flat style is a problem in many poems I've seen lately, there are many other poets who avoid it.
Weldon Kees. (1914-1955?) From Beatrice, Nebraska. Poet, Artist, Filmmaker, Composer, Editor, Polymath. Lived and fought with all the greats of his generation. On Tuesday, July 19th, 1955 San Franciso police found Kees' 1954 Plymouth Savoy abandoned on the Golden Gate Bridge. He was never found. Je t'aime.
"There is no poem inside the head. There is the longing toward a poem, the dark leaning, the inarticulate impetus, the dim luminosity. . . You direct a poem in response to the urgency, to answer the urgency, but not to copy an ur-poem that exists in your head. The poem is its own words and not some other thing."
I recently read this in an interview of Martin Lammon on Poets.org. For a long time I believed that poetry was an attempt to put words to this thing in my head that I had to struggle to get at. Like some dark matter in the brain, I could identify its effects, maybe even map its boundaries, but only sometimes would my language get into it, tap on it and make it ring out. Unlike Eliot, mine was a raid of the unarticulatable, rather than the inarticulate.
Since then, perhaps heavily influenced by Wittgenstein but also being conscious of my own process, I have come to think that there isn't something that I'm trying to get at, but rather--as Lammon puts it articulately--I have a "longing toward a poem, the dark leaning, the inarticulate impetus, the dim luminosity." Less like summoning wisdom from the depths and more like a baby babbling its way into expression. In short, the words appear at the point of speaking. Then we must figure out what to do with them. In another hijacking of Eliot, only through poetry are poems conquered.
Whether Lammon intended it or not, he echoes Wittgenstein's dogmatic "A thing is itself and not another thing." For Lammon, what makes a poem is the poem, not some mysterious object in the mind.
What is the practical significance of this? Well, first of all, it removes the thing which so easily entangles poets: lack of inspiration. Lack of inspiration, from this view, follows from a false concept that leads us to the wrong questions, even if they appear to look important. We will no longer wait for something to form in our heads that needs articulating; the writing process begins at the point of writing, not at some primordial point before then.
Secondly, (and here I show my New Criticism cards) it turns our focus away from discussions of poetry that imagine some blurry 'author's mind' out beyond the work itself, which only get us conceptually flustered, and toward the materials that make up poems. The poem is the poem and not another thing. I don't know what literary theorists need, but a turn back to the poems themselves is a move invaluable to practitioners of the art.
Tonight I began constructing my first Cornell box. It's very exciting to see it coming together, at least having something physical to stare at and question. I threw everything I had (imaginatively) at this one--so we'll see what happens.
Other echoes Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow? Quick, said the bird, find them, find them, Round the corner. Through the first gate, Into our first world, shall we follow The deception of the thrush? Into our first world
Since 2000, my generation has seen an very steep increase in the politicalization of the country--from the mudane slang of 'red state-blue state' to having movies like 'Fahrenheit 9/11' nominated for Academy Awards. In all the arts there is a strong trend toward the political (novels, movies (Crash, Syriana, etc.), music (from teen angst turned middle class angst Green Day to Neil Young), television, the Internet). In almost every interview I've read recently, some artist or writer has mentioned some political issue: AIDS, global warming, but most often just President Bush and the Iraq war. It's really disappointing how a very interesting artist can go from waxing over the complexity of his art to then banging like a monkey on a trash can about something he saw on T.V. the other day.
So with American poetry's typical inferiority complex, poets now want to become politicized, too. Just this month in Poetry there was a discussion over the 'social importance' of poetry. No doubt in the past there has been some very good political poetry but that certainly isn't the trend of poetry, its source or its goal. Generally, any time we enter political thinking we flatten out people, human experience and the complexity of life. Poetry, on the other hand, is about play and expansion of meaning/experience/complexity. Poetry may be more important in helping us escape the political, back to our humanity, than trying to stand shoulder to shoulder with propaganda and spin.
Poetry & Art = Excess = Grace. Poetry is not what we need, it is an abundance of what we do not need. Like grace, it approaches us with its unusefulness and unproductivity. It not the sort of thing we were hoping for. Poetry and Grace have no bottom line. They are a waste of resources. To devote time to the appreciation of the arts is to hold back the social/economic/political tidal wave that threatens to crush us. And, in the end, it will crush us--because there is no greater threat to political power than the apolitical.