Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Brief Exchange on Poetry


Ostensibly our poetics attempt to reveal a place , an existential truth, a dimension beyond words. That mystery prevails even unto the author one might entertain that perhaps the personal shadow is struggling to be revealed. The unavoidable projector of conscious content and the sensibility of its proposition necessarily depends upon this fullness and comprehension of that very shadow that is most often only apprehended according to the strength of the light we are standing in.

Music to stroke the chin by. And his brother is thus and so.


A very talented poet once described his role as someone who went over the edge and came back with a report. I thought it was a brilliant way of illustrating the poetic mind. Perhaps all madmen are poets but poets are those select, special coterie of madmen in whom the line that demarcates sanity from madness keeps shifting. Poets are always chasing after that line trying to grab it, still it and tame it for a second. Their poems are the written testimonies of those moments.

In that respect I more or less agree with jacko that "our poetics attempt to reveal a place , an existential truth, a dimension beyond words." I say "more or less' because I'm not sure about the last one "a dimension beyond words." I think the poet, the genuine one at least, tries to restore primeval meanings to words. He skirts very closely to the beginnings of things, discards the patina to reveal the intense colours of the intelligent emotion.

Any which way you describe poetics is bound to reduce it. Which is what differentiates us mere mortals from the true poets who manage activate language in the opposite direction: an intensification of words.


Jacko, you say “ostensibly”, which means “so it would seem” and immediately carries the implication of what so seems may not be so. So do I take you not to be committed to your ostensible proposition? And I'm not what you mean by “existential truth” though I think I may have a sense of it.

Existential is used so often in so many contexts that that multitude of usage inclines to empty the word of content. People might say country X faces an existential dilemma, which suggests a national life or death crisis. Or people talk about existential as a pure realm of being the way Mailer talked about orgasm as a pure existential experience. Or people people posit our lonely, autonomous existences and say each person must determine his or her own meaning by an act combining consciousness and will in a project to (re)make one’s self, providing an essence to our existence.

In all of that, and other meaning too perhaps, I sense what you mean by “existential truth” as poetry’s revelation arousing in us, in ways peculiar to contolled, charged language, the effects generally evoked by art and beauty themselves, finally beyond words, be that described as awe or wonder or deep feelings or “ah ha” or however that may be described.

Because that experience is non verbal, it can’t be articulated in a way that does justice to its intensity for us. Thus we somtimes use the metaphor of "mystery" to describe it. That's my sense anyway of what you mean.

I’m only guessing at what the balance of your post means. But if it means, as I would argue is so, that we need to earn that ineffable experience by—as a necessary condition for it—understanding the meaning of the poem’s words, imagery, metaphors, its building of meaning as it progresses, then I’d agree. In this, poetry is different from the non verbal arts since it’s, of course, made up of artfully put together, intensely charged words.

I have a theory about this: that a poem is a progression of awareness that cumulatively builds its meaning out of its properties as it goes along till it winds up as something integrated and whole, with every word, phrase image, metaphor and so on having meaning in complex relation to the whole. Only by some understanding of the whole do we earn, get some purchase on, if you will, our ineffable experience of the poem beyond words.

In other words, jacko,

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white


Basman, I very much appreciated your image of the poem cumulatively building a relation between all of its elements. To which I would add only that poems written within a tradition can add additional dimensions to their depth and complexity by skillfully referencing and invoking various elements and contexts which the tradition offers. The loss of continuity with earlier traditions has closed largely these doors, and the emphasis has shifted to originality of vision. "Wow, no one ever said or did that before!" That loss, and the ignorance of what was lost, is what I think T.S. Eliot had in mind when he said "Radical originality is the hallmark of a second-rate mind."

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