Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The history of poetry asks the reader of a poem to give the poem a different quality of attention than the reader would to discursive prose. Not necessarily more attention, or more detailed or thorough or focussed attention, but a different quality.


Thinking about poetry & theory, in response to Jane Dark's comments in response to comments of Ange Mlinko's and others.


I'm not going to try to describe the difference in the quality of attention that poetry asks for, except to say that it has to do with the art-meditation-ritual continuum, and that discursive prose historically has a different relationship to that continuum.


I agree with Jane -- books & thoughts & theory are part of life. But I feel the point of view of his interlocutors: books & thoughts & theory are consummables in ways that friends & relatives & current events are not. The book will wait on the shelf for you in ways that your cousin may not; the relationship with the cousin potentially has a richer, more complex dynamic.


Neither of Jane's 2 hypotheticals -- "While reading Cixious, I thought about . . . ," and, "After going to the movies with my cousin, I thought about . . . " -- sounds like a promising topic for a poem to me, but I'm easily surprised in that way. As a reader, I'm hoping for a depth of emotion compelling the poet to ask of me the quality of attention that a poem historically asks for. The emotion can simply be the urge to verbalize in a particularly beautiful way that is perculiar to the poet herself or himself.


"Beauty" and "emotion" are unfashionable words in aesthetics. Maybe I should say, old-fashioned, or out-of-fashion. Funny thing about aesthetics: I prefer it to anaesthetics.


Or if not emotion or beauty, than a quality of consciousness that surprises -- I want a poem to bring that.


My beef with the French post-structuralists isn't really with them so much -- oh, sometimes a willful opacity annoys me, but that's OK -- it's with their fashionableness at the expense of American poets and theorists whose insights predated theirs and whose names aren't as trendy: Olson, Zukovsky, Duncan, Stein, Norman Brown, Cage, Ives, Melville, Whitman, Dickinson. I suppose you could construe this as patriotism -- I do love my country, catastrophes and all, and I love our artists -- but I love anybody making something beautiful or enlivening, and I just want these cats to get their due from the Francophiles.


The post-avants may prefer the poem about reading Cixious, and the prosodically more conservative types may prefer the poem about hanging out with the cousin. Bookishness is neither here nor there. Emotion, consciousness & linguistic zip are what count. In my read, the bookish-ists on average tend to have more linguistic zip than the anti-bookish-ists on average; too many poems from either camp lack emotional oomph, or the skills to convey that oomph to me; the problem may be with me.


Here's another song lyric. The emotional oomph probably doesn't come across without the singing. But here it is anyway.

apprehended semi-existent -- slipscreen scam
i got a secret from myself
epistemology embezzler -- on the lam
sad go unlucky, sad go unlucky

gave a name to indefinity -- what the hell
broke a bootstrap, lost my string
showed my teeth, trying to be friendly -- uh-oh well
sad go unlucky, sad go unlucky

i'm waiting hesitating contemplating ovulating instigating investigating expectating creating

without wax is what's sincere -- so they say
we're all trying to do our best
got a feeling groan & growing -- livelong day
sad go unlucky, sad go unlucky

more complex than merely greedy -- yeah yeah yeah sure
ticket to predestination
a bad case of affluenza -- what's the cure
sad go unlucky, sad go unlucky

i'm waiting hesitating contemplating ovulating instigating investigating expectating creating irrigating irritating discombulating reiterating . . .

mister minor meaner & wider -- mostly gone
i'm haunted, i'm haunted, i'm haunted by improbables
western hedging hiding something -- on the lawn
sad go unlucky, sad go unlucky
sad go unlucky, sad go unlucky . . .
Now this is funny ;)
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