2.20.2009

complicating the issue

what are the qualities of poetry that make it essential? as opposed to visual arts? to dance and music? to the novel? the play?

mnemonics—poetry is (historically) the form of art with the express purpose of memorization, and is related then to lyre-ic and muse-ic (memorization is daemonic, egotistic). with the exception of drama, which is memorized in a collective, incomplete effort only for presentation, while the poem is to be memorized by the audience or the reader. this seems to me to be one of the sad derelictions of contemporary poetry, that nor poets nor their readers find poems worth knowing by heart.
this is where many techniques derive from—rhyme, consonance, meter, refrain, etc.

logic—logoi or semiotics, the relationship between referent and symbol that allows for (1) representation and (2) displacement. this is related to memory—the ability to have the poem, and not the thing, the erotic compensation striving toward possessing what we cannot have (memory is past, reality is at a perceptual remove), and striving against dependence on reality by severance (through invention and imagination).
only the word is ideally suited to conveying thought, rather than image, and poetry is the form of ordered thought, of process, as logic.

and cetera.

the greatest damage of the technological age is to our psyches—we are losing the ability to empathize, to think (and read) slowly, to exercise our memory. communities have grown beyond our ability to comprehend them, and we have become less superstitious, more democratic, alienated, less responsive to poetry (which is at its worst a tool of closed community and mysticism, and at its best a means for private contemplation and psychic connection).
should we jump at the chance to kill poetry? most poetry certainly isn’t worth saving. in its neglect, a lot of conmen have come along, claiming incomprehensibility as their territory and forcing us to read more crap more carefully, making it harder to discern between difficult genius and meaningless narcissism (disguised, usually, as selfless). in this age, every art deserves its atrophied audience. it’s very hard to find good contemporary poetry, and too easy to find old genius. it’s disheartening. if we are sisyphuses, then we can only hope to hear some orphic echoes over the hills once in a while, and if we find more than that it’s an embarrassment of riches. for all the problems with canons, we can be thankful that they preserved pockets of true genius against all the historic odds (and, in a real way, canons are only possible when we voice out what we love and ignore what we don’t care for).
this is a parallel argument to the justification for life, which is an impossible argument to make, and constantly in need of tipping the scales to the depleted past in compensation for the infinite future, where we have to live--in confusion and fear ex filter--and find hope ex nihilo.

1 comment:

Henry Gould said...

This I find very interesting, J.H.! Funny I hadn't seen your post when I sent the "Less is More" one. They have some things in common.