I'm experiencing such sensory overload here in HCMC that it's a little hard to pull my thoughts together. Nevertheless, I wanted to at least make a few notes in response to some recent posts here, with the intention of extending my thoughts and perhaps revising them later.

First, a note of gratitude to Henry and the group he has assembled here. It has been a long time since I have felt around me such a sympathetic community of interest in issues that have bedeviled me. Thanks to one and all. Here then are some random jotting from a Saigon cafe, numbered for easy reference:
  1. In comments to the previous post Joseph Hutchinson suggests that we cannot get outside the problem of relativism. Everyone's golden mean is different, individually determined, he says. There is certainly a good deal of truth in his assertion, but I don't think it has to be debilitating to our project. The charge of hard relativism only holds up, I think, if you focus on the individual to the exclusiin of his / her social context. Human forms are, as Henry remarked, pretty durable and they tend to root practice in a social matrix that, while not immutable, is stable enough for practical purposes.
  2. For me, a poetic middle ground and middle voice would look something like the following: A) a poetry that records and investigates experience. [Individual experience is always located within sets of overlapping social practices: no private language.] B) A poetry that while acknowledging and even encoding the limits of language to express experience, refuses to fall into relativism or nihilism. C) Constant reinvention of older forms. D) A respect for grammar, at least at a "meta" level. Ordinary grammar is already so full of breakages and switchbacks that it seems irresponsible to add to the difficulties. E) Style: a play between loose and tight, between freedom and restraint, between perception and wit.
  3. A concern for the connection between the aesthetic and the ethical, the poetic and the political.
I make these notes as much for myself as for others, but I am very much interested in hearing responses from one and all.


Chris Bays said...


What you write reminds me of the asian poetic forms of haiku, tanka, and haibun. They delve into experiences, unfold insight, and bring the world to us in a different light. Yet, the part about grammar, even metagrammar, may lead us down the wrong path. Haiku, tanka, and haibun often use fragmentation that is juxtaposed with complete thoughts as a means of gaining insight into our world. What type of poetry do the Vietnamese lean toward, based on your insights?
(By the way, thanks for an interesting discussion).

Joseph Duemer said...

Chris, sorry to take so long getting back to you -- I've been a little under the weather, but better now. To respond very quickly: 1. For my own part, I'm not averse to fragmentation as something embedded in a grammatical matrix; in fact, I think it can elicit a powerful kind of readerly response. 2. I'm reluctant to speak for Vietnamese poets, but my sense of their contemporary practice is that they tend to write mostly unenjambed lines that are complete sentences mixed with fragments, mostly noun phrases. Many poets use a period only at the end of a stanza, which is a collection of sentences and fragments, but no period or other punctuation at the ends of lines and very little internal punctuation.