5.28.2009

New Things? (or Spring Fashion?)

Critic Stephen Burt declares a shift in American poetry style, toward a new "restraint" & "objectivity". John Latta (in his post of May 27th) takes exception.

I've always found something faintly pedestrian in "objectivism", "imagism", & the WCW rubric "no ideas but in things" etc. Though I guess now & then such doctrines offer a needed counter-balance to facetious poetic solipsism, decadence, self-indulgent mannerisms, etc. I'm drawn more to Wallace Stevens' constant exploration of the riddles of imagination & reality, his oscillations between "the ideas about the thing" & "the thing itself".

The best Stevens scholar I know of is B.J. Leggett. His recent short book Late Stevens (Louisiana State Univ. Press) is just superb. Shatters much of the received wisdom about where Stevens received his wisdom, & what he made of it all...

6 comments:

lakeviewer said...

Intriguing. Worth picking up.

Joseph Hutchison said...

I've always wondered why so few poets object to "no ideas but in things," much less "a poem is a machine made of words." Williams was a brilliant poet whose practice contradicted his stated poetics—thank goodness. His most famous statements about poetry, if taken seriously, denature the art and in extreme cases turn it into fluff like Flarf. Stevens' poetics is, I agree, more attractive, and its exploratory quality mirrors the core quality of his poetry. I have to admit a preference for Williams as a poet—a personal and subjective fact that has always made me wonder about the value of poetics. I have my own poetics, of course—ideas that help me write my way past the many psychological and practical obstacles all poets face in our anti-poetic culture. Beyond that daily usefulness, I'm not sure why poetics matter or should matter, especially to poets.

Joseph Duemer said...

WCW's real poetics is contained in poems like "To Daphne and Virginia" and "Asphodel." The best (and meanest) thing I ever said in a poetry workshop was, "No ideas but in things does not mean no ideas at all."

Mairi said...

Joseph H - I don't suppose you'd be willing to share your personal poetics? Or anyone else who possesses such a thing, for that matter? Nothing long and elaborate. Just pith and gist for those of us who could no more articulate such a thing than wind surf.

Joseph Hutchison said...

Mairi, you set me back on my heels a bit with this request. I've never attempted to nutshell my poetics, largely because I dislike theories, which tend to degenerate from description to prescription. But you've given me an out by asking for my "personal" poetics. That I feel fairly sanguine about offering up.

My whole approach to poetry, as a writer and a reader, is based on pleasure. Except when I feel bound by some professional obligation (one can't teach a survey of the 18th century without rereading "The Rape of the Lock") or some practical need (how do I fix that leaky pipe?) to read something I dislike, I believe in reading only for pleasure. With the same caveat I believe in writing poems only for pleasure. My poetics, such as it is, flows from that belief.

There are seven key pleasures I gain from writing or reading poetry, and here they are in order of what matters most to me: imaginal energy, perceptual energy, musicality, openness, lightness, puzzlement, and inventive rhetoric.

Since Blogger limits us to 4,096 characters in a comment, I'll have to refer you to my own blog for an explanation of what I mean by these pithy terms!

Mairi said...

Henry - thanks, belatedly for the link to Isola di Rifiuti and for putting me onto Late Stevens.
Joseph - my thanks for your very interseting, very thoughtful in both senses of the word take on personal poetics, as you've probably already noticed, is over on your blog. Anyone who hasn't seen it should click over to The Perpetual Bird.